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Tree of Life (2011)

Updated on February 13, 2012

Alexandre Desplat Film Score

Tree of Life

Director: Terrence Malick

Writer: Terrence Malick

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Jessica Fuselier, Nicolas Gonda, Will Wallace, Kelly Koonce, Bryce Boudoin, Jimmy Donaldson, Kameron Vaughn, Cole Cockburn

Synopsis: The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material

Disclaimer: In light of how controversial religion is on Hubpages, I want to point out this hub's intention is to solely serve as a review of Terrence Malick's film, "The Tree of Life", and nothing more. The videos involving "The Book Of Job" are there because the movie makes a bit of a reference to that passage from the Bible, so I deemed it appropriate for this hub, to promote the film itself. If you're offended by any religious subject matter, then don't watch the videos pertaining to "The Book Job", as I have them aptly titled for all to see. However, in no shape or form is this hub designed to preach and/or condemn any kind of religious ideal that you may have, or lack thereof. As I said earlier, this is a film review of "The Tree of Life", and nothing more or less. Thank you.

The Book of Job Chapters 1 & 2

The Book of Job Chapters 3 through 5

BBC Tree of Life video

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?... When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?- Job 38: 4, 7

To quote Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) from this movie, "The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow." In the film, you have a married couple raising a family in the 1950's era, where you have a mother that represents the concept of "grace." She believes in kindness and affection towards her children. Whereas the father, Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt), believes in the way of nature; where the strong survive, and the weak die out quickly in our world. Which path do you believe is the true way of life? The way of grace? Or the way of nature? Or, maybe it's not our decision to make at all, as nature continues with or without our permission, and we simply have to accept it.

To be honest, it would be very difficult to summarize this film's story for my readers, as the plot itself is not only very abstract, but it also encompasses many different symbolic references that may go over most audiences' heads. Granted, I did understand the story quite well, but it's difficult to describe, as one would have to see it for themselves. Sure, I could tell you that the story involves a suburban Texas family back in the 1950's, where it depicts the lives of three boys growing up, as they deal with various adversities; while showing the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), years later, as he starts to question his place in life, and begins to wonder what is he in the grand scheme of things.

However, if I told you that the movie was solely focused on them, then I'd be leaving out a lot of other things this film goes over, as it's story is a lot bigger than the family. Yes, the family may be part of this rather complex story, but there's a lot more going on besides their troubles. As it would seem, the film's main focus is about nature itself, and how it's a powerful force that works within a very complex system. Meaning that whether or not we choose to work within nature, it's a powerful force that'll continue to move on regardless of what we may want; which makes one wonder what are we in the grand scheme of things.

Are we really nothing more than insignificant figurative ants that are the helpless victims of nature's whims? Do we have the power to control our own destiny? Is there really such a thing as free will? Or perhaps it's nothing more than a illusion, as all things happen based on random occurrences? Maybe there is no God at all, and we're nothing more than another run of the mill species that's destined like all things to live on this planet for a short while, then die like all things before us. And if there's a God, then why does he allow bad things to happen to those that have not sinned? What are we in the grand scheme of things? Why does God take away our loved ones sometimes? Why is it that good people that try to get ahead in life can never quite make it? Indeed, these are some of the many questions that "The Tree of Life" embraces, and challenges the viewer to face, as they watch it.

As I mentioned earlier, the story is portrayed in a rather abstract manner, so many audiences may not understand the underlying questions this film presents. Therefore, if you do decide to watch it, then I would highly advise you not to miss a single minute of it; otherwise you'll get lost quite easily. Unfortunately, this is also part of the problem with the movie, as it's symbolic references to the moralities of nature and spirituality isn't exactly clear, so you really have to be paying attention to this film to notice it; hence I doubt this film will register that well with most mainstream audiences. Heck, even most indie movie fanatics may not like this film either because some people may not pick up on the references to spirituality and nature quite that easily; as the film is very abstract in it's presentation, so even some people that fall within the indie movie crowd might not like this movie also. However, if you're one of the rare few that do understand it's underlying messages well, then this film will definitely serve as a treat for you.

Throughout the film, it possesses various references to evolution, nature, spirituality and religion as well. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, it immediately posts up a passage from the Bible with a "Book of Job" reference. I won't give away how much it references this particular passage from the Bible, but lets just say it plays heavily in regards to the O'Brien family.

As for Brad Pitt, I wouldn't dare say this movie features his best performance of last year, as "Moneyball" clearly has that honor. However, he does perform rather well here too, as he manages to portray the uber strict father figure, yet he somehow conveys his character with a strong silent dignity about him, to where you can still genuinely sense that he cares about his family even when he's being hard on his kids. Jessica Chastain is also excellent in this movie as well, as she portrays the side of "grace" beautifully. Not only does she portray an essence of vulnerability within her character, but you can also sense a deep tenderness and love for her children that resonates well throughout the film; even during their harsh times.

I should also warn readers that if you plan on seeing this movie because of Sean Penn, then you'll be very disappointed. Sean is only in the movie for less than ten minutes, and he barely makes any kind of an impact. Heck, they could have easily have cast an unknown for his part, and it never would've hurt the film.

As for the other technical sides of things, I loved how beautiful the cinematography was in this movie, as they do a great job capturing the essence of nature and spirituality almost perfectly with it's random shots of nature, with a mixture of CGI elements that only help increase the beauty of this movie even more. If that wasn't enough, I also loved the editing style of "The Tree of Life", as it blended in the perfect mixture of showing the viewers enough to see both the ugly and beautiful side of nature and spirituality. Indeed, even if you don't understand the story, you can at least appreciate the great visuals here, as Terrence Malick creates arguably one of the most artistically rendered films ever conceived.

Overall, I'd love to give this movie a perfect rating, as it's a very well told abstract story about the concepts of nature vs. spirituality, while proposing many complex questions about life. However, I can't ignore the fact that it's not going to appeal to everyone either, and as many of my readers know, I try to factor in target audience perspective into my reviews as well. Therefore, I would have to give this movie a three out of four. It's a great movie to watch if you can understand it, but because it's so abnormally abstract in it's way of story telling, it's not going to register with everyone.


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    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      Thanks, I'm glad you liked the movie and the review. Yeah, it's not exactly an easy movie to describe, as it's just one of those films you just have to see for yourself. Anyway, thanks for stopping by JBunce. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      Great review. I know that it isn't easy to explain exactly what the appeal of this movie is, or to be precise about why people should see it. Good job.

    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      Well, I hope so too, as it was a great movie. I don't know if I'd say it's best film of last year, but I would definitely put this into my top 3 for sure, as it was a great movie. As far as factoring in target audience perspective, it's a bit of a double edge sword sometimes. Most of the time when it gets factored it's usually in a film's favor, but it's rarely ever used to deduct points off a movie unless it's something that I feel will alienate the target audience it's designed to appeal to. Although that's kind of hard to deduce, as a lot of it is based on observations.

      I do try to be fair this way because I know a while back on hubpages forum when I asked people what they didn't like about film critics, most of them said it was because they were all snooty and biased, so I try to look at things from both the target audience perspective and my own perspective. Granted, it's a bit of a double edged sword sometimes, but I try to do things that I feel other film critics aren't doing to make people want to read their writing...if that makes sense.

      However, it's rarely ever factored in though, as it's very subjective at best. But, you do make a valid point though, so I might have to reconsider this factor a bit for future reviews.

      However, I do agree with you that the spirituality aspects of the film were the best parts, and I loved many of the philosophical questions this film raises.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by, as I'm glad you liked the movie and review.

    • innersmiff profile image

      James Smith 

      6 years ago from UK

      I would say, if your instincts are saying give it a perfect score, give it a perfect score. I'm not that interested in a prediction of whether people will like it or not, I would much rather know what your reaction to it was. It also deserves a perfect score because it's the best film of the year! I'm glad you're open to the spirituality in the film as it's the most interesting aspect to it.

      I hope more people see it!

    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      Well to each their own about Brad Pitt. I just thought he was better in "Moneyball" because the performance of himself and Jonah Hill really carried the movie for me in that one, so that's why I said it. However, I do agree with you that he did have a good performance in this movie as well.

      It's kind of a shame this movie was released way too early last year, as it probably would've gotten more love from the Oscars had they waited for a fall release during 2011.

      The abstract nature of this film didn't bother me at all either, but I can see how easily most people wouldn't like it, as it's one of those rare movies that you have to almost analyze every scene closely to get it. However, it's definitely a great movie though, as you said.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by to read my hub thatmovieguy71, as i'm glad you liked it. And also thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I really enjoyed your hub about The Tree of Life. I really liked this movie - the abstract nature of the film didn't bother me at all. I enjoy movies that make you think and ask questions, and this movie certainly did both. I disagree with you about Brad Pitt though, I felt his performance here was superior to his Moneyball performance.


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