The Tree of Life (PG)

Film

Fantasy films

The tree of life.jpg

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5
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Time Out says

Posted: Tue Jul 5 2011

There’s so much brilliance at work in ‘The Tree of Life’, the new film from ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’ director Terrence Malick, and its ambition and willingness to lay itself open to interpretation are hard to fault. But it’s also hard not to conclude that this hugely anticipated, epic movie from the lesser-spotted, 67-year-old poet of American cinema is a work that stretches itself so broadly by asking Big Questions that it ends up dealing in platitudes.

Still, ‘The Tree of Life’, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in May, offers breathtaking imagery and even manages to survive an epic detour to the dawn of time, featuring the Big Bang, dinosaurs, meteors and all. It’s so ambitious and full of inquiring ideas and questions about our place in the world that, perhaps inevitably, it feels like a grand folly – albeit a heartfelt and stimulating one. Such is the chaos of life, the universe and everything, maybe that’s the only appropriate outcome of such a project?

Here, Malick takes his interests in man’s essential nature to a more universal plane. You could say the film is set in the 1950s as it portrays, in fragmentary detail, the life of a ’50s family: a mother (Jessica Chastain), father (Brad Pitt) and three young sons, one of whom they lose as a teenager. Early on, the mother’s voiceover sets up a debate, asking whether man should follow the more selfish way of nature or the less selfish way of grace, and she and her husband embody both approaches. She is a loving presence, photographed among trees, birds and butterflies; he is a businessman, prone to anger, who tells his sons, ‘If you want to succeed, you can’t be too good.’

Time is fluid even in this chapter: it’s more poetic than real. But then the film takes an extraordinary leap. We go back millions of years in time, to the beginning of the world and a long section, complete with choral music, that stands as a staggeringly crafted hymn to creation. We see swirling gases, planets emerging and the beginning of life itself, which leads to plants, fish and dinosaurs. It suggests we should see the family of the rest of the film as an archetype, a typical family in Biblical terms even, and maybe not even of any particular time.

And yet, instead of looking back from the family to the context of pre-history, you could also look back to them from now and see their story as an origin tale for modern America. Malick prompts such a view by later showing one of the sons, played by Sean Penn, in the present day – in a vague business context in a modern city but also in more dreamlike scenes, wandering in the desert. In the film’s heavenly final scene, he gathers on a beach with a crowd of characters, including his own family as they were in the 1950s. It is then that the film will tip into an uncomfortable place for some. It feels overtly religious and even Christian (rather than just interested in the spiritual) as the sound of ‘Amen’ wails repeatedly from the soundtrack.

If ‘The Tree of Life’ sounds like a swirl of images and ideas, suggestions and juxtapositions, that’s exactly what it  is. Taken alone, the film’s imagery should give great pleasure to Malick’s fans and newcomers alike. Leaving aside the novelty of the magically rendered pre-history scenes, the 1950s episodes look gorgeous. The elemental, crisp photography, making even suburbia look like a place close to nature, is incredibly alluring.

And yet for all the grand ideas and the sweep of history at its core, the film comes to feel repetitive and even simplistic. It’s not so crude as to portray Pitt’s character as demonic or evil, but its portrayal of Chastain’s character as an angel of the Earth begins to feel shallow, and the ritual loss of innocence that the sons go through also feels laboured. While it fascinates as much as it frustrates, the film’s saving grace is that it always feels honest and never cynical. It seems both relevant to us and personal to the filmmaker. It doesn’t always communicate well, and when it does, it can be trite, but it’s a film that’s incredibly beautiful and wide open for the taking.
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Release details

Rated:

PG

UK release:

Fri Jul 8, 2011

Duration:

138 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Terrence Malick

Screenwriter:

Terrence Malick

Cast:

Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Kari Matchett, Jessica Chastain

Users say

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

3.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:30
  • 4 star:20
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:14
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|155
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John Cooper

This is a tough film to watch . . . because it is dealing with a very serious subject . . . the meaning of life itself . . . and since none of us can give a definitive answer to this perennial question, we have to accept that the film-director's vision is a valid one . . . and that somewhere within this jumble of images, music and whispered voice-overs, there is a profound sense of wonder at the mystery of the universe. The film's centre is a boy's experiences growing up in the 50's in mid-western America, and here the film scores highly with its authentic period details and evocation of mood. However plot-wise, the film chafes and irritates instead of involving . .. . The film is indulgent with its sudden digressions into geophysical creation and the evolution of life, and this disrupts the slender narrative i s that is straining to sustain our interest. Originality and iconoclastic cinematography are not enough to make a great movie . . . This is a deeply personal vision and as such is only sporadically accessible to the viewing audience. However, the integrity of the project is never in doubt, and this helps with the longuers. This film took me back to my own fifties childhood, but may well baffle younger generations who have never been told to ` go outside and play`

Humphrey Higginbottom

The worst film I've ever watched, 30mins through I gave up , its meant be about a father and son and its called the tree of life then you end up watching dinosaurs and the Big Bang theory.

CGS

We found ourselves looking forward to the end of this film. It had no plot and you find yourself waiting for it to get better and it doesn't. People who liked this must be easily pleased or on LSD as well as Malik. Good though if you wnt to catch up on some sleepZZZZZZZZZZ

David

I congratulate everyone involved in the making of a staggeringly beautiful film. I felt moved by the performances and thoroughly enjoyed the lack of dialogue. It was a film like very few before it, I was asked to sense things rather than be spoon fed them. I know it won't be to everyone's taste and there were periods that need patience but the director and team involved should be lauded for their bravery and individuality.

David

I congratulate everyone involved in the making of a staggeringly beautiful film. I felt moved by the performances and thoroughly enjoyed the lack of dialogue. It was a film like very few before it, I was asked to sense things rather than be spoon fed them. I know it won't be to everyone's taste and there were periods that need patience but the director and team involved should be lauded for their bravery and individuality.

Peter

Good point, Alfredo. The film is among other things a fine and creative portrayal of grief and the grieving process. A film that is open to the possibility of redemptive hope.

nadz

i really loved the artistic side of the film but i thought the storyline was quite simple and boring, i just couldn't connect with this film but visually it was breathtaking!

chris

This is not about reviewing Malick's career. It's about this one film that's it, And 95% of the reviews are 1 star. Thats the critics have spoken.

Steve

A Timotei advert crossed with Clash of the Titans would sum this up quite nicely, except both of those were way better.

dvder

I stumbled across this movie on Sky. Initially enthralled by the photography, I increasingly found myself wondering when the advertising message was going to come on, such was the nativity of this movie. I came online to see how it reviewed and saw this one, which pretty much nailed how I felt. As a collection of images, sure it's beautiful, but then it was spoilt for me not only for its preachiness but also for how widely it missed the mark. I get what it was trying to say, but the nativity of that statement was breathtaking. Pretty much the only thing voting for it was its honesty, but that's not enough to redeem it. Oh and how apt to see pretty boy in this movie: the mark of quality....

Terry

Its a beautiful move in a time were there is little, If you like symbolism and respect art. This move will take your breath away. Its one of those movies that divides the watchers with no middle ground you either love its brilliance or hate it because you don't understand it. I recommend watching it of your own volition.

Terry

Its a beautiful move in a time were there is little, If you like symbolism and respect art. This move will take your breath away. Its one of those movies that divides the watchers with no middle ground you either love its brilliance or hate it because you don't understand it. I recommend watching it of your own volition.

Decor1

Horrible film! Misses the 30 minute rule, In the 1st 30 minutes a film must: 1. Engage the viewer to like or dislike the characters, 2. I must be intrigrided by the narrative and want to see more. 3. I must want to see how these characters interact and resolve this narrative. 4. I must be engaged with the narrative to have questions I want answers. 5.I must want to care about these characters and their story and how they come to a a consclusion. Not one of these criteria were met in the 1st 30 minutes.. If these criteria are not met in 30 minutes the film is not going to get any better! Walk out, or better still run out, and ask for your money back. This is coming from someone who is a film school graduate, and this mandate has never failed me. And I am never wrong about a film if I apply this criteria! All good directors know they have 30 minutes to engage you! Call them on it if they do not follow through!!!

harry webb

Nominations are wishful thinking. There's been too much of that going on here already. Let's stick with reality.

tris

Great to know that Brad Pitt was nominated for an Oscar, Harry, He portrayed the patronising father excellently.

tris

Great to know that Brad Pitt was nominated for an Oscar, Harry, He portrayed the patronising father excellently.

Marty

Gorgeous film to look at. Fine, nuanced acting at times. The most deathly dull piece of cinema ever released.

Harry Webb

Tris (one post below) is telling me I'm not as mature or as sophisticated as he, she or it (tris). Frankly, I'd rather hear about what's so good about the film rather than a cheap put-down of a total stranger. The upshot of this blog so far is that Malick brings out the patronisers amongst us. If I were to join their ranks, I'd say that there are people who see a film like this and think wow, he's making all the right noises and showing all the trendy images, this must be art. 'C-R-A-P' does not spell art. And endorsement by patronisers of fellow critics doesn't make for critical assessment of a work of crap, er art, in this case. The 'nays' certainly have it on this blog, and their judgment is: Malick, get back to your drawing board and be careful where you put your hands.

Anka

One thing I learned from this movie: Malik has ego bigger than Mount Everest. Too bad, because if he got rid of all the pseudophilosophical stuff, the National Geographic stock footage, the ridiculous music and the kitchy sequence at the end, he would end up with a decent movie.

tris

Much safer, I guess. Though, life begins at the end of your comfor zone ...

tris

Much safer, I guess. Though, life begins at the end of your comfor zone ...

tris

The body language, the small nuanses acted out by the characters are so true to life. The small, nearly understated body movement from Brad Pritt when he learned about his son's death was so so real and painful, but you would only have recognised that gesture of pain if you have been through the school of life. The very feminine, soft and sometimes misty figure of the mother is, according to studies, exactly the image that boys have from their mothers when they enter this world - images they prefer to keep intact.

tris

The body language, the small nuanses acted out by the characters are so true to life. The small, nearly understated body movement from Brad Pritt when he learned about his son's death was so so real and painful, but you would only have recognised that gesture of pain if you have been through the school of life. The very feminine, soft and sometimes misty figure of the mother is, according to studies, exactly the image that boys have from their mothers when they enter this world - images they prefer to keep intact.

Suley

Its a beautiful move in a time were there is little, If you like symbolism and respect art. This move will take your breath away. Its one of those movies that divides the watchers with no middle ground you either love its brilliance or hate it because you don't understand it. I recommend watching it of your own volition.

Suley

Its a beautiful move in a time were there is little, If you like symbolism and respect art. This move will take your breath away. Its one of those movies that divides the watchers with no middle ground you either love its brilliance or hate it because you don't understand it. I recommend watching it of your own volition.

Suley

Its like a personal journey through life that's contrasted against the universe and brought together by the world

Suley

Its like a personal journey through life that's contrasted against the universe and brought together by the world

scrumpyjack

Every TV showroom should be issued with this so as to demonstrate the picture quality of their stock to customers. Any other use for this piece? No, not really.

Harold Baxter

Fiercehairdo got a tight grip on the core of the problem this film poses, and at a higher level of the responsibility of the artist. This was art for art's sake at a time when we're moving away from that narcissistic approach to self-expression. Just splattering pain over the canvas and giving it an exotic name doesn't cut the mustard any more. The audience has wisened up. Andy Warhol would have loved this giant ink blotter of Malick's. Malick has to find a form of expression that doesn't rob so many people of their $19.50. The theatre I was in had about three hundred people, and it was down to about forty souls by the end of the first half-hour. That's grand larceny on a global scale. But the real villains in this affair are the critics who just can't bring themselves to say what needs to be said to avert the loss of our money to the box office. It's got that way I don't take any notice of them anymore. And if the boofheads at Cannes think a certain film's terrific, I strike it off my list of movies to see. Can we see where all this pretence, pretension, sucking-up and self-indulgence is getting us? Not just nowhere but deeper into civilizational collapse. When the arts go, the rest tend to follow. Our artists need a giant kick up the seat padding.

Fiercehairdo

I really disliked this film. It wears it's claims to Depth and Meaning on it's sleeve yet it's profundity is entirely bogus. Aesthetically styled like a posh TV commercial even it's claim's to beauty are not justified - I found it repetitive and quite empty visually, very pretty but very boring. The endless footage of floaty steady-cam shots of kids playing in sunlit treelined streets really start to wear thin.The best section - the Origin of the Universe bit - is interesting, but one kept expecting Brian Cox's voice to appear over the soundtrack. The whole thing feels like part nature doc, part cosmology doc, part posh TV commercial. I was begging for it to end but when the ending comes, boy, is it a humdinger of BS! Literally taking us to some kind of heavenly afterlife where we all meet up with dead loved ones... My jaw hit the floor with the dumb simplicity of it all. Over two hours to get to this!!? I think Malick's is a massively over-rated director. His films are too often ponderous, tedious, and wrapped up in a phoney, airy-fairy, mumbo jumbo, Big Question, whispered voice over that really doesn't come close to dealing with genuinely interesting philosophical questions but instead just affects an air of depth and profundity. It is the style of depth without the content. I do wish the many film critics in thrall to his myth would wake up and face the fact that, yes, Malick is an interesting director but also very flawed and too often deadly dull.

Peter

The important thing to remember about The Tree of Life is that it is a personal statement about grief and loss on the part of the director. Perhaps those who have experienced grief themselves will more easily empathise with Terrence Malick's brave attempt at portraying the complex feelings associated with the trauma of the premature loss of a loved one. I found the sequence on the beach towards the end of the film very moving, hinting as it does at the possibility of some form of redemption.

Peter

The important thing to remember about The Tree of Life is that it is a personal statement about grief and loss on the part of the director. Perhaps those who have experienced grief themselves will more easily empathise with Terrence Malick's brave attempt at portraying the complex feelings associated with the trauma of the premature loss of a loved one. I found the sequence on the beach towards the end of the film very moving, hinting as it does at the possibility of some form of redemption.

Alan Gregson

I tried to give this film a quarter star rating but my attempts came to naught. How tedious it is to hear people defending this tripe called 'The Tree Of Life' while vulgarly displaying their own ignorance and pretentiousness (see dangarrob and others). I like what Malick has done in the past, as a poet with an eye for sacred detail. But the size of the canvas can undo any poet by smothering him as it outstrips his talent. The Baz Luhrmann analogy was well put. Both men swam out past the shark net. There's a simple rule in this sort of thing. If you charge people to gain access to your product, they have a right to demand satisfaction, given that the product was vetted as worthy of exposition. In the case of The Tree Of Life, the producers should have said to cinema-goers: look, go in and have a look at it. If you like it, pay; if you don't like it, say so in the suggestion box provided. What we got was an arrogant film by an arrogant artist peddled by an arrogant production and marketing team. A pox on you all I say. Instead of preaching to us about life, learn a little about it first. I want my money back. Do you hear?

anna

I've been watching this thread now for many months, without being compelled to respond, but DANGARROB were you comments meant to be a joke? Since your patronising views on other people’s IQ and educational standards were based on whether they liked Tree of Life or not, it is just embarrassing that you then go on to make asinine observations about the film, shrouded in atrocious grammar and expression. If you are trying to say that maturity is needed to appreciate this film, then in filmic terms, you must be very immature.

Harry Webb

I think dangarrob's waffle and Malick's 'Tree Of Life' have one thing in common: a love of obscurity and an incapacity to communicate. I learned nothing from either, other than to have found yet more proof that treating your fellows as idiots does nothing for your own cause or the cause in question - understanding why Malick bothered making this howler of a film.

dangarrob

There are certain films which demand from the spectator to have gone through certain personal life experiences to be properly understood and enjoyed. The importance of choosing a film according to personal affinity or educational background is mostly ignored when choosing what to watch at the cinema since films tend to be available to everyone without any restrictions in level of maturity or IQ for instance. Oftentimes, the only necessary requirement when making this choice is to know the actors involved in the cast as a guidance of the type of film we are expecting (i.e. Brad Pitt). Unfortunately, the undesired consequences of choosing a film this way is to come out frustrated or confused when dealing with material with which one feels out of depth with. There are films where the opinion of an spectator will account to nothing and their intrinsic value doesn't depend on whether the message of the film is understood or not by a majority of spectators. Some films are alike other forms of art which stand by their own rules and standards and need to be actively experienced. "The tree of life" is a welcomed representative of these films and a reminder to us that film is more than just painting by numbers.

dangarrob

There are certain films which demand from the spectator to have gone through certain personal life experiences to be properly understood and enjoyed. The importance of choosing a film according to personal affinity or educational background is mostly ignored when choosing what to watch at the cinema since films tend to be available to everyone without any restrictions in level of maturity or IQ for instance. Oftentimes, the only necessary requirement when making this choice is to know the actors involved in the cast as a guidance of the type of film we are expecting (i.e. Brad Pitt). Unfortunately, the undesired consequences of choosing a film this way is to come out frustrated or confused when dealing with material with which one feels out of depth with. There are films where the opinion of an spectator will account to nothing and their intrinsic value doesn't depend on whether the message of the film is understood or not by a majority of spectators. Some films are alike other forms of art which stand by their own rules and standards and need to be actively experienced. "The tree of life" is a welcomed representative of these films and a reminder to us that film is more than just painting by numbers.

Mark

I love a movie that creates division. This is after all a relative experience that we are having. Brave film making that mostly hit the Mark for me. Unlike most of the films ever made this one will not be forgotten.

Clarry

If this last post of Peter's is correct, we ought toi have been given a pro rata refund of the $20 I paid. That's life. But let's be serious. An artist of Malick's stature and record can't be allowed to get away with this by politically correct posturing and unmerited tolerance. This was self-indulgence and sentimentality artists engage in at their peril. The cinema is not a place to replicate life but to transcend it by artifice (art). We don't pay good money to see what we see at home. We don't have to put up with the bad bits. It's malick's jopb to exclude them. We pay him, not him us. This New Age tolerance of crap is beyond my understanding.

Peter

Just as in life, The Tree of Life contains some sublime moments as well as a fair degree of tedium. For me, it was worth seeing for the sublime moments. One must have patience with the 'boring' parts.

Kinlochs

I have been watching this film now for 37 mins I had to log on to this site to try and find out what it was all about. OH MY GOD what a load of crap. That's all I have to say........

Peter

The only thing profound about this movie is how truly bad it is! It is the most boring and pointless film i have ever seen! It attempts to ask profound yet vague and pointless questions through the story of one family. It annoyingly provides no answers. This film is nothing but pretentious rubbish. Its clearly obvious that the film maker has no idea about reality or thinks his audience is made up of morons! He is way too self absorbed in his own pathetic drug induced existence. I want my 2 hours back!! -5 stars

rabi&#039;a

so glad to find i'm not the only one unable to connect the dots so much hype, so little contend. good screen saver material.

Happycookie

Had some thought provoking moments, but mostly over indulgent and the genesis section was totally pointless but the cast were excellent and produced some powerful scenes with very little dialogue. A film a tad too big for it's boots.

Greg Hamilton

There seem to be two types of commentator here. Those who say what they honestly felt from the experience of watching this ordeal of a movie, and those who want to be seen to be with the avant garde who see mystical things the rest of us are blind to. This last post was of that ilk. I don't mind being told I'm backward so long as my accuser is ready to show his cards, and explain what he can see and the rest of us can't. All we get is motherhood statements that show nothing of their real appreciation of the film. Big deal! How about a bit less showing off and a bit more erudition of the type you claim to possess. All I know is that the cinema I went to emptied in the the first twenty minutes when the audience realized we were being had. I felt like leaving too, but I was keen to see how this pretentious exercise in 'art' developed. It just went from bad to worse. One trhing that really gets up my nose is the snob who comes on here to say what a superior chap he is compared to us cretins and makes as big a berk of himself as Malick did on this occasion. This film was a bloody dud, and all those who've had a contrary view haven't made a case to the contrary. All they've done is say, hey you uneducated morons, look at me. I'm terrific. (Spew, spew). I think this movie was crap. A\nd the reason I say so is because it broke the rules that keep a viewer in his seat. This thing had nothing of the mature stuff that writers takes a generation to develop. Malick just said 'Cop this!', took the millions and ran. Then these sweet things line up to say what a bunch of idiots we are for thinking we were dudded. I want my money back!!! And if this last person to post is such an advanced human being, let him pay for Malick's abuse of our intelligence on this occasion. I put my money where my mouth is. I paid to watch this garbage so I've paid my dues in saying what I think. The bad movie is one thing. But the pretenders who say we're a bunch of plonkers deserve a special rogering if they can't explain what's so inspiring about this inane piece of filmic expression (aka expressionistic wank). If these bods get their way, film criticism will have joined all other criticism by doing completelu up the bottoms of all concerned. You Poms have been on a binge of self-indulgent crap for so long that we Aussies wonder what's coming next from you. How about a bit less crap when we talk about art? Please?

Kevork

This is a film whose true brilliance will become apparent years from now, when all the trendy critics who just don't get it (including the one above) will have been drowned out. It is a masterpiece of epic scale. People compare it to 2001? Well, they should remember that work of genius also got mixed reviews when it came out.

Kevork

This is a film whose true brilliance will become apparent years from now, when all the trendy critics who just don't get it (including the one above) will have been drowned out. It is a masterpiece of epic scale. People compare it to 2001? Well, they should remember that work of genius also got mixed reviews when it came out.

Jay Moreland

When Baz Luhrman bombed badly with 'Australia', it was because he was too ambitious (unreasonably so) and refused to get good advice from people able to provide it. Malick can make good films - even great films - we've seen that already. But he did a 'Baz' with this one. He should've studied how Kubrick pulled off 2001 so deftly while its sequel 2010, in lesser hands, was a disaster like the Tree Of Life. It also pays to test the product before it's distributed. The fact that it would empty cinemas so rapidly could have been known before it went out to the world cinemas cheating people out of millions of dollars. Filmmakers HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY not to con people with their delusions of grandeur.

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