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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Brad Pitt
Sean Penn
Jessica Chastain
Hunter McCracken.
Directors
Terrence Malick.
Screenwriters
Terrence Malick.
Running Time
139 mins minutes

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The Tree Of Life
It's a kind of Malick...


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Plot
On the anniversary of his brother's death, troubled architect Jack O'Brien (Penn) ponders his place in the universe, leading inevitably to powerful memories of his turbulent '50s childhood in Waco, Texas - in particular, his formative relationship with his ethereal mother (Chastain) and disciplinarian father (Pitt).


Review
The Tree Of Life
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For his fifth film in 40 years, you wonder whether magisterial slowcoach Terrence Malick took stock of his recent output — such abstruse meditations on war, colonialism, and the ineffable fabric of nature as The Thin Red Line and The New World — and felt it was high time he brought a halt to this worrying slide into crass commercialism. After six years chewing over a bit of Heidegger with his Weetabix, and smothering his intentions in a blanket of secrecy like an impenetrable hybrid of J. J. Abrams and J. D. Salinger, he has summoned forth a dizzyingly impressionistic study of family life that doubles as a vaulting enquiry into the very nature of the universe and the possibility of God. Kubrick’s 2001 comes close, but Malick’s philosophy pines for the salve of love and spirit, and comes light on psychotic super-computers. Even the hardy concept of dialogue falls prey to his exquisitely aloof vision. Against the constant murmurings of nature, we catch only odd lines and whispered voiceovers querulously calling to a hard-of-hearing deity: “Where were you?”

In other words, the kind of highly personal filmmaking where we must first pass though the dawning of time — literally nebulous bodies billowing cloudlike against the black veil of the universe; raw planets spewing gas and lava, primordial pools fecund with boiling matter; sparks of life in the nuclei of swarming cells, dancing proto-fish spinning lightwards, and a wounded plesiosaur on a desolate beach as a meteor strike scours the surface clear for the birth of mankind — before we get to what is commonly referred to as a scene. Cycles of life and death on a cosmic scale contrasted with the intricate dynamics of family.

Actually, instead of beginning at the very beginning, the film kicks off in the mid-1960s with news of the death of R. L. (Laramie Eppler), our protagonist Jack’s (Hunter McCracken) brother, aged only 19. How he died remains elusive, but Malick’s younger brother is reputed to have committed suicide at 19. This shudder of grief will reverberate like a meteor crash through the film, stirring the first of so many questions: what does the loss of a loved one mean against the backdrop of eternity? Much, it transpires.

It is this unshakable heartache, as bitter as the taste of a madeleine is sweet, that casts Sean Penn’s grown-up Jack down a Proustian time tunnel from the metallic canyons of present day Houston, by way of the aforementioned Creation, to the sun-softened enchantment of his childhood. Jack and his two brothers (all three actors wonderfully naturalistic unknowns) are nurtured in an Edenic youth recalled via an organic pulse of ‘memories’: fragments of story, grace notes, wisps of emotion, the odd flicker of Lynchian weirdness. Together an uncanny distillation of how human memory stirs its keeper, awash in Malick’s transcendent imagery: light cascading through leaves, the kiss of a breeze on wild grass, filigree curtains billowing through window frames, dogs running wild.

Theirs is a harmony held in balance by the opposing poles of their parents. A luminous, angelic mother (Jessica Chastain), made holy by the exaltation of Jack’s recollection, bestows a lilting ideology: “The way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you follow.” She is exemplified as grace. While the astonishingly mature Brad Pitt as Jack’s terse patriarch — a soul damped down by quashed aspiration, veering between brutal discipline and astringent love — espouses the doctrine of nature: nothing can be achieved without will. Even without the scaffolding of story, this is a sublime evocation of the tides of ecstasy and torment flowing through an American boyhood.

Malick conducts his five editors the way great composers conjure art from thin air, creating an unforgettable symphony of beauty, introspection, and wells of unabashed feeling. And to accompany such cinematic inspiration, not for this director the dreadnought snarls of Nickelback, but extracts of Couperin, Berlioz, Brahms, Mahler and Bach, interposed with Alexandre Desplat’s yearning score. The very execution poses its own spiritual enquiry — how can such beauty be created in a meaningless void?

The result is so disarmingly unironic, and therefore open to mockery, it’s easy to see why it was met with a chorus of boos from Cannes’ sincerity-phobic critics. Sure, at times it lifts off too far, becoming too remote and self-involved to fully grasp. And the closing images of Sean Penn blundering across a metaphorical beach in his sodden Armani suggest a potential afterlife as drunkenly off-kilter as that rum-do at the end of Lost. It is equally clear why The Tree Of Life landed the Palme D’or — against the brute attack of modern cinema it feels heaven-sent. A film awestruck by life: why are we here? What are we for? Where did it all go wrong? And where could it yet go right? Malick doesn’t pretend to have actual answers. But then neither, one suspects, does Transformers 3.


Verdict
There is simply nothing like it out there: profound, idiosyncratic, complex, sincere and magical; a confirmation that cinema can aspire to art.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Tree Of Life
Empire Star Rating

RE: I'm fairly certain thats not a film.

L: RLTShirley I honestly don't know where to begin. I don't think you can really call this a film. It's like 10 hours long and there's basically no dialogue or plot. It starts with Shaun Penn looking bored and saying nothing, then there's about 2 hours of Brad Pitt looking angry and saying nothing before a really long montage of a chic floating around a tree (literally floating) saying nothing. At this point I fell asleep then woke up about 3 hours later and the film had changed into a bu... More

Posted by chris kilby at 21:40, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post


I mean I know I probably don't fall into this films target demographic, but it really makes me wonder what kind of a person actually enjoys watching this kind of thing. Yeah I'm sure it's all artistic and shit but that doesn't make it good. If you want to debate how important or how much artistic merit something has go look at a pile of bricks or an unmade bed or something. Films are supposed to be entertaining. The filmmaker must really love the smell of his own farts to have released this. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RLTShirley at 11:15, 22 February 2013 | Report This Post


I'm fairly certain thats not a film.

I honestly don't know where to begin. I don't think you can really call this a film. It's like 10 hours long and there's basically no dialogue or plot. It starts with Shaun Penn looking bored and saying nothing, then there's about 2 hours of Brad Pitt looking angry and saying nothing before a really long montage of a chic floating around a tree (literally floating) saying nothing. At this point I fell asleep then woke up about 3 hours later and the film had changed into a bunch of shots of a rub... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RLTShirley at 10:56, 22 February 2013 | Report This Post


Overrated Tree of Life

Overrated, overhyped, contrived, confusing. Stupid, preposterous waste of time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:14, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Overrated Tree of Life

Overrated, overhyped, contrived, confusing. Stupid, preposterous waste of time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:14, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Overrated Tree of Life

Overrated, overhyped, contrived, confusing. Stupid, preposterous waste of time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:14, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Overrated Tree of Life

Overrated, overhyped, contrived, confusing. Stupid, preposterous waste of time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:14, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Masterpiece

A true Masterpiece - ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 00:11, 04 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Tree Of Life

7/10 The Tree of Life: This film’s an odd but very interesting (for some folks a very powerful) film. It is absolutely very artistic! I liked it. Some film fans might find this painstakingly slow and too 'Artsy-Fartsy' though. It’s love it or hate it sort of film. You should see it before you judge it. ... More

Posted by m_er at 13:34, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

Thoroughly moving film. ... More

Posted by max314 at 18:09, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

end, you have indeed 'argued back'. Just not very convincingly in my view. But as I said a while ago life is too short to argue these points. The film itself was long (and tedious) enough anyway. h whatever. HOWEVER, if you found it long and tedious than you have every right to see it that way and I can see why people would think that, that was not what I was typing about. t us try to end on settling the most important point: IT WAS A BEACH!!!!! It also featured salt flats. True. But th... More

Posted by Deviation at 14:50, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation ou are an angry fellow aren't you. It does you no good to be so consistently angry and so consistently wrong. I see you've abandoned your "IT'S NOT A BEACH" claim - important one that! fffffffft, if you think that is anger than you've seen nothing yet, itìs happiness compared to some of the anger featured here.ally haven't abandoned the beach thing, set location proves that it is a salt flat but whatevs....And it's not anger, it's annoyance at the way you were debating p... More

Posted by fiercehairdo at 14:34, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

ou are an angry fellow aren't you. It does you no good to be so consistently angry and so consistently wrong. I see you've abandoned your "IT'S NOT A BEACH" claim - important one that! fffffffft, if you think that is anger than you've seen nothing yet, itìs happiness compared to some of the anger featured here.ally haven't abandoned the beach thing, set location proves that it is a salt flat but whatevs....And it's not anger, it's annoyance at the way you were debating previously and still ar... More

Posted by Deviation at 14:17, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation L: fiercehairdo It really isn't my job to provide you with basic research that you cant be bothered to do yourself. Again and again you ask for proof of anyone reading the film in this way, as if it was obscure mis-understanding rather than screamingly obvious message on the screen, when you could simply google it and get straight there. Your ignorance of the current debates around this film does not give weight to your argument but rather the opposite. OW IS IT HE... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fiercehairdo at 13:47, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: fiercehairdo It really isn't my job to provide you with basic research that you cant be bothered to do yourself. Again and again you ask for proof of anyone reading the film in this way, as if it was obscure mis-understanding rather than screamingly obvious message on the screen, when you could simply google it and get straight there. Your ignorance of the current debates around this film does not give weight to your argument but rather the opposite. OW IS IT HEAVEN?! Heavenly in ... More

Posted by Deviation at 12:47, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: elab49 Without reading the articles in detail I'd admit, I'd suggest those quotes undermine the suggestion of a simply Christian view on the film - most of those quotes actually suggest something broader, covering many ideas with Christian possibly being a part. 'and even Christian' - is only a part. Souls/gods/afterlifes/purgatory/heaven - concepts that are not restricted to christian mythology. Also, this conversation would be a lot more interesting if both/either o... More

Posted by fiercehairdo at 11:16, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

Without reading the articles in detail I'd admit, I'd suggest those quotes undermine the suggestion of a simply Christian view on the film - most of those quotes actually suggest something broader, covering many ideas with Christian possibly being a part.   'and even Christian' - is only a part.   Souls/gods/afterlifes/purgatory/heaven - concepts that are not restricted to christian mythology.   Also, this conversation would be a lot more interesting if both/either... More

Posted by elab49 at 11:08, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation ome other reviews of this film. They nearly all identify a clear religious theme. And many clearly identify the end beach scene as a vision of some kind of afterlife/eternity/metaphysical vision.hich people? I'm honestly asking for explanation for how it is since it all seems to allude to his memories in the 50s rather than afterlife. Everyone is in the age of their were in the 50s. Some 60% of the film is about Penn being haunted by his memories of the 50s. How is it not a r... More

Posted by fiercehairdo at 10:45, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

ome other reviews of this film. They nearly all identify a clear religious theme. And many clearly identify the end beach scene as a vision of some kind of afterlife/eternity/metaphysical vision.hich people? I'm honestly asking for explanation for how it is since it all seems to allude to his memories in the 50s rather than afterlife. Everyone is in the age of their were in the 50s. Some 60% of the film is about Penn being haunted by his memories of the 50s. How is it not a reconciliation? Will... More

Posted by Deviation at 02:51, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation lm opens with a quote from Job in the Bible. The Christian Bible. Pretty clearly indicating it's religious inclination - Christian - right at the outset. Christian themes continue throughout. Malick is a Christian. I really don't think you can seriously suggest that "that the film might not be that religiously inclined". Furthermore, a lot of the music is Christian and used for specifically for it's Christian themes. "Amen" blasts repeatedly from the soundtrack for e... More

Posted by fiercehairdo at 00:00, 09 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: UTB This might seem like an odd comment given that the two films are so different, but quite often since watching The Tree Of Life whenever I think about it, I think "I really must watch Enter The Void again.". Might make for an interesting double bill, thats for sure. nter the Void and Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives. That's how it should be done. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 23:13, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

lm opens with a quote from Job in the Bible. The Christian Bible. Pretty clearly indicating it's religious inclination - Christian - right at the outset. Christian themes continue throughout. Malick is a Christian. I really don't think you can seriously suggest that "that the film might not be that religiously inclined". Furthermore, a lot of the music is Christian and used for specifically for it's Christian themes. "Amen" blasts repeatedly from the soundtrack for example. Although vagu... More

Posted by Deviation at 23:12, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

This might seem like an odd comment given that the two films are so different, but quite often since watching The Tree Of Life whenever I think about it, I think "I really must watch Enter The Void again.". Might make for an interesting double bill, thats for sure. ... More

Posted by UTB at 22:54, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation I have a question though aimed at everyone. Is one of the two girls seen with O' Brien's mother on the Salt Lake his future wife, ie, the one seen in the film in the contemporary segments? Cause that would most certainly mean that it is not the afterlife.  They were intended to be Angels I think. A number of commentators have suggested this (here for example but lots of others too: http://goatmilkblog.com/2011/05/17/the-tree-of-life-mov ie-review-and-reflection/). ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fiercehairdo at 22:34, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Terrible - It's "Depth" is entirely bogus.

L: Deviation ase explain how it is "quite clear" that it wasn't an afterlife? On the contrary I feel it clearly was (or at the very least some kind of metaphysical claim about death and eternity) and many commentators have identified it as such. Sean Penn meets his dead brother there for one thing. But I'd be interested to hear your explanation of what you think is going on when the whole cast meet (including dead characters) at the end? ecause many of the characters featured there w... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fiercehairdo at 22:28, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post


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