The Tree of Life: Movie Review

I like Terrence Malick films, but I don’t recommend them for everyone. The Thin Red Line is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s up there with Fight Club and Memento in the short list of films I’ve seen a dozen times or more. His latest film just came out, called The Tree of Life, staring Brad Pitt.

The problem with his movies for most people, particularly The Thin Red Line and Tree of Life, is they are long, abstract, non-linear and have fuzzy narrative structures that intentionally defy easy comprehension. They are not sitcoms or thrillers: you have to put more of your attention in to get something out.  The upside is every moment in his films is beautiful and unusual. He reaches as far as he can with the medium of film to express ideas and feelings hard to capture any other way. If you made it through Koyaanisqatsi, Mallick is easy to watch, as there is comparatively lots of narrative – but most people don’t make it all the way through Koyaanisqatsi. In fact in the matinée showing I saw of Tree of Life, one couple got up and left half-way through.

Actual review starts here: The main story is about a boy growing up in Texas (played as an adult by Sean Penn) in the 1950s, with an overbearing father and a loving, but submissive mother, and how they deal with joy and crisis in their lives. Like 2001: a Space Odyssey, there are many scenes wrapped around this story that are abstract, and about the nature of life and the history of the universe. The movie wanders in and out of the main story in epic, but sometimes disorienting fashion. Many epic themes: fathers, mothers, doors, trees (no surprise),  love, hate, birth and death. The mystery of grace, a theme of the Thin Red Line as well, is central here as well.

And there’s something about how he films people that feels like memory. The camera moves in unusual, but not distracting, over-the shoulder ways. His colors and textures magically feel more like my own memories of childhood, warm and slightly worn out, rather than the perfectly sharp and clean feeling most films have.

Every negative review I’ve read of the movie is accurate. Mallick could use a sense of humor. His vision is overbearing and relentless. But so are the positive ones: he makes art unlike what you will find from Hollywood. He offers a different kind of uplifting experience in the theater. Something about his films acts like a seed in the mind, growing in potency after you leave. There were moments in the film I’ve been thinking about again and again since I left, and the stretches where I felt bored have been reduced away. Unlike most movies where the pleasure is only found in the watching, Tree of Life, if you have the patience, pays off in the thinking and feeling for long after you leave the theater.

Trailer below – it’s in limited run in the U.S. – if you’re interested, definitely worth seeing in the theater. You can find a list of theaters where it’s playing  by zip code:

7 Responses to “The Tree of Life: Movie Review”

  1. WS Neel

    This movie ranks as the dumbest one I have ever seen. Are the people who gave it a high rating on somethin? Of the five people in the theater who watched it, two gave up and left early. I wish I had left with them.

  2. SP

    I liked this movie, but I wanted to love it. Its power is diminished for me because it is technically ordinary. The effects, sound and visual, do not pop. They are not 3 dimensional enough(I don’t mean 3D). But the ideas that suggest themselves in this film are wonderful. Wish there was more like this out there.

  3. Juan Como vender en internet

    This film is strikingly similar to the film shown inside? of Mormon temples that depict the formation of the Earth and deal with the meaning of life. The symbolism and motifs of light, darkness, good, evil and redemption are exactly the same. Even the cosmic imagery and primal spirituality are the same as inside the LDS temple.

  4. Les Eddy

    Worst movie ever!! My wife and I sat for two hours waiting for a plot that never happened. All the solar system outer space stuff to the inner space microscopic shots to the dinosaurs that took a long time, at least 15 to 20 minutes of torture, and I still can’t figure out how it related to anything in the movie. I lost two hours of my finite life that I can never get back. Honestly, I friggen hated this movie! What was the deal with Sean Penn walking in the desert of rocks? Weird!!!

  5. Sean Crawford

    Every single shot is framed for beauty. I liked it.

    I had just that morning read a critical essay on the works of Ann Dillard, best known for her pulitzer winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where Ann is aware of the vastness of nature.

    She saw us as cut off at both ends, from nature (we are self aware) and from God (not aware enough) while wondering, Where do we fit in God’s world? And, is God a good guy or a bad guy? Active or removed?To me all of this is the subject of the movie, while the movie’s thesis is spoken by the priest’s sermon around the storey of Job.

    Nor all of my piety nor wit nor goodness can prevent stuff from happening to us all.

  6. Sean Crawford

    Tree of Life could not have a plot/story and still be true to it’s topic. If you tell a story, then, like painting a picture, you cannot help but put a bit of yourself into the art: your philosophy, your sense of meaning. But as the voice overs implied, people are sometimes at the very center, between meaning and nonmeaning, when it comes to their view of life and God. The movie conjures up those times when you just don’t know where you stand. Life is a mystery…. and for me faith walks with grace.

  7. lito de como ganar dinero en internet

    I liked this movie, but I wanted to love it. Its power is diminished for me because it is technically ordinary.

    This film is strikingly similar to the film shown inside? of Mormon temples that depict the formation of the Earth and deal with the meaning of life.



Leave a Reply

* Required