Now Playing: Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ Is a Beautiful Educational Experience

Unfortunately, my first bout with Terrence Malick was trying to watch ‘The New World‘ at 1 AM on a non-stop flight from Dallas, Texas to London, England. The movie itself was so boring, yet I could not fall asleep. How is that possible? Malick’s films are visually stunning. The absence of artificial lighting combined with beautiful screen composition and brilliant colors was hypnotizing. Although ‘The New World’ lacked the content to match the director’s visual style, such is fortunately not always the case. He mesmerized me with ‘The Thin Red Line‘, and his new film ‘The Tree of Life’ is right up there with that one.

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, ‘The Tree of Life’ documents several years of life in the O’Brien family in the 1950s. After a brief introduction to the parents played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain (of the upcoming ‘Take Shelter’), we see their world rocked by the news of their 19-year-old son’s death. As anyone who has ever watched a Malick film knows, dialogue is sparse, allowing the actors to convey the emotion that an audience member might experience in the same scenario.

Before jumping backwards in time to show us how the family’s early life brought them to the son’s passing, the film slides in an indulgent, yet beautiful, montage of the creation of Earth. Unprepared audiences may roll their eyes and call it pretentious, but the majestic sequence sets a tone that resonates throughout the film and readies the audience for the pacing and pattern to follow.

The remainder of the film shows how the parents’ completely different parenting styles either help or hinder their family. The mother, loving and gentle, becomes like a child to create a strong bond with her children. The father follows the strict tradition of being rigid and firm, which places a wall between him and the three boys. His constant hypocrisies fall hardest on the oldest son, who lashes out with rebellion and anger.

‘The Tree of Life’ is much like a morality play that demonstrates the effects of parenting and disciplinary actions while teaching children the heavy consequences that may follow spontaneous, un-thought-out actions. It’s beautiful, melancholy, exciting, and – most of all – pensive. If you sit back and go through the 138-minute journey with the characters, you will learn the secrets to some of life’s most important lessons. You may be rolling your eyes at me now, but as a father and as a son, I truly believe it. ‘The Tree of Life’ is something that everyone should experience.

Rating: ★★★★½


  1. Barsoom Bob

    Agreed. LIfe and Death, not an easy thing to make an entertainment about. This movie is like 2001, in that it is the experience of the whole thing that effects you very deeply if you just go with it and don’t keep trying to figure out what does this mean, what does that mean. With some really subtle juxtapositions, off handed dialogue and fragmented time shifting editing this movie delivers half it’s message directly into the subconscious and the other half is the profound simple joys and pains of our lives in between the two main events. And it is not a downer. Near the end, Sean Penn’s small smile, and more clear eyed vision, shows that actually understanding our place in the whole scheme of things is actually quite liberating.

    • Luke Hickman

      It superbly tasteful!

      The only thing that I’d be aware of for children is the Brad Pitt role and the rebellion he inspires. He plays a pure asshole. His kids do not like him. The oldest kid does some crazy stuff, but the film also shows you the sorrow the kid deals with because of his actions. He’s always saying, “How do I get back to being normal?” He hates who he’s become as he’s lost his innocence, but keeps spiraling out of control.

      • Jane Morgan

        Good to know.

        If the kids get uppity, I’ll just put them in the corner and make them watch ‘Days Of Heaven.’

  2. Barsoom Bob

    Okay, some much needed comic relief. Total Dino screen time about 90 seconds. If you do see it, look closely at the side of the beached brachasaurus.

  3. Bryan

    I highly recommend you give “The New World” another shot, now that you’ve been primed to Malick’s style. (See the 135-minute theatrical version before you attempt the Extended Cut.) It and “The Thin Red Line” are two of my all-time favorite films. I’m still absorbing “The Tree of Life” nearly two weeks after seeing it, and at this point it doesn’t yet rank as highly as his previous two films.

    Read Jim Emerson’s “Opening Shots” essay on “The New World” first:

  4. vihdeeohfieuhl


    Are you still there?

    I think that you either forgot to include your star rating, or the template that you use to post something to the site didn’t work correctly.

    From reading the review, I’m assuming you’re giving it 5 stars.

    Does that mean that you are replacing Super 8 with this as your best film of the year so far?

    • Luke Hickman

      Sorry, it totally slipped my mind. Fixing it now. 4.5 stars. The dinosaur part was unnecessary.

  5. I love and hate this film. The creation scenes just didn’t do it for me and didn’t add much, if anything, to the family drama. The dinos? Blech.

    The family drama on the other hand is brilliantly done. It really is fantastic how this little family’s troubles and tribulations is shown in a memory-like state. Bits and pieces here and there. It was really well done.

    • Onslaught

      I completely agree. I really liked that middle act, a lot of it due to the performances, but the creation scenes left me ambivalent, and the dinos resulted in laughter from the crowd. I find it overrated as a whole, but I’ve never found myself to be much of a Malick fan.

  6. Hmmm not sure about checking this one out, I HATED The Thin Red Line, I think I fell asleep half an hour in, it was so boring and I have to say its one of the worst War movies I’ve ever tried to watch…..dont think I could make another attempt at it, never wanted to see The New World because it looks so long and boring as well, Malick so far does not look like someone I can get in to

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