Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Joanna Going,
From Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as "Badlands", "Days of
Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line", "The Tree of Life" is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the
1950's. 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. Through Malick's signature imagery, we see how
both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.
The Tree of Life trailer courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Tree Of Life Trailer - Universe Sequence
Terrence Malick goes cosmic with this sequence from Tree of Life featuring Brad
Pitt and Sean Penn. Watch this one FULL SCREEN
Several clips from The Tree of Life, with the hauntingly beautiful Lacrimosa in the
background by Zbigniew Preisner. Behold true beauty in sound and vision.
THE TREE OF LIFE (Movie)
AUTHOR: Hal and Denny
"Reprinted with permission by cinemainfocus.com"
"There are two ways to go through life," we're told in The Tree of Life. "The way of
nature, and the way of grace. You have to choose which one to follow."
We are born into worlds of science and wonder. Our bodies are built of DNA and protoplasm, molded from
clay and dust and the breath of God. We're torn by random tragedy, healed through purposeful
transformation. Ours is a place where the strong survive and the meek are blessed. It is a place of
Jack was born into a world of enchantment and light. Sunshine cascades through green canopies to the
grass below, bounces off water like rippling gold. It's a land of discovery, of soap bubbles and
sprinklers. And at the heart of it all, Jack sees his mother … as if she made it all happen.
His father's there, too, a strong and stalwart man. And as Jack grows, his father's presence grows with
him. He begins placing demands on the boy: Don't put your elbows on the dinner table. Don't talk bad
about other people. Demand respect. Be strong. Sit up straight. Call me sir. Don't slam the door. Don't
speak unless I tell you to. Answer me when I'm talking to you. Don't talk back. Don't! DON'T!
And so Jack watches and learns. Strength is power. Power is good. And Jack begins testing the limits of
his own power: The power to strap a frog to a bottle rocket ship, the power to hurt a stray dog, the
power to scream at his mother. He longs for more strength, more power … the power to overcome his
enemies, the power to crush the weak, the power to …
His father's working underneath a jacked-up car. The jack handle is in his grasp. With a push he
He wants his father out of the way. He wants to free his mother, have her all to himself. He
No one would know. It'd be an accident. It'd be one of those things. It'd be natural.
There are two ways to go through life, we're told: nature—cold, selfish, unforgiving; and grace—warm,
selfless, giving. The strong survive. The meek are blessed. Jack must choose—not just today, but
tomorrow and the day after, for weeks and months and years. He must choose.
In The Tree of Life, Jack is looking for salvation—both as a young boy growing up in the
1950s and as a middle-aged man. And here's the good news: He finds it.
Most of the story takes place when Jack is a boy. He's angry and confused, wondering why he's turning
into everything he hates. He hurts other things and people. He's becoming his father, losing sight of
the grace embodied by his mom.
But he finds it again—in the model of his brother. Jack is stronger and (let's face it) meaner than his
grace-filled sibling, Mother and Father's middle son. He picks on him, ruins his art projects and even
physically hurts him. But after a particularly violent transgression, young Jack begs
forgiveness—forgiveness that his brother grants. For all Jack's strength and aggression, his meeker
younger brother proves that there's strength in grace, too—and that it's a better way to go.
From then on, we see Jack make better decisions. He befriends a neighborhood child shunned by most of
his playmates. He comforts his littlest brother when the family's forced to move. He makes peace with
his father—who comes to a better understanding of grace himself.
"I wanted to be loved because I was great," he admits to Jack. "I'm nothing. … I dishonored it all and
didn't notice the glory."
The Tree of Life is a rumination on God and nature, and of God's nature. It begins
with the quotation from Job in which God asks Job where he was "when I laid the earth's
Director Terrence Malick often uses light and the reflection of light to illustrate the real but
ethereal presence of God. When characters talk with him, he is represented onscreen by a clutch of
swirling, eddying colors—echoed in the film by a symphony of stars or a water-born reflection from a
baptismal basin. Nature, meanwhile, in Malick's presentation is a cold, Darwinian progress,
sometimes represented by very unnatural manmade constructs, like massive turbines or towering
skyscrapers. Yet the light is still there—reflected off the glass of a building or glimmering on the
underside of a bridge.
The characters talk to that light—God—often. "Brother, mother," Jack says as an adult. "It was they who
led me to your door."
There's tension, of course, in this faith.
The film begins in the future, with the death of Jack's grace-filled brother, to unknown causes. We see
his deeply faithful mother grapple with what that death means. "He's in God's hands now," someone tells
her. "He was in God's hands the whole time," she thinks to herself. And we hear her ask unanswerable
questions: "Was I false to you? Lord, why? Where were you? did you know? Who are we to you?" Jack's
mother's own mother's attempts to comfort—"You've still got the other two. The Lord gives and the Lord
takes away. That's how He is"—seem stark and flimsy under the weight of the grief.
It's telling that Jack's father—a "natural" construct lacking in what Malick would call grace—is, in
some ways, the most overtly religious person in this story, leading the family in prayer, lighting
candles at church and shaking hands after services. Malick seems to be showing us that even the most
religious of us don't always have a handle on whom it is we worship.
Jack feels that tension. He prays, "Help me to be thankful for everything I've got; help me not to tell
lies," while asking far deeper questions: "Where do you live? Are you watching me? I want to know what
you are." After a child dies at a swimming pool and Jack begins struggling with his own sinful
inclinations, the questions grow more pointed: "Was he bad? Where were you? You let a boy
die. Why should I be good if you aren't?"
These are the questions sometimes only children dare ask. And this film doesn't try to answer them. But
it does tell us that to follow grace is the best way to go through life. And we hear Jack's mother
finally submit to the mysterious will of God as she relinquishes the pain of her loss and says, "I give
him to you. I give you my son."
Elsewhere, Father says a rich man thinks of himself as "the fourth person of the Holy Trinity." We see
Jesus in stained glass. A sequence depicting the dawn of time presents an old-Earth, evolutionary
The version of Jack we spend the most time with is perhaps 12 years old, on the cusp of adolescence,
and we see in him new desires beginning to stir. He flirts with a girl in his class. He takes notice of
an exposed knee or swish of skirt. One day, when he sees an attractive girl leave her house, he "breaks
in" (the door's unlocked) and goes through her drawers. A silky, diaphanous nightgown catches his eye,
and he spreads it over her bed to stare at it, blood thumping in his ears. The next we see, he's
running away with the nightgown in his hands, eventually tossing it in the river and letting it float
He's ashamed when he comes home. "I can't talk to you," he tells his mother. "Don't look at me." And
later he wallows in incredible guilt. "What have I started? What have I done?"
For a time it appears as if these sexual inclinations turn to his own mother. He watches her wash her
feet in a sprinkler, sees her wear the same sort of silky nightgown he threw in the river. The camera
work makes it clear that he's eyeing her not as a mother, but as a sexual object. And so it becomes
clear that he's found for himself a Freudian Oedipus, and that his father has become a rival for his
mother's affections. "She only loves me!" the boy shouts at the man.
We see Jack's father and mother lie on the grass together, affectionately embracing. Father presses his
ear to Mother's exposed, pregnant belly.
Malick's natural world is a violent one. Rarely do we see it explicitly played out, but it seems to
hang in the air—a menace, a coming storm. And it's embodied in the film's turbulent father figure.
The father teaches his boys how to fight. "The minute you see 'em blink, crack 'em," he tells Jack.
During this training, he asks both Jack and his middle son to punch him in the face. Jack tries. The
younger boy refuses. When the middle boy talks back to Father at the dinner table, Father reaches
across the table, grabs the kid by the shirt and lifts him out of his chair. When Jack tries to make
him stop, Father half throws Jack into his bedroom and slams the door, and we hear yelling and fighting
outside. Later that night, Mother—furious with Father over the scene at the dinner table—lunges at the
man; he restrains her, wrapping her arms tightly in his. "Stop!" he shouts.
Through a window Jack sees another couple arguing—the man yelling abusively at the woman. Convicts
struggle against law officers and kick inside police cruisers. Jack shoots someone else's finger with a
BB gun and encourages that boy to stick his finger in a lamp socket. (The lamp turns out to be
unplugged.) In a sequence set in the distant past, a seagoing dinosaur appears to be
beached, nursing a gaping wound.
Crude or Profane Language
Father says "h‑‑‑" once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Jack and his brothers are disrespectful to both of their parents. And they often treat their mother
more as a fellow child than a mother. The brothers also mock others for the way they walk or look.
In 1859, Charles Darwin introduced his concept of "The Tree of Life," an abstract structure showing
how all life was (according to his theory of evolution) intertwined and interrelated, sprouting from
the same trunk. Darwin's tree changed the world of science and still challenges many a faith. Some
atheists see Darwin's theory as the death knell of religion, and would argue that Darwin's tree changed
the way we see nature: Instead of being given carte blanche by God to dominate it, to subjugate it to
our will, we were suddenly shown to be one small part of it—a part of a greater whole.
The Tree of Life might be interpreted in different ways. It's a film designed to provide
impressions, not details. For me, it seems as if Terrence Malick uses it as a rebuttal,
suggesting that Darwin's tree is far from life-giving. He rips the veil away from nature's holy of
holies to show us that it is nature, not God, that demands subjugation; it is God, not nature, who
It's not a simple case, though. The film doesn't quibble with evolution. Nor does it embrace the
fullness of the Christian God. Malick suggests that we are creatures of both nature and grace—animal
and angel. Malick's sometimes small-g god is inscrutable, unknowable. We can't understand him. We can't
hope to. And for all of these reasons, The Tree of Life can be a deeply challenging
And yet it breathes deeply of the ethical (if not literal and historical) oxygen of Christianity as it
speaks to submission, forgiveness, sacrifice and grace.
"I didn't know how to name you then," Jack says, his disembodied words trickling past as a light swirls
onscreen. "But I see it was you. Always you were calling me."
God is calling us. Whispering to us. And in the midst of The Tree of Life's inconsistencies
and irregularities, I believe it may help some try to hear.
The Tree of Life (film) - from Wikipedia
Quotes from The Tree of Life Movie
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation ... while the morning stars sang together and
all the sons ofGod shouted for joy?
The Tree of Life is a 2011 American
drama with experimental presentation elements written and directed by Terrence Malick and starring Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. It chronicles the origins and
meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man's childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas,
interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe, the inception of life on Earth, and visions of an
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation ... while the morning stars sang together and
all the sons ofGod shouted for joy? Job 38:4, 7
He was in God's hands the whole time. Wasn't he?
Brother. Mother. It was they who led me to your door.
The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you'll
Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and
Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have
its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy... when all the world is shining around it... when love is smiling through all things.
They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace... ever comes to a bad end.
I will be true to you. Whatever comes.
What did you gain?
After the death of her son
Okay, go on now. We're all right. We're all right.
To mourners, after the funeral for his son.
Mrs. Obrien: I just want to die... to be with him.
Preacher: He's in God's hands now.
Mrs. Obrien: He was in God's hands the whole time. Wasn't he?
Quotes about The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick's The Tree of
Life is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass
all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only
other film I've seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it
lacked Malick's fierce evocation of human feeling. … I don't know when a film has connected
more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of The
Tree of Life reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me. If I set out
to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick's gift, it would look so much like this.
… There is a father who maintains discipline and a mother who exudes forgiveness, and long
summer days of play and idleness and urgent unsaid questions about the meaning of things. … The
film's portrait of everyday life, inspired by Malick's memories of his hometown of Waco, Texas,
is bounded by two immensities, one of space and time, and the other of spirituality. The Tree
of Life has awe-inspiring visuals suggesting the birth and expansion of the universe, the
appearance of life on a microscopic level and the evolution of species. This process leads to
the present moment, and to all of us. We were created in the Big Bang and over untold millions
of years, molecules formed themselves into, well, you and me.
And what comes after? In whispered words near the beginning, "nature" and "grace" are heard. … The
film's coda provides a vision of an afterlife, a desolate landscape on which quiet people solemnly
recognize and greet one another, and all is understood in the fullness of time.
The Tree of Life is a 2011 American drama film with experimental elements written and directed by
Terrence Malick and starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. The film chronicles the
origins and meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man's childhood memories of his family living in
1950s Texas, against the narrative backdrop of the origins of the universe and the inception and end of
life on Earth.
After several years in development and missing 2009 and 2010 release dates, the
film premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it
won the Palme d'Or. Critics were divided about the film:
some praised it for Malick's use of technical and artistic imagery, directorial style, and fragmented
non-linear narrative; others criticised it
for the same reasons. In January 2012, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. In
the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll, 16 critics
voted for it as one of their 10 greatest films ever made; this ranked it at #102 in the finished list.
Five directors also voted, making the film ranked at #132 in the directors' poll.
A mysterious, wavering light, resembling a flame, flickers in the darkness. Mrs.
O'Brien recalls a lesson taught to her that people must choose to follow either the path of grace or the path of nature. In the 1960s, she
receives a telegram informing her of the death of her son, R.L., aged nineteen. Mr. O'Brien is notified
by telephone while at an airport. The family is thrown into turmoil.
In the present day, the O'Briens' eldest son, Jack, is adrift in his modern life
as an architect. One day he apologizes to his father on the phone for an argument about R.L.'s death. In
his office, Jack begins reflecting and we see shots of tall buildings under the sky, Jack wandering in
the desert, trees that stretch from the ground up to the sun high in their leaves and scenes from his
childhood in the 1950s that all link together and lead back to the flame.
From the darkness the universe is born, the Milky Way and then the solar system
form while voice-overs ask existential questions. On the newly formedEarth, volcanoes erupt and microbes begin to form and
replicate. Sea life is born, then plants on land, then dinosaurs.
An asteroid tumbles through space and strikes the Earth.
In a sprawling neighborhood in Waco, Texas live the O'Briens. The young couple is
enthralled by their new baby Jack and, later, his two brothers. When Jack reaches adolescence, he is
faced with the conflict of accepting the way of grace or nature, as embodied by each of his parents.
Mrs. O'Brien (grace) is gentle, nurturing, and authoritative, presenting
the world to her children as a place of wonder. Mr. O'Brien (nature) is strict and authoritarian, and easily loses
his temper as he struggles to reconcile his love for his sons with wanting to prepare them for a world
he sees as corrupt and exploitative. He laments his decision to become an engineer rather than to pursue
his passion of becoming a musician. He tries to get ahead by filing patents for various inventions.
Jack's perceptions of the world begin to change after one of his friends drowns
at the pool and another of his friends is burned in a house fire. He becomes angry at his father for his
bullying behavior and begins to keep a running tally of Mr. O'Brien's various hypocrisies and misdeeds
while lashing out at his mother for allowing the behavior.
One summer, Mr. O'Brien takes a long business trip. While he is away, the boys
enjoy unfettered access to their mother, and Jack experiences the first twinges of rebelliousness.
Goaded by other boys his age, Jack commits acts of vandalism and animal abuse. He later trespasses into
a neighbor's house and steals her sheer nightgown. Jack is confused and angered by his feelings of
sexuality and guilty trespass. He throws the stolen lingerie into a river to rid himself of it. Mr.
O'Brien returns home from his unsuccessful business trip. Shortly thereafter, the plant that he works at
closes and he is given the option of relocating to work in a thankless position within the firm or
losing his job. He and his family pack up to move to the new job location. He laments the course his
life has taken, questioning whether he has been a good enough person. He asks Jack for forgiveness for
his harsh treatment of him.
In the present, adult Jack leaves work. Riding the elevator down, he experiences
a vision of following his young self across rocky terrain, in the far distant future in which the sun
expands into a red giant engulfing the earth and then shrinks into a
feeble white dwarf. Jack tentatively walks through a wooden
door frame, erected on the rocks. On a sandbar, Jack sees images of death and the dead returning to
life. He is reunited with his family and all the people who populate his memory. His father is happy to
see him. He encounters his dead brother, whom he brings to his parents. Accompanied by a woman in white
and her younger self, Mrs. O'Brien looks to the sky and whispers, "I give him to you. I give you my
Jack's vision ends and he leaves the building smiling.
The mysterious wavering light continues to flicker in the darkness.
Terrence Malick pitched the concept of The
Tree of Life to River Road Entertainment head Bill Pohlad while the two were collaborating on an
early version of Che. Pohlad recalls initially thinking the
idea was "crazy," but as the film concept evolved, he came to feel strongly about the idea;
he ended up financing the film.
Producer Grant Hill was also involved with the
film at an early stage.
During a meeting on a different subject involving Malick, his producer Sarah Green, Brad Pitt, and
Pitt's Plan B Entertainment production partner
Dede Gardner, Malick brought up Tree of Life
and the difficulties it was having getting made.
It was "much later on" that the decision was made for Pitt to be part of the cast.
The Tree of Life was announced in late 2005, with Indian production company Percept Picture Company set to finance
it and Donald Rosenfeld on board as executive
producer. The film was set to be shot partially in India, with pre-production scheduled to begin in
January 2006.Colin Farrell and Mel Gibson were at one stage attached to the project.
Heath Ledger was set to play the role of Mr.
O'Brien, but dropped out (due to recurring sicknesses) a month before his death in early 2008.
In an October 2008 interview Jack Fisk, a longtime Malick collaborator, suggested
that the director was attempting something radical.
He also implied that details of the film were a close secret.
In March 2009, visual effects artist Mike Fink revealed to Empire magazine that he was
working on scenes of prehistoric Earth for the
] The similarity of the scenes Fink describes to descriptions of a hugely
ambiguous project entitled Q that Malick worked on soon after Days of Heaven has led to speculation that
The Tree of Life is a resurrection of that abandoned project.
The namesake of the film is a large live oak tree that was excavated from a property a few
miles outside Smithville. The 65,000-pound tree and root
ball was trucked into Smithville and replanted.
After nearly thirty years away from Hollywood, famed special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull contributed to the visual
effects work on The Tree of Life. Malick, a friend of Trumbull, approached him about the effects
work and mentioned that he did not like the look of computer-generated imagery. Trumbull
asked Malick, "Why not do it the old way? The way we did it in the movie 2001?"
Working with visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, Trumbull used a variety of materials for the
creation of the universe sequence. "We worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids,
CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography to see how
effective they might be," said Trumbull. "It was a free-wheeling opportunity to explore, something that
I have found extraordinarily hard to get in the movie business. Terry didn't have any preconceived ideas
of what something should look like. We did things like pour milk through a funnel into a narrow trough
and shoot it with a high-speed camera and folded lens, lighting it carefully and using a frame rate that
would give the right kind of flow characteristics to look cosmic, galactic, huge and epic."
The team also included Double Negative in London, under the
supervision of Paul Riddle, who handled the astrophysical aspects of the segment. Fluid-based effects
were developed by Peter and Chris Parks, who had previously worked on similar effects for The Fountain.
In March 2009, Empire magazine's website
quoted visual effects supervisor Mike Fink as saying that a version of the film will be released for
IMAX cinemas along with two versions for traditional
] The IMAX film has been revealed to be The Voyage of Time, a
documentary expanding on the 'history of the universe' scenes in The Tree of Life, which the
producers decided to focus on releasing at a later date so as not to cannibalise its release.
Delays and distribution
By May 2009, The Tree of Life had been sold to a number of international distributors, including
Europacorp in France, TriPictures in Spain, and Icon in the UK and Australia,
but lacked a US distributor. In August 2009, it was announced that the film would be released in the
US through Apparition, a new distributor founded
by River Road Entertainment head Bill Pohlad and former Picturehouse chief Bob
A tentative date of December 25, 2009 was announced, but the film was not completed in time.
Organisers of the Cannes Film Festival made negotiations to
secure a premiere at Cannes 2010, resulting in Malick
sending an early version of the film to Thierry Fremaux and the Cannes selection committee.
Though Fremaux warmly received the cut and was eager to screen the film at his festival,
Malick ultimately told him that he felt the film was not ready.
On the eve of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Berney
suddenly announced his departure from Apparition, leaving the company's future uncertain.
Pohlad decided to keep The Tree of Life at Apparition, and after significant restructuring, hired Tom Ortenberg to act as a consultant on its
release. A tentative plan was made to release it in late 2010, in time for awards
Ultimately, Pohlad decided to close Apparition and sell rights to the film.
Private screenings of the film to interested parties Fox Searchlight Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics took place at the
2010 Telluride Film Festival.
On September 9, Fox Searchlight announced their acquisition of the film from Pohlad's River Road
The film opened in limited release in the United States on May 27,
On March 28, 2011, UK magazine Empire reported that UK
distributor Icon Entertainment was planning to release the
film on May 4, 2011. This would make the UK the first region in the world to see the film,
preempting the expected Cannes Film Festival premiere on May 11.
This would disqualify the film from inclusion at Cannes.
As a result, a surge of interest in the story developed on international film news sites.
After film blogger Jeff Wells was told by a Fox Searchlight representative that this was
and Anne Thompson received similar
word from Searchlight and outright denial from Summit,
Helen O'Hara from Empire received a confirmation
from Icon that they intended to stick with the May 4 release.
On March 31, Jeff Wells was told by Jill Jones, Summit's senior VP of international marketing and
publicity, that Icon has lost the right to distribute The Tree of Life in the UK, due to
defaulting on its agreement, with the matter pending arbitration at a tribunal in Los Angeles.
On June 9, it was announced that The Tree of Life would be released in the UK on July 8, 2011,
after Fox Searchlight Pictures picked up the
UK rights from Icon.
The Tree of Life was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United States and Canada on
October 11, 2011; on January 24, 2012, there was a separate release of the DVD.
Early reviews for The Tree of Life at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival were
polarized. After being met with both boos
at its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the film received very mixed early reviews.
The film went on to be awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or. Two of the film's producers, Bill
Pohlad and Sarah Green, accepted the prize on behalf of the reclusive Malick.The Tree of Life is the first American film to win the Palme d'Or since Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.
The head of the jury, Robert De Niro, said it was difficult to choose a
winner, but The Tree of Life "ultimately fit the bill".
De Niro explained, "It had the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that
seemed to fit the prize."
On August 19, 2011 it was announced that the film had won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Big
Prize for the Best Film Of the Year. The award was presented on September 16, during the opening
ceremony of the 59th San Sebastián
International Film Festival.
Malick released a statement of thanks for the award.
On November 28, it was announced that the film had won the Gotham Award for Best
Feature, shared with Beginners.
The Tree of Life holds an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 241 reviews. The
site's consensus is that "Terrence Malick's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some,
but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat."
At Metacritic which assigns a weighted mean rating out
of 100 reviews from film critics, the film has a rating score of 85 based on 43 reviews, indicating
Roger Ebert gave the film four stars of four and
wrote, "The Tree of Life is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to
encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other
film I've seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and
it lacked Malick's fierce evocation of human feeling. There were once several directors who yearned to
make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few. Malick has stayed true to that hope ever
since his first feature in 1973."
In 2012, Roger Ebert called the film one of the 10 greatest films of all time in Sight & Sound's poll.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gives it five stars and states it
is an "unashamedly epic reflection on love and loss" and a "mad and magnificent film."Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter states
"Brandishing an ambition it's likely no film, including this one, could entirely fulfill, The Tree of
Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind's place in
the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amidst its narrative imprecisions."
Justin Chang of Variety states the film "represents
something extraordinary" and "is in many ways his simplest yet most challenging work, a transfixing
odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination
on the Earth's origins."Peter Travers of Rolling Stone states "Shot with a poet's eye,
Malick's film is a groundbreaker, a personal vision that dares to reach for the stars."A. O. Scott of The New York Times gave the film much
praise and stated, "The sheer beauty of this film is almost overwhelming, but as with other works of
religiously minded art, its aesthetic glories are tethered to a humble and exalted purpose, which is to
shine the light of the sacred on secular reality". Total Film gave the film a five-star review (denoting
'outstanding'): "The Tree Of Life is beautiful. Ridiculously, rapturously beautiful. You could press
'pause' at any second and hang the frame on your wall."Richard Corliss of Time named it one of the Top 10 Best
Movies of 2011.
On the other hand, Sukhdev Sandhu, chief film critic of The Daily Telegraph describes the movie
as "self-absorbed," and "achingly slow, almost buckling under the weight of its swoony
Lee Marshall's review for Screen Daily followed a similar line, seeing
the film as "a cinematic credo about spiritual transcendence which, while often shot through with poetic
yearning, preaches too directly to its audience."Stephanie Zacharek of Movieline praised the technical aspects of the film,
such as the "gorgeous photography", however states nonetheless it is "a gargantuan work of pretension
and cleverly concealed self-absorption."
Filmmaker David Lynch said that, while he liked Malick's
previous works, The Tree of Life "was not his cup of tea".
Sean Penn has said, "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find
that same emotion on screen. ... A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film
without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact."
He further clarified his reservations about the film by adding, "But it's a film I recommend, as long
as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It's up to each person to find their own personal,
emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved."