Review: The Tree of Life


For Malick, The Tree of Life is a culmination of a life’s work that while only five films in total is more rich and full than most who have stepped behind the lens of camera. Throughout its duration we feel we are in the company of greatness; in the hands of a man who has a better grasp on life and more to say about it than we ever will.

The film’s fractured narrative structure offers us a glimpse at the beginning of life. And not just the beginning of an individuals life, but life in general. He takes us back to the origins of the cosmos with a string of stunning sequences involving the big bang, planetary eruptions, and single-cell organisms. In this sense, Malick gives us not only the birth of a child, but the birth of the universe itself. His chronology of life commences at the very beginning of creation, reaches the dinosaurs, on to the ice age, and eventually taking ground in 1950′s American Midwest. Offering not just the history of this single family but the history of all things, of life, of the creation of beings, and of the earth.

Brad Pitt stars as the father of this American Midwestern family; a stern, disappointed middle manager of a local refinery who offers episodes of tenderness clashed with moments of cruelty and unjustified anger. In contrast, to his stern nature is his wife (played by Jessica Chastain) represents the embodiment of motherhood and grace. However, eventually his strict disciplinarian code and oppressive manner brings out the worst in his oldest son, Jack (played by Hunter McCracken), who becomes more rebellious in the face of his father’s increasing dissatisfaction.

The film crosscuts to a present day Houston, Texas where a middle-aged Jack (played by Sean Penn) walks the earth as a lost soul attempting to emotionally reconcile his deteriorated past with his father. Trapped in an urban environment of glass and concrete, he contemplates his childhood, and the tragedy of his brother that still weighs heavily on his mind.

While it offers more mysteries than answers, The Tree of Life is a poetic sermon that attempts to tackle the nature of life and death on a scale that is both micro and macro; both intimate and grandiose. It is a different Malick than that with whom we have become accustomed to; here he is more bold, more ambitious, and more abstract, but his unparallelled vision remains intact. Though frustrating, demanding, and at times impossible to penetrate, it’s an astonishing gift to cinema and art fans alike; an achievement in filmmaking that will be discussed and interpreted for ages. The Tree of Life may very well be Terrence Malick’s finest film, though only time will tell. As it’s stands there is only one thing in cinema that is guaranteed, and that is if there is any beauty left in this world, Terrence Malick will find it.

100/100 - Though frustrating, demanding, and at times impossible to penetrate, it’s an astonishing gift to cinema and art fans alike; an achievement in filmmaking that will be discussed and interpreted for ages.

Christopher Misch

I've always loved movies, but it wasn't until under the tutelage of Professor Garry Leonard at the University of Toronto that my passion for the industry became an understanding of an art form. With a specific fascination in both the western genre and Asian cinema in general, I am of the view that good movies are either enlightening or entertaining, and if you are truly lucky they are both.
  • Lauragrande13

    I’ve only seen The Thin Red Line and The New World but I adore both of those films and, as a result, couldn’t wait to see The Tree of Life. I’m glad you loved it. I know reviews have been mixed but I had a lot of faith in this film and it’s highly unlikely that I won’t love it as much as you did! Great review. I know it must have been hard to review but I like how you said so much while revealing very little. 


  • Dominique Morimoto

    HI Chris. Great review..havent watched it yet so I will thanks to your recommendation. 

  • Christopher Misch

    Writing The Tree of Life review was so difficult. I wanted to get it up in a timely fashion but also be respectful to the film at the same time in saying what needed to be said, and without giving too much away. 

  • Christopher Misch

    Have you seen much of Malick’s previous work? Something I’d recommend before diving into The Tree of LIfe.

  • Robyn Craig

    Thank you for the beautifully written review. I know this film will interest me and I am very intrigued after reading your description of the opening. Hope to meet you soon Chris!

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