The Tree of Life (2011)


Genre: Drama

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn

Synopsis: A man stares into a blue candle and starts reminiscing about his childhood in rural Texas and the lessons that he learnt from his parents…with added dinosaurs.

I remember seeing trailer for this when it was first released and I also remember saying to myself: “Damn, that looks really pretentious.” Now that I’ve seen this movie, I can confirm that, yes, it is really pretentious. However, it’s pretentious in a nice way. Ordinarily, I’m not the sort of person who can enjoy movies or books that lack much of a structured and well thought out plot but The Tree of Life took me a little by surprise. I was mesmerized by the film’s beautiful and captivating cinematography and art direction and I became engrossed in the poetic and spiritual message.

The Tree of Life is a surprisingly spiritual film but it sort of presents a hybrid theory, one in which biology and spirituality are combined. In this film, biology and evolution work alongside piety in harmony. I guess that’s the sort of the main theme of the film: the clash between “nature” and “grace” and, ultimately, their compatibility. One is “mother,” the other is “father.” Of course, I have no Goddamn idea what I’m really talking about because I was high as balls but, in essence, this movie is made for stoners because it throws philosophical bull shit the audience’s way and nobody laps up philosophical bull shit like stoners. You know what else stoners like? Pretty pictures of things and dinosaurs…this movie has both. I’m not sure what the point of the scene with the dinosaurs was but I think it has something to do with Jesus being a dinosaur. Remember, nowhere in the bible does it say that Jesus was not a velociraptor…probably.

For me, the best performance in the film was delivered by Jessica Chastain who plays the mother, albeit one with mystical floating powers. If the velociraptor isn’t Jesus, then the mother certainly is. Chastain brings a touching fragility and sensitivity to the role and she fits the motherly bill perfectly. Brad Pitt too delivers a fantastic performance as a strict father. I’m not sure it’s a role I’ve ever seen him play and it was good to see him expand his horizons a little. I wish I could say more about Sean Penn but I can’t because he’s only in the movie for about five minutes and he doesn’t really say or do much except light a blue candle while some junkie ho stands around in the background. Isn’t that the joke with Terence Malick though? He brings in big names who think they’ve got a big role but when the movie premiers they discover they’ve been given virtually no screen time. It would seem that accepting a role in a Terence Malick film is a little like playing Russian roulette. If so, then it would appear the Penn bit the bullet this time around.

One thing I really liked about the film is that it forced me to think about my own childhood, my relationship with my parents and also the type of relationship I want to develop with any children I may have in the future. I quite like to think about the past and future. Maybe it’s because I feel so dissatisfied with the present. I’m not in a job I particularly enjoy, although I know it’s good experience, and my salary is too low to have a good lifestyle in London. On top of that, I’m not in a relationship so urban loneliness is definitely an issue in my life. For those reasons, it was nice to watch a film that portrayed rural family life so beautifully and it certainly lifted my spirits at the time.


  • Galaxies, stars, supernovas, evolutionary biology and nature in all its beautiful glory. Ideal for a stoner really.
  • I want a house and a garden like that…I mean I don’t think I’d get on well in rural Texas but it has that small-town Americana feel that I adore.
  • Solid performances from a great cast.


  • I didn’t really get who Sean Penn was supposed to be in this movie…was he Satan?
  • Aaaaaaaaanndd it just got creepy incestuous.
  • The “birth of the universe” scene was gorgeous but the song it was paired with was not. After a while you just get tired of a woman screaming “lachrymosa” at you.


I’ll be brief: I enjoyed the movie. However, I think that I only enjoyed the movie because I was high. If I had seen The Tree of Life sober, I probably would have dismissed it as being way too pretentious and fake because I’m a cynical and miserable bastard i.e. British. If you have no cynicism or can suppress it entirely then by all means give this movie a go sober. If cynicism has seeped into your bones like it has mine then weed is a necessity because it will allow you to approach this movie with child-like wonder. It’s nice to re-engage with that aspect of our nature so, for that, I’m grateful to this film despite its shortcomings.




Filed under Drama, Good

13 responses to “The Tree of Life (2011)

  1. Sean Penn was the son as an adult. He is looking back on his childhood.

    • Oh I get he’s the grown up version of the kid, what I meant was that I didn’t understand his ‘metaphorical’ role, I mean metaphorical in the sense that Jessica Chastain is clearly the mother but her metaphorical role is Jesus or some other savior-like character.

  2. Tom

    this movie, along with The Fountain are two of the most pretentious/confusing movies I’ve ever watched…so much so, that I can’t remember which one is which anymore.

  3. Very true, I know what you mean, sober, drunk or high, these films are not very enjoyable.

  4. nasen75

    I suspect that I’m actually not going to enjoy this movie. The movies I generally like least are the ones that I see what you mean with Sean Penn though! In The Thin Red Line, George Clooney’s role was just a cameo, but he was billed on the movie poster to attract audiences!

  5. Lol! Great review. I’m glad you liked it so much. I’d dismissed it as pretentious bullshit so wasn’t going to bother. But I’ll keep it in mind should I ever decide to get high. 🙂

  6. I saw this sober, wasn’t a fan 😛

  7. The scene with the dinosaur depicts the birth of compassion on Earth.
    I, overall, liked this film though there were many frustrating moments, especially in the end, but then there is no denying that what Malick achieved with the camera is pure wizardry.

  8. Pingback: The New World (2005) | bakedmoviereviews

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