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Tree of Life: the movie - Trailers and Reviews
Tree of Life: the movie - Trailers and Reviews
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Joanna Going, Jackson Hurst
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.
"Reprinted with permission by cinemainfocus.com"
- Cast: Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien; Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien; Sean Penn as Jack O'Brien; Hunter McCracken as Young Jack
- Director: Terrence Malick (The New World, The Thin Red Line)
- Paul Asay - Pluggedin.com
The Tree of Life
"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 paradox.
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 could—
He wants his father out of the way. He wants to free his mother, have her all to himself. He wants—
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 foundation."
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 outlook.
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 away.
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 inspires grace.
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 film.
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
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 afterlife.
I will be true to you. Whatever comes.
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 follow.
Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.
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.
- My hope.
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 (film)From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Tree of Life Theatrical release poster Directed by Terrence Malick Produced by Sarah Green
Written by Terrence Malick Starring Brad Pitt
Music by Alexandre Desplat Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki Editing by Hank Corwin
Studio River Road Entertainment Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures Release date(s)
- May 16, 2011 (Cannes)
- May 27, 2011 (United States)
Running time 139 minutes[1 ] Country United States Language English Budget $32 million[2 ] Box office $54,303,319[3 ]
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 formed Earth, 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 son."
Jack's vision ends and he leaves the building smiling.
The mysterious wavering light continues to flicker in the darkness.
- Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien
- Sean Penn as Jack O'Brien
- Hunter McCracken as young Jack
- Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien
- Laramie Eppler as R.L. O'Brien
- Tye Sheridan as Steve
- Kari Matchett as Jack's ex
- Joanna Going as Jack's wife
- Michael Showers as Mr. Brown
- Kimberly Whalen as Mrs. Brown
- Jackson Hurst as Uncle Roy
- Fiona Shaw as Grandmother
- Crystal Mantecón as Elisa
- Tamara Jolaine as Mrs. Stone
- Dustin Allen as George Walsh
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 film.[13 ] 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.
Principal photography began in Texas in 2008. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki returned to work with Malick after collaborating with him on The New World. Locations included Smithville, Houston, Matagorda, Bastrop, Austin, Dallas, and Malick's hometown of Waco.
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 cinemas.[13 ] 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 issues
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 Berney. 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 consideration. 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 Entertainment. The film opened in limited release in the United States on May 27, 2011.
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 "unlikely", 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 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat was released in 2011 by Lakeshore Records. Although billed as the movie soundtrack, only a few minutes of his music are heard in the film.
Early reviews for The Tree of Life at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival were polarized. After being met with both boos and applause 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 "universal acclaim".
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 poetry." 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."
The Tree of Life was voted best film of 2011 in the annual Sight & Sound critic poll, earning one and a half times as many votes as runner up A Separation. The film also topped the critics poll of best released film of 2011 by Film Comment, and the indieWire annual critics survey for 2011, as well as The Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll 2011.
Top ten lists
The film appeared on over 70 critics' year-end top ten lists, including 15 first place rankings.
1st - Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
1st - Time Out London
1st - Eric Hynes, Village Voice
1st - Glenn Sumi, NOW
1st - Norm Wilner, NOW
1st - Paste
1st - Gabe Toro, The Playlist
1st - Reserve Shot
1st - Simon Abrams, Slant
1st - Nick Schager, Slant
1st - Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
2nd - Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
2nd - David Ehrlich, Boxoffice
2nd - Kristopher Tapley, HitFix/In Contention
2nd - Kim Morgan, MSN Movies
2nd - Richard Brody, The New Yorker
2nd - David Denby, The New Yorker
2nd - Simon Kinnear, TotalFilm
3rd - J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
3rd - Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
3rd - Jesse Cataldo, Slant
3rd - Mary Pols, Time
3rd - Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
4th - Richard Corliss, Time
4th - Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times
4th - Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
4th - Clint O'Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer
4th - Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
4th - Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW
4th - Glenn Heath Jr., Slant
4th - Karina Longworth, Village Voice
5th - Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle
5th - Ray Greene, Boxoffice
5th - Peter Knegt, IndieWire
5th - Don Kaye, MSN Movies
5th - Mike Scott, The Times Picayune
5th - Mike Russell, The Oregonian