Prayer Focus
Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Picture, Directing, and Cinematography
Movie Review

The Tree of Life

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material.

Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes

Add to your list?
View your list
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Fantasy Drama
2 hr. 18 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
May 27, 2011
DVD: October 11, 2011
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures

selfishness—the world’s way, of putting oneself first

the way of unselfish love and mercy

parents’ influence on their children

loss of innocence

Sickness, suffering and death

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

the eternal scheme of which we are a part

importance of forgiving others

a lost soul in a modern world



Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on-line, full-length motion picture.

the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family—our first school


Top choice for accurate, in-depth information on Creation/Evolution. The SuperLibrary is provided by a top team of experts from various respected creationist organizations who answer your questions on a wide variety of topics. Multilingual.
Featuring: Brad PittMr. O’Brien
Sean PennJack
Jessica ChastainMrs. O’Brien
Fiona Shaw … Grandmother
Joanna Going … Jack’s Wife
more »
Director: Terrence Malick—“The Thin Red Line,” “The New World,” “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven”
Producer: Cottonwood Pictures
Plan B Entertainment
River Road Entertainment
Brad Pittproducer
more »
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyrighted, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Prior to seeing this film, I looked up references to the “tree of life” referred to in Genesis—first the one that Adam and Eve were blocked from eating after they had sinned by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It shows up again in Revelation, too, where “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Director Terrence Malick’s new film, “The Tree of Life” does not explicitly show us biblical characters who interact with a divinely-empowered tree. Instead, Malick has created a film whose characters cry out in prayer to their Creator, asking Him hard questions that all humans long to know, such as “Where are You?” or “Where were You?”. We are treated to images of awesome beauty that reflect a few of God’s characteristics—dangerous, loving, eternal, and incomprehensible—often all at once.

“The Tree of Life” probably is not the film to seek out if you are just looking for a Brad Pitt movie to entertain you on a weekend evening. You might come out of the movie wondering “What just happened?”. One way to describe it would be, “a 130-minute prayer that showcases the joys and wonders, as well as the sorrows, of God’s creation.”

“The Tree of Life” shows us Jack (portrayed by Sean Penn, almost wordlessly), an architect living in a large city who seems lost, since he’s constantly looking up at the huge buildings surrounding him like a cage. For much of the movie, we bear witness to Jack’s childhood—from his birth to about age 12 in Waco, Texas during the 1950s, where he lives with his two younger brothers, an angelic mother (Jessica Chastain), and a father who’s a frustrated inventor (Brad Pitt)—a disciplinarian. This family is full of Christian believers, and they have very real problems that are not tidily solved. Readers of a movie review generally want to know, “Will I like it?”. The answer really depends on how much you’re willing to allow yourself to get swept away by Malick’s unique way of viewing the world. This writer/director uses close-ups of faces, feet, trees, animals, dinosaurs (!), and other natural phenomena to paint a beautiful, huge-canvas picture of this young man’s environment growing up. Malick thinks something hugely important is going on in this young man’s heart—a war between two great forces he calls “the way of nature” and “the way of grace,” represented most clearly by his father and mother. Jack’s soul is at stake. Through voiceover, we hear him ask questions and quote the Bible because he’s looking for answers from God. Though the plot of the film is very static compared to the twists and turns one is used to watching in a normal summer movie, the film kept me on the edge of my seat wondering which path through life Jack would choose—and why.

Some viewers may be frustrated by the leaps in time this film keeps making—going back thousands (some would say “millions”) of years to show the beginnings of Earth and its life forms, then jumping to the present day and settling back once more in the ‘50s. Some people might say, “It shows Evolution.” But I didn’t hear “Evolution” and didn’t see anything that even looked like it was leaning that way.

I was fascinated. You may also find yourself deeply touched by the lives of this family, as you watch them enjoy music, play, cry, fight, embrace one another, and then plead with their God for help. One national critic recently wrote that “The Tree of Life,” which just won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival, “may be the most overtly Christian mainstream picture since “The Passion of the Christ.”

Unlike many Christian-themed films, in my opinion, “The Tree of Life” has anything but an easy-to-summarize, spoon-fed message to deliver. This is a film that asks the viewer to closely pay attention to the images and think about their meaning. It’s a film to argue about, walking out of the theatre. Because there is lots of classical music mixed with shots of nature and little dialogue, I can imagine some people will fall asleep. You may hate it, or, like me, you may feel like it has changed your life and begin to see the world differently, as a result.

“The Tree of Life” has some scenes of domestic strife and grief that may not be appropriate for children who are not yet teens. I don’t recall seeing any nudity, nor hearing profanity, and it does not contain bloody violence. There are some scenes in the film which relate to sex and death, without being graphic—what Hollywood calls “adult themes.”

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—If I could take a review of life snapshots, flashes, questions, answers Tree of Life would be that portrayal. The director does that and more, the creativity, the depth go beyond what I could imagine or think, yet perfectly portrays the huge thoughts, questions and experiences that are life. It was a prayer, a poem, a work of art. I loved it.

During the movie there were times I thought some people will think, “What is this about?” At the end, I found tears, surprising to me, the release of the son to God was emotionally moving to me. There is no overt plot, there is nothing overt about this movie. I would very much like to box it up and put it in a “to go” container inside my heart, to look at every so often.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Cyndi, age 55 (USA)
Positive—Nothing else that comes out this year will top this film. I absolutely loved it. It is clearly not a film for mainstream audiences, due to mixed reactions from the audience earlier this afternoon. A beautiful, pure, and spiritual experience unlike anything that I have ever seen. A film that will move you in ways that you wouldn’t think possible. The grace and beauty of God saturates every frame of this film. This is the film that serious spiritual film buffs have been waiting for. It will stay with you long after you have seen it, and it demands multiple viewings. Definitely recommended.

Not a film for the ignorant or the small-minded. In other words, if you think that “Transformers 3” is going to be the best film of the summer, you probably need to skip this one.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Steven Adam Renkovish, age 28 (USA)
Positive—I’m not entirely sure that the two “negative” reviewers understood the film. There is nothing “new-age” about this experience. It is a reflection on the grace of God, through beautiful imagery and poetry. We’ve all asked the same questions that the characters do. I think that this is a film that should be embraced by the Christian community, rather than shunned. This is quality filmmaking, unlike “Fireproof” or “Facing the Giants.” The difference between these three incredibly diverse films is that “The Tree of Life” has substance, something which the other two lack in abundance. Instead of nitpicking, we should be lucky that this film has been sent to us. This film in itself is a gift from God. Just as Abigail said, leave your theology at the door.

As far as the negative comments are concerned, it’s all nitpicking. See the film for yourself, keep an open mind, and let it wash over you. If you come to this film with a pseudo-intellectual, theology scholar wannabe attitude, it’s your loss. This film is beautiful in every way possible.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Barbara Mcgee, age 33 (USA)
Positive—This is one of the greatest films ever made. I went with my family and friends, and we were all touched. I’m actually taking my church group to see this wonderful film, next week. The performances from the cast were magnificent, especially the performance from Miss Jessica Chastain. Such a beautiful performance. Brad Pitt was excellent as well.

The cinematography, the writing, the direction—all top notch. Very philosophical and Biblical. Quite possibly the definitive cinematic work on God’s nature. All of the negative reviews are dead wrong, with the worst comments coming from James. His “review” reeks of ignorance. As someone who used to be heavily involved in the New Age movement, I can tell you that this film is in no way a New Age experience. I’m baffled by these accusations, racking my brain trying to find the logic in them.

As far as the themes of redemption are concerned, the film handles this subtly and with much care. We don’t need to be bashed over the head with the Gospel every time we enter a theatre. Film should never be a pulpit to preach from, and if you think otherwise, I feel sorry for you. See this film before it leaves the theatres.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—James Lee, age 46 (USA)
Positive—I totally agree with the positive reviews of this movie, and also believe the negative reviews to be closed minded, at best. I saw this on my fiftieth birthday, a day in which I was very reflective about my own life. This movie was absolutely brilliant and beautiful, as it revealed the revelation of the Almighty Creator who is our Savior, Redeemer, Eternal Life, Light, the Door, the Way, Truth and Life (and so much more). It covered God’s revelation through nature, the hungering of man’s heart, the guilt of our own sin (and our own inability to be righteous), God’s unmerited forgiveness and gift of eternal life. Quite a bit of scripture was quoted during the movie, but I found myself thinking of numerous other scriptures the drama was communicated.

My only negative remark is that I would have enjoyed the nature scenes more if they were in fast forward mode. I loved this movie more several days after viewing it, as its themes and imagery replayed in my mind. I was so very moved and blessed by this incredible film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Roxanne Suggs, age 50 (USA)
Positive—How else can you describe God without asking questions? And this is how “The Tree of Life” does it. Asking questions and answering it with visuals. Visuals so amazing and astounding that you cannot, not get the answer. God is great and is everywhere. This movie shows us how life can be lived through nature or lived through grace. But more, that living both, you are still able to love. God created nature, but through His grace you can be saved.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Andre Cooper, age 39 (South Africa)
Positive—We watched this film in two phases over two days. At first, my husband and I thought the images of “life” in the first quarter of the film were awesome, inspiring and beautifullly photographed. They were. However, in the day in between returning to the 2nd half of the film, I think that there was a message there that wasn’t purely Bible-based. I believe the film is presenting a struggle between evolution as a source of life and God as a source of life. I think this site’s reviewer missed that tension.

The beginning imagery is clearly setting images in a very specific “big-bang” like sequence going from celestial, to simple cellular, to complex sea cellular, to organisms such as jelly fish then culminating with a dinasaur with flippers just straddling the beach and the sand at the edge of the ocean. This is followed by images of blood cells and ultimately the human form. There was no doubt in my mind that the writers/director were presenting one believe, evolution, in this first part of the film.

This is contrasted by the family of “believers” where the faith of the mother and at least protagonist son are tried and on display. The father’s true faith seems in question that he seems more into appearances of his organ-playing abilities then he does about truly finding and relating to a personal God.

The rest of the film, however, does interject conversations and prayers to a living God. At the end the film does not leave any question as to the existence of God being an integral part of the healing of this family. Good film, but leaves questions and not easy for a non-believer I don’t think to sort out the truth.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Judah, age 49 (USA)
Positive—Well, it’s one of those movie that is a bit off the wall, as are several of Brad Pitt’s movies. It is slow getting started, and I almost turned it off. It starts off with the death of a child that you didn’t see. The parents are notified, but you’re not told who exactly died, and how. It does have images of space, ocean, volcanoes, dinosaurs, etc. And you are wondering why they are showing it, then you remember the title. I’m not too sure why anyone tries to tie this movie as a “Christian” movie. We are strong conservative Christians, and we wouldn’t classify it as Christian, just because there are a few references to God and a couple times they are praying over dinner. I feel it’s no more Christian than any other movie with prayers and references to God.

It’s not what I expected, and not as good. It’s not a movie I’d ever watch again. But, it’s something I didn’t mind my 9 and 12 year old boys watching. To me, it is a movie about how a man raises his sons, teaching them little life lessons. Then, it appears that the older son is resentful and starts to turn to a rebellious side, where he steals, intentionally shoots his brother in the finger, and does some means things. It leads you to believe that he possibly becomes a criminal, and maybe dies because of his chosen life. Who knows because they never tell what happens to him.

My hat’s off to the eldest son, because he really is the true star of this movie and makes his character believable.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Barb, mother of two boys, 9 and 12, age 46 (USA)
Neutral—This has got to be, undoubtedly, the most bizarre T. Malick film to date. That is to say, bizarre in its non-linear storytelling, use of aberrant visuals, and existential outlook on life and what it means. The film begins in the 50s or 60s or thereabout. It quickly jumps to the modern day corporate world with an intimate view on the melancholy existence of Sean Penn’s character. And just when all appears to be a regular ol’ story, wham! The film shifts radical focus to that of deep space phenomena, volcanoes, and an assortment of aquatic lifeforms, currents, etc: evolution.

The only guide, in the beginning, is, of course, the trademark T. Malick offscreen narration (voiced by some onscreen character) that generally has nothing to do with the action going on. And then? The film rewinds to the 50s or 60s and through very little in the way of traditional plot, “The Tree of Life” tells the story of a manic depressive father (Brad Pitt) and his tenuous relationship with his family. The film concludes with Sean Penn revisiting ol’ friends and family in an ethereal, almost dreamlike oceanside landscape that bridges the past and the present. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Mega Tron, age 25 (USA)
Neutral—I have not seen this movie yet, but I plan to. I am writing this to all the positive reviewers who feel the need to bash the negative viewers on their opinion. To make comments like “wannabe theology scholars” sounds like something we believers hear from the world all the time. I took all reviews into account and feel both sides of the argument. I was just a little put off by your intense defense of “a movie”. Just one question: Do you defend the Bible this diligently?
My Ratings: Moral rating: none / Moviemaking quality: none
—Rob Walsh, age 35 (USA)
Negative—This movie was beautiful to watch, but very difficult to follow. Very important plot points were never resolved. Who was the older man trapped in the high rises? Which brother passed away? How did he pass away? Is everybody dead when you get to the beach, or is the older brother having a vision? Since the meaning of the movie changes, depending on the answers to these questions, I was left wondering what to do with it all. As the movie ended, everyone quickly left in silence. It’s a real shame, given the great acting, the production quality, the beautiful special affects, and the overall positive view of faith.

I did not hear the Lord’s name used as a curse word, and I don’t remember any violence or sexual content. This is very rare for a PG-13 movie. I would just caution my fellow movie fans, that if you don’t like abstract art (and I don’t), or unconventional movie formats, this may not be the one for you.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Paul, age 51 (USA)
Negative—Do not be taken in by the beautiful pictures misrepresenting the creation of God, because these pictures are linked together to tell a lie… that creation was an ongoing evolutionary affair. The movie tries to use prayer to answer some of the big questions of “why do we lose a child” or “what did creation look like” as if we are lacking in the inspired word of God. The Bible already answers the creation question in Genesis chapter 1, so we do not need heretical theories or heretical movies portraying another answer, as if God was not capable of explaining creation the first time.

…I should have known that Sean Penn could never be involved in anything linked to the truth, based on his outspoken political views. This is nothing but a propaganda film, that is meant to confuse the word of God and deceive people regarding the truth!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Barry Madosky, age 47 (USA)
Positive—Wow. I’m not sure that Barry Madosky saw the same film that I just did. This film was beautiful, and in no way was it heretical. Those who do not understand the film obviously aren’t on its intellectual wavelength, and it makes no sense to label the film as heresy, just because the message of the film was lost on you.

The performances were excellent, the direction was amazing, and the film raises some tough questions about faith—which made the whole experience worthwhile. Probably the best film that I have seen in quite some time. A spiritual film unlike any other. It leads you closer to God, and makes you thirst for Him. Excellent film. See it with an open mind; leave your systematic theology at the door.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Abigail Sanders, age 56 (USA)
Negative—The videography and story line are good, except for the attempt to add spirituality to it. This could have been a good study for philosophy. It could even help a controlling parent to see the damage that over control takes in building resentment in children.

This being said, however, this movie can only be classified as “New Age”. The movie opens with a quote from Job 38:7 that speaks of the sons of God rejoicing at creation. The story then goes on as if to somehow explain this verse through the story while disregarding any biblical reality of the call and purposes of God. It would seem that this one verse is the only understanding of the Bible that the author has. There is no mention of final judgment or of the need for repentance, and reconciliation with God through the baptism of Holy Spirit.

Communications with God is distant and one directional, with God seeming far off, uninterested and unresponsive to prayers. The movie ends with a utopian picture of absolutely everyone walking around in a “zoned out” state of euphoria. All merit the movie could have is totally outweighed by the fact that this is a cultic movie with a direct purpose to mislead people from the Truth of the gospel (In this respect I found it heartbreaking).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—James, age 45 (Canada)
Negative—For all it’s photos of heaven’s lights and sunny skies, it is a dark, depressing, and confusing portrayal of life. Our God, the Father of Jesus Christ, is not a God of confusion. Even back when I walked in darkness (before I was saved), I wouldn’t have liked this movie; it is void of hope. Sure, they look to God the Creator, at first, but then they come up with a human answer: ***spoiler*** an imaginary beach where the dead walk happily about with the living, I think.

On the other hand, my husband liked it! Watch instead “Courageous”—a film that also portrays the highs and low blows we experience in childhood, but it is full of light and clarity and hope.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Debbie, age 55 (USA)
Negative—A movie that requires much thought… can relate somewhat to the dominating, abusive father… but also found it confusing… how did the child die, was it the oldest (seems to be), why was the mother so silent? and many more questions… probably ran too long, as if they kind of didn’t know how to end it… the ending leaves many unanswered questions… one reviewer on rotten tomatoes said “if I can convince one person, not to watch this movie, I will consider it worthwhile sitting through the over 2 hours of tedious boredom that this movie was”…

I can’t condemn it that much but it is definitely an acquired taste… I also found the camera work very distracting in places moving so much in a scene… maybe getting old…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Ron, age 62 (Canada)
Negative—There are plenty of spiritual elements in the movie, but how they fit with the story is difficult to follow. Obviously, some rate this movie as a positive, so they must have done so. We stuck with the movie, trying to figure out how all the segments tied together, but, in the end, we were sorry to have invested our time. So, even though a movie can be Better than Average for a Moral Rating the enjoyment and evaluation of time well spent can be a negative. That is the case for my family’s viewing of “The Tree of Life.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Marvin, age 51 (USA)
Negative—This was by far the most boring movie I have ever seen. Congratulations, Hollywood, you’ve found the cure for insomnia! I was determined to stick it out “til the end, but I was almost to the point of banging my head against the wall saying, “It never ends, it never ends!” Although it could be argued that there are worse movies (I was to the point of repeating that same phrase during the third “Transformers”), artsy-ness just couldn’t save this film. When it was over, I just had one question: “Wha… ?”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
Negative—I really did not understand this film, and I watched it with a crowd of above average intelligence, and not one got the point. The film touches on extremely boring and confusing. There are some amazing images in the film—this is about the only positive thing I can say. If you are looking for a relaxing film, this is not it… if you are looking for a deep film, with a hidden message, which you might not understand—sure—go for “Tree of Life”!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Hans, age 37 (South Africa)