Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
selfishness—the world’s way, of putting oneself first
parents’ influence on their children
loss of innocence
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
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
the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family—our first school
Brad Pitt … Mr. O’Brien
Sean Penn … Jack
Jessica Chastain … Mrs. O’Brien
Fiona Shaw … Grandmother
Joanna Going … Jack’s Wife
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|Director:||Terrence Malick—“The Thin Red Line,” “The New World,” “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven”|
Plan B Entertainment
River Road Entertainment
Brad Pitt … producer
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|Distributor:||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.