“THE TREE OF LIFE”: MOVIE REVIEW AND REFLECTION


FOUR STARS: ****

5/17/11

The Tree of Life is maddening, exhilarating, gorgeous, ponderous, insightful, pretentious, epic, shallow, beautiful, and strange — essentially the apotheosis of Terrence Malick’s entire career. It will divide audiences like few films have in recent years.

The movie, which exists as a metaphysical meditation and a lyrical poem, focuses – at a microcosmic level – on the story of Jack, a jaded, middle aged man (played by Sean Penn) scarred by the memories of an oppressive upbringing by his father (Brad Pitt), as well as the untimely death of his younger brother.

Like all Malick movies, however, the plot is simply window dressing for the grand philosophical questions the director has been chasing for nearly four decades: the struggle between nature and grace, the duality of man, the meaning of life, and a sense of understanding and reconciliation amidst the chaos and suffering of it all.

While the film makes several missteps and is saddled with an inelegant conclusion, the sheer audacity and vision of a director willing to tackle these weighty metaphysical questions in such an unconventional, non-mainstream manner must be applauded.

The Tree of Life opens and closes with a shot of a beautiful, unearthly light that could very well represent the light of “God.” It then proceeds with a Biblical quote from Job, the prophet whose righteousness was tested through suffering. Would Job renounce God if He was to test him with calamity, or would he remain true and steadfast in his conviction?

The calamity in this case is the tragic death of Jack’s younger brother, who died in combat at the age 19 many years ago. Through several voiceovers – the primary dialogue in a movie that communicates mostly through images – we hear characters’ hushed prayers, laments and frustrated questions to an omnipresent (but distant) God.

In response to her son’s death, the mother asks and prays, “Why?”

Malick’s visual answer to her question is undoubtedly one of The Tree of Life’s most audacious and confounding sequences, itself a throwback to that other frustrating, brilliant visionary recluse, Stanley Kubrick, and his masterpiece 2001. The audience embarks on a gorgeous, wordless cinematic tour of the history of creation, from the majestic beauty of the cosmos to the violence of the Big Bang to the first stirrings of life in the primordial soup to dinosaurs walking the Earth to a small asteroid colliding with the planet.

The random death of one young man seems trivial when measured against the balance of time, space, evolution and the origin of life.

Yet, it is also a random act of violence, a fortuitous eruption, that somehow inspired the entirety of creation on Earth.

Malick, a deeply thoughtful director who studied philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, reflects on the interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, no matter how miniscule or magnificent. The death of a brother lingers profoundly in the life of his emotionally damaged sibling just as the Big Bang reverberates throughout the cosmos, and a relatively small meteorite crash instigates a cataclysmic ripple of death for the dinosaurs.

This belabored, but nonetheless fascinating, rumination on the duality and interconnectedness of life is further engendered in Jack by his mother, played by an ethereal Jessica Chastain, who teaches her children that there are two ways through life: the way of grace or the way of nature. The former, personified by the mother, loves unconditionally and accepts suffering and humiliation, while the latter, personified by Pitt, seeks only to please itself, have others please it, and finds reasons to be unhappy despite being surrounded by blessings.

In his National Geographic segment, Malick visits this theme during the age of the CGI dinosaurs. A large dinosaur, upon witnessing a smaller, wounded animal, triumphantly and inexplicably plants his foot on its head. In the grand scheme of life, per Malick, nature’s brute strength and cruelty are embedded in our very DNA.

A majority of the film centers on Jack’s childhood relationship with his parents and two younger siblings.  Brad Pitt, with his tense, square jaw and simmering intensity, conveys an imposing  presence in the lives of the children as a bitter disciplinarian who values power and strength as a means to success.

Despite having a stable job and a beautiful family, Pitt is envious of his neighbors’ wealth and his perceived lack of stature. He chases patents for his designs only to fail each and every time. He fancies himself a skilled musician, and laments walking away from his passion presumably to raise his children. He chides his wife’s naïve outlook on life and tells Jack that her compassion and selflessness are a weakness. He demands the respect in his home that he feels eluded him in life.

Credit goes to both Pitt and Malick for creating an entirely believable, American father whose behavior, although appearing careless and cruel, stems from a deep love and profound desire to protect his children from a harsh universe. However, in doing so, he fails to see the immense emotional scar tissue he leaves behind.

Jack inherits the brunt of this psychological trauma, and is perpetually torn in an internal struggle between his mother’s generous “grace” and his father’s brute “nature.”  To become his father’s son, he lashes out with violence against a neighbor’s property, and later against his younger brother, who we assume was favored by the father due to his artistic and musical talents.

The movie spends only a few, fleeting minutes with the adult Jack. Although he is now a successful architect, we realize he is a lost soul in this urban jungle of imposing skyscrapers, frenetic motion and cacophonous noise (only Malick can get away with a 15 second shot of a flock of birds dancing in between tall buildings.) Through impressionistic images, we assume this distance has affected his marriage as well. On the anniversary of his brother’s death, Jack reflects on his idyllic past spent playing with his two brothers.

If this sounds like pretentious and heavy metaphysical questions for a simple adolescent, well, it is. Malick routinely sacrifices the personalities of his characters to the altar of his own spiritual and philosophical musings. For example, the multiple characters in The Thin Red Line — with their numerous voiceovers and divergent storylines — eventually all merged into Malick’s over-arching dialogue/meditation with nature and God.

In the same vein, there really isn’t too much of a plot in The Tree of Life. Instead, Malick seems more interested in creating an evolving sense of time, emotion, feeling and meditation. And he is mostly successful in this captivating and intermittently frustrating endeavor until the final reel, when his thematic reach simply becomes too ambitious, and the narrative begins to buckle under the ponderous weight of it all.

*******  WARNING – SPOILERS *******

I can only assume that the ending is a metaphorical journey in which Jack embarks on a spiritual walkabout in a time and space which lies at the “end of time and space.” This can be represented by Armageddon, Death, or purely a symbolic personal journey.

As he walks along the surface of an empty, rocky terrain, he sees his younger self, who goads him to follow along. Then, he sees a woman draped in white, who we can only assume is an angel.

the tree of life movie photos

Then, an open doorway appears on the terrain: it seems to be the portal between life and death; the divine and the human; the spiritual and corporeal. He walks through.

Now, he is on a beach right where the water reaches the land.

This is a reunion of the spirits and Jack meets his mother, father and brothers. The reconciliation of the family and their subsequent hugs and tears evokes a sentiment of forgiveness, acceptance and unconditional love.

We then see shots of the mother, draped in white, surrounded by two, ethereal women (angels?). The mother clasps her palms together, raises her hands as if in a prayer, and says to God: “I give you my son.”

There are multiple ways of interpreting this final piece of dialogue. Perhaps, like Job, she chose to bear her suffering and, instead of cursing God, accepted the death of her son as His will, thereby achieving Divine Grace and healing. Another interpretation could be that Malick is pounding us over the head with the “Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of humanity” metaphor.

Another interpretation still could coincide with the film’s final images, with the adult Jack walking out of his office skyscraper with a relieved smile on his face, choosing to re-engage with life. Perhaps, either in prayer or in sacrifice, the Mother is offering her son to both God and the world as a man finally whole and redeemed; one who finally walks that balance between nature and grace, anger and love, past and present, despair and hope; and the earthly and the spiritual.

Before ending on the shot of a heavenly orb of light, the camera lingers on a modern bridge hovering over shimmering water on a beautiful day.

It is an apt visual metaphor that marks The Tree of Life as the culmination of Malick’s decades-long spiritual cinematic journey.

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90 thoughts on ““THE TREE OF LIFE”: MOVIE REVIEW AND REFLECTION

  1. Thanks Waj — this is the only review I’ve read so far that makes sense and seems able to grasp what Malick was trying to do. The rest are just “ohmygod, philosophy? existence? duck and cover!”

    • Thanks Lesley. Appreciate your thoughts always. Glad you enjoyed it. I had more reflections but the review was running long so I tried to keep it tight. Let me know your reaction once you see the film.

  2. I have seen the film already twice, and many viewings will follow. As some rather cynical Flemish critic put it, this is more a prayer than it is a film. As I don’t see what is wrong with a prayer, I prefer to hear this as a great compliment ! And what a prayer it is, of stunning beauty and truthfullness. For me, this is cinema that transcends cinema. If ever I am to see only one film ever, this is it. Thank you, Terrence Malick, for this gem.

  3. Easily the best review I have read concerning this wonderful movie. I saw it in Dallas last Friday, and it has been in my thoughts ever since. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to see it again, maybe I can grasp a little more from it the second time around.

  4. Question: My impression on a first viewing is that Malick left intentionally vague until the end of the movie which of the three sons dies at 19, and by extension, which of the three sons is portayed as an adult by Sean Penn. I got the impression, maybe a mistaken impression, that Malick was actually trying a little misdirection to lead us to believe that it was the eldest son who dies young, only making it clear late that it was the middle son who died. Did I miss something obvious during the film itself that would have made it clearer to me earlier which son died and which one Sean Penn was portraying as an adult?

    • very interesting. for me it was quite clear, but it’s only because i saw a large part of the story framed from the viewpoint of the eldest son. from the editing, it became obvious he grew up to be sean penn. but i can see how you’d make that mistake due to the non-linear narrative and style of storytelling.

    • Also, at the beginning of the movie the mom looks into her deceased son’s room and there is a guitar near the bed. Then a little later on in the movie it shows the middle son playing guitar which I took as a pretty clear sign that it was indeed the middle son who died.

    • Yes, I too was confused and all along thought that Penn was portraying the 2nd son as an adult. In the film when Pitt is mourning he says something about criticizing his dead son about not turning the pages fast enough at the piano, and then shows the eldest doing it. Was that a purposeful mislead?

      • Put me in this category, also. I thought Sean Penn was the grown up second son, although the guitar thing should have occurred to me. I think in part my mistake was due to the closer physical resemblance between the blond shorter child actor, and the blond, kinda short Sean Penn, who didn’t resemble the gangly eldest son in the slightest.

        Happily, in retrospect, my error made no difference in my thoughts about the film. In fact, once I read in the first review I went to that it was the middle son who died, I thought I should probably watch it again.. But I’m probably just looking for an excuse to do that. Watch it again, I mean. I never thought I would ever see a movie to rival “2001” in its cosmic scope. Never. Ever. But I was wrong. “Tree of Life” is one of the great film masterpieces of my lifetime..

      • I too thought Sean Penn played the 2nd son. Worth seeing the film again now 🙂
        There is a part that has Sean Penn talking about “his brother” while showing the 2nd son. Guess I missed that reference.

    • Maybe the middle son died as a child (hung himself in tree) and the youngest son died in Viet Nam at age 19. It’s possible that they lost both sons; the only one shown as an adult was Jack. A beautiful film, very thought-provoking.

  5. Very nice review. You’ve helped me see even more into the nuances of this wonderful film. The Creation sequences and the final beach scene seem to bookend the film, perhaps suggesting the nature/grace resolution(?) Being a mystical Christian, I do not see the two as antithetical but rather necessary to each other, like men and women. I cannot tell if Malick thinks that nature is something from which to escape, or if he sees beauty in the horror. Or, if not beauty, perhaps an anchor, that which allows us to “touch the earth” as Buddha did. Also, the scene where the raptor walks away from an easy prey was ambiguous to me – was it a show of dominance or empathy? I know empathy is a strong word (for a dinosaur) but could it have been a nod to empathy as an evolutionary goal as perhaps suggested in the beach scene? “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world” seems to be the theme, as stated in Buddhism. What are your thoughts?

    • I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Mystical Christ. I think Malick aims for “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.” He certainly seems to empathize with the protagonists of his movies who reflect that worldview. I believe the dinosaur scene could be read both ways. The predator could have easily eaten the wounded, weaker prey but decided to let him be. Maybe that encapsulated nature and grace?

  6. I wasn’t sure which son died either until the end when it became more obvious that the eldest survived; and giving that the youngest wasn’t represented much in the movie, I guess we’re left with the middle son. Personally I also saw some Freudian ideas in the movie like the woman’s undergarments and the eldest son struggle for power with his father.

  7. I believe it was the youngest son who died–not the middle one. In addition The youngest fits the “innocent” archetype, which fits. The eldest bullies him and feels guilty but the youngest is forgiving. As someone mentioned, the oedipus complex was an obvious motif as well. I, too, think a strong argument can be made for the idea that both “nature” and “grace” co-exist in all of us although we may attempt to transcend our instincts and impulses and live in grace, there are few humans-if any who can actually achieve and sustain this state at all times.

  8. Finally, I found a review I can relate to. I thought the movie was good…I have two young boys…I felt Malick represented life from each member of the family in a captivating fashion. The only part I don’t seem to get is the window in the attic with the table pushed up against it-I can see where that could go-but the part where the tall man is there and the boy is riding the bike, etc. any help with thoughts on those scenes? Thanks for the nice review…

    • The boys are playing inside a room creating an optical illusion at a Fair. This is called an Ames Room (http://tinyurl.com/2e7ps3) and distorts perspective in a way that changes the relations of the sizes of objects.

      I could not grasp all the details of the complete scene. But there are at least two parts to it: one where the oldest brother appears to be smaller than his younger siblings; the second part has one of the boys riding a tricycle while the other is looking on.

      I’ll have to watch the movie again in order to derive some cogent interretation of that scene.

  9. I believe his walk through the wasteland at the end was him walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ being guided there by various figures, his younger self and his wife. He arrives in heaven to be reunited with the people from his life and his loved ones, and the age at the time of death is of no importance.

    I also believe that the dinosaur leaving the dying animal alone was nothing more than a predator choosing not to eat a sick prey which might be bad for the predator when higher ‘quality’ food is in abundance. Here a life is given or taken on a simple choice of whether it will benefit the ‘taker’ or not.

    I think the film presents the value of life from different perspectives perfectly. All this thought, this pain and this happiness for just one family and there are so many families in the world, and so much life, it’s mind boggling to try and comprehend.

    Our lives (all things alive on this planet) are so rare and beautiful but at the same time so brief, meaningless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe. I feel this is the paradox that people struggle with and it is presented here without bias.

    Nicely done.

    • I thought that the dinosaur was leaving the animal alone out of compassion. The first flickers of compassion amongst creatures – and all that Mrs Red Head represents – in the development of life.

  10. Is it said in the film that the brother was killed in combat? I don’t remember there being an explaination but I heard that Terrence Malick had a brother that killed himself.

    • I’m quite certain he was not killed in combat. If it had been the case, his death would not have been announced to his family in a letter delivered by the mailman…

      • Thanks for bringing this up, as I thought this too, and was puzzled by the reviewers interpretation that he was killed in combat. Curious how he came to that conclusion?

      • My husband said that deaths of Vietnam war soldiers were announced to the family by letter. I think that was why the postman brought the letter to the door, and you saw a postman later who was delivering the normal way just to the mailbox. Of course it could be something else, but you’d think it would be a phone call or a person coming to tell them.

  11. I have just seen The Tree of Life…it is amazing, emotional, thought provoking and visually stunning to say the least. I went into the movie only seeing the trailer. As I waited in the lobby I saw a disclaimer that said” no refunds for The Tree of Life” and went on to explain the difference between what most expect to see in a Hollywood movie. I asked inquisitively to the hostess about the disclaimer and she mentioned that all of the theaters are posting the disclaimer and that at least one person per viewing will walk out. The hostess loved the film and said it was her favorite so far for this year. Needless to say, 3 people walked out in the first 20 minutes when I was there. I was captivated the entire time. It emotionally moved me from an existential perspective (my current level of awareness) and personal perspective, as a young child raised in an abusive family household. As we elevate closer to the culmination for the Shift in Consciousness…it is no surprise to me that this was manifested. To sum it up: You either get it or you don’t.

    • As strange you may find it, Steve is the most important of the 3. He is given attention, you just didn’t noticed.
      Think of the scene with the criminals. The scene in the cemetery. The scene at the window, with Steve playing with Jack through the glass. And in “paradise”: it is Steve that makes the sea, the wave, “sing”.
      Steve is the diminutive of Stephen. Malick was a pupil at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin.
      It is a subtle way to refer himself to “the child that I was”, as the architect puts it when he lights the candle (it is probably a reference to Joyce too, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”). Young Malick is certainly not Jack. If you want to know what this film is all about (RL, Jack, the waterfall, the shot of the bridge, etc.):

      http://reviewingtreeoflife.blogspot.com/

    • Malick had two younger brothers. Larry Malick was a guitarist who’s studied with Andres Segovia in Spain. Larry broke his own hands, apparently due to the pressure of his studies, and then committed suicide…

      Part of that movie was thus inspired by Malick’s own life. I guess the youngest brother in the movie has his importance, although it may not be readily apparent.

  12. Great review.

    I interpreted the end as Jack coming to a balance in his life between nature and grace. He had grown up successful achieving what he wanted, akin to what his father sought after, doing so by following the guidance of his father, nature. From the glimpses we’re given into his adult life, we see him as someone distant and, if I will, bitter, even with his success. In the “meeting place” you speak of, I imagined it to be a personal moment, in this time/plane/what have you, where he comes to some sort of balance between nature and grace, and for that reason, he walks away with a smile on his face. Finally whole.

  13. It was the middle son who died. At the begining, after the mother reads the note, the camera scans the house and specifically focuses on the guitar sitting on a chair in the bedroom. Remember, the middle son was the artiistic talent and guitar player. Also, at the end, the mother embraced and stared at the middle son as if she hadn’t seen him in a long time.

  14. Excellent review. Watched the movie last night and have pondered it ever since. Excited to rewatch it multiple times. The only scene that left me puzzled was when the dinosaur showed mercy. Malick spends an entire film drawing the line between grave and nature, then seems to sabotage himself.

  15. Malick’s work is a masterpiece. It cannot be pigeonholed nor even thought of in the way that one thinks of a movie. The work surpasses all previous boundaries establishing new possibilities of human growth.

    You have made a decent attempt, compared to others I’ve come across, to interpret his art but unfortunately you have fallen short, barely scratching the surface of the truths expressed within an infinitely layered metaphor, so beautifully and precisely orchestrated in this work. You remain at the surface trying to grasp conscious representations of meaning rather than allowing yourself to be moved within the depths this film is designed to carry you into from beginning moment to the very end. I’m afraid the majority of observers will miss the ‘greater message’ available and it doesn’t help to find “critics” offering up their own limited interpretations as the real thing. Those that have written their take prematurely will suffer the embarrassing taste of a foot in their mouth when the time inevitably comes that the message becomes more clear. One cannot value that which one does not comprehend. As time proceeds the collective masses will come to an awareness of the deeper and universal meanings represented in this, perhaps only after a few of us interpret in a proper manner for others benefit. I feel pity for the critics that have established their positions with such limited perception.

    The work is obviously beyond you, just as it is beyond most, and you would have done better to express the unprecedented nature of the art while acknowledging that it will take some time for you to absorb the representations expressed, it is only natural. What you have done instead is to arrogantly take on the task of deciphering a message far beyond your capabilities of comprehension showing those of us that do get it nothing more than your own level of ignorance. I do not intend to project any condescension or harshness towards you, just to speak my thoughts frankly.

    I will compile an expansive interpretation and offer keys to unlocking the core value of what is perhaps the the most relevant and ingenious expression of human art I have ever experienced. ‘Tree of Life’ truly is a gift, a guide, for all humanity containing within it universal and unbounded truths pertaining to ‘the Mystery’, equally relevant to each human that has ever existed, all that ever will exist.

    • Nice job at not being condescending you pretentious jackass. I’m not sure what makes you such an expert, but if you were, you would know that art is all about the interpretation and perceptions of the viewer, no matter what the artist’s intention was. Unless he or she is there to explain himself/herself to you in particular, try and be a little more open to the interpretations of others because THAT is what great art does…it makes you think for yourself, not rely on others to tell you what it means. I can come away from it with my own sense of meaning thank you very much, I don’t need YOU to explain it to me.

      • You must be confused. I am clearly criticizing the critic (the author of this critique). The critic is not the artist, his interpretation not the art. I have not placed myself between the art and the individual as the author clearly has. I have expressed my differences with the limited and suggestive interpretation he is selling to those that read it.

        I agree that the universal essence of art is a unique experience to every individual, which is precisely the reason I am critical of critics that toss around interpretations that serve to warp the purity of the experience. Now, if I present my interpretation of the art to you, then I open myself to discussion or comparison with you. I haven’t done this, so what’s your beef with me?

    • Thought provoking movie and review. Jacob, your blundering into an otherwise civilised and cooperative discussion, made me think of the two choices mentioned in the movie – the way of nature and the way of grace. And Laurie, well said.

      • Yes, the blundering… I ask you to forgive me, my passions carry me off at times…

        The way of nature and the way of grace; each one being equally essential to the other, two conjugates of a singular whole; it is the essence of all that is; life perpetuating life.

    • Dear Jacob,

      If you have completed your interpretation I would very much like to hear it. I graduated many years ago with a degree in fine arts, interpreting art works such as paintings, sculptures, etc., but not film. I understand that certain things require certain skill-sets, and I believe that you believe you have the knowledge to interpret this beautiful and complex film, and to put it in words that the public, or at least, the educated public, will understand.

      Please send me a copy of your interpretation upon completion. Thank you, Mary

    • I hope that you are a young man and that you will outgrow your arrogant, condescending, self absorbed opinions. You, at this point are nature—only interested in self and wanting only for others to be impressed by your ideas. You tear others down to build yourself up. I hope you will grow and better understand grace.

      In the above paragraph, I express nature and scold you sternly. With grace I ask that you reconsider how you address other people’s ideas. You are smart and capable. Love is the ultimate expression of our humanity, because it is so difficult to truly live and stay true to it’s highest form. Hate and ridicule are easy for us to embrace. They are our most base expressions. Live brother–Love.

      Our duality in this way is maddening at times. For example, part of me wants to kick your butt, and another part of me wants to love you and hope that you come of age to be better than the hateful remarks you made in your original post.

      Peace

  16. I really enjoyed this review. Your thoughtful insight into the ways in which Malick explores gender roles and childhood development in the much larger context of time and space are almost identical to what I took away from The Tree of Life as well. To me, another way to examine Malick’s philosophical questions about the divide in human nature, what you deem as the chasm between nature and grace, I saw from a slightly different angle. Perhaps another way to characterize this idea is to see that Malick is presenting the possibility for all of us to choose between fear (personified through the views and actions of the father) and love (shown through those of the mother, such as in her gentle, flowing commentary which enriches Malick’s repetitive symbolic imagery). In the beginning of the film, Jack is embittered, unhappy, and full of regret, and he questions what his life would have been like if he would have embraced life with the unconditional love that his mother had taught him, and not assumed the fear-based authoritarian, power-seeking, or “macho” qualities that he thought were necessary to becoming a man of value, and that were instilled in him from such a young age. The ideas in this film resonate long after the screen has gone dark, and that’s the sign of a powerful piece of cinematic art.

  17. I think Jack takes his own life. His walking through the door in the desert represents his crossing over, upon which he reunites with other souls. That scene is taken out of sequence in time. As Jack exits the building, the look of satisfaction on his face is the look of a person who has made up his mind to end his life. The view of the bridge at the end of the movie indicates his going there to jump off. Other poetic interpretations of the bridge as a symbol may also apply, but Jack most definitely ends his life, as the scene in the desert where he very conscientiously passes through the doorway, would seem to indicate.

  18. I think I pretty much get most of the macro elements of this film. Here is a personal story that goes to the micro and, indeed, made this a difficult film for me to watch.

    I had two brothers and we grew up in a small New England town in the 1950s. My father was a devout Catholic and a hard working, brutal, vulgar man. He brought home every penny he ever made. I have no doubt that he loved our mother yet he berated her constantly. He treated my eldest brother, Will, very harshly, in ways that would probably have him arrested today for child abuse. My other brother and myself were roughed up emotionally and somewhat physically, but not near as badly as Will.

    I won’t give all the details. You get the point. When Will graduated high school and turned 18 years old he enlisted in the Army. After his stint was up he returned to the East Coast but did not come back home. He got a good job and was doing quite well for himself when he was one day killed in a motorcycle accident. When word reached my father he crumpled to the ground and screamed to his God. He sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. He was unconsolable.

    Fast forward eight years to my father’s death bed. We all knew he was dying and were taking turns sitting by his bed so that he would not be alone when death came. I was with him, holding his hand when he opened his eyes and said, “Where is Will”? I said, “Will is not here yet, Dad, but he’s on his way”. He then said, “I love Will. I hope he knows that”. Those were his last words. A few minutes later he passed away.

  19. The flame is seen three times. The first time during the Creation scene: it is red and orange.

    The second corresponds to the advent of Humans: a blue-green flicker is seen at the bottom of the flame.

    The last time, towards the end, it appears near the scene of the destruction of our solar system; the blue-green flicker disappears.

    I believe the blue-green color symbolizes human life within the timespan of the evolution of the solar system.

    Evanescent…

  20. My brother suggested I would possibly like this website. He was once totally right. This publish actually made my day. You can not imagine just how so much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  21. Loved your expansion to the points made in the synopsis I read from Wikipedia haha. I’ve just watched the movie and often seek reassurance of the concepts and ideas I take from films. Just thought I’d let you know you reviewed this admirably. From Pat in New Zealand

  22. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this review as well as all of the comments, I second the above sentiments!

    The problem I have with the film is that the content is too stereotypical and cliche for me. The macro vs. micro scenes evoke the poignant and quite original Koyanasqatsi films and the gorgeous scenery of the red rocks of Utah reminds me of photographic coffee table books that were so popular in the 1990’s. As well as the “Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of humanity” metaphor.” that bludgeons you to a bloody pulp by the end of the movie when you are finally saying to yourself, “Alright already!! I get it that the mother is a Mary figure, she offers up her son to God, yada yada yada!!” I want more. I expected to be cracked wide open by this movie and instead was left feeling ‘meh’. The overused metaphors such as doors, bridges, windows and trees to convey something profound and poignant are no longer effective for some of us. To attribute the complexities and intricacies of something so arcane as life and death to some overarching “God” is so played out. Not to mention the use of actors that we’ve all seen in every tabloid in the grocery store line. Imagine if while Pitt is teaching the boys to fight they cut to a Fight Club scene!

    I truly appreciate this review and how you delicately treaded some of the issues that I mentioned. I just wish that it could have given me more to chew on rather than the tired, overused symbolism and myth of our day. I want to see new myths created! New stories that reflect us and where we might be going.
    Thanks again!!

    • Lisa T nice, but what I got out of it is that there is no new myth to uncover and the going could only point to one direction the beach, we are all headed to the beach, no matter what path you choose so experience and enjoy or NOT, because while were here we, forget (which must b to have free will experience), and that makes life a beach… I just love every comment here really shows how many fractals out of light thru a prism can be seen. i believe we are all love or loved even if we dont know it yet. thank you ALL 11:11

  23. Jacob, you sound like one of those people who are locked away in a room far, far away from mankind cos they feel they are too rare and precious to mix with the unwashed masses…..seriously disturbing!!

  24. This movie represented such beautiful visual
    symbolism. It kept me visually, emotionally
    intellectually and spiritually engaged for the
    entire movie. Loved It!!! Best movie I’ve seen
    in a long time.

  25. There is always many layers to spiritual hollywood movies. I see no one has pointed out that the red headed mother also represents the goddess and mother earth and is always wearing green or brown until the end when she wears blue. Pitt represents God and never wears black even at the funeral, only shades of white or grey. The children wear black alot in the film to represent man never being able to attain perfection. Nature and grace are juxtaposed with the mother who represents nature being grace and the father/God living life through the selfish philosophy of nature. The children often point out his hypocrisy to point out Gods hypocrisy.(he is perfect and yet he has us go to war and kill in his name etc. Etc.) in many ways the film seems to promote goddess worship over God. Even in the end there is the blasphemous scene where it is the goddess who gives her son and not God. Many grumbles the childrenmake about their father are the comlaints people have against God. (“he lets anything happen”)

  26. Thank you for posting this thoughtful review. I also enjoyed the comments by all. It is a beautiful, thought provoking and complex film indeed. I found it to be a visual and auditory feast. Just in terms of content…… I was uncertain how the middle son died, and had considered suicide. I am a psychotherapist, so I surmised that the abuse by father included sexual abuse (which interpretation may be the fault of my profession). I also, thought the eldest brother may have molested his two younger brothers (several scenes suggested this: remembering the scene with the youngest brother crying in the field with the eldest). This could possibly be a partial reason for suicide? Anyway, it’s rather moot and left to each individual’s interpretation. Just wondering if anyone else considered or felt this might be going on in the film. Amy

    • Amy, I am curious as how you are surmising that there was any sexual abuse on the part of the father. What in the movie even hinted at that? I am shocked by that. I know that Jack seemed to have a little fascination with his mother, which might be attributed to normal adolescence, but sexual abuse? Would you please explain your theory? Also, molestation by the oldest brother? The younger brother was crying in the field because he had been shot in the finger by a bb gun. I know it’s open to interpretation, but I did not even get a hint of any sexuality between siblings nor the father. Please explain……just curious.
      Thank you.

    • Wow, Amy – I thought the exact same thing about the molestation scene. I spent the last hour online trying to see if anyone else saw that and saw your comment. It’s amazing how you can ‘sense’ it in the movie with your intuition. If you lived in my city I’d want to talk about it with you over a coffee. karla karlaheld@hotmail.com

  27. I just wanted to comment on a few things. The son r.l. does not die in the service but hung himself, that is why their is a closeup of the rope hanging from the tree. At the end the three females are the mother and her two younger selves, which give up the son to god.

  28. This film is loaded with archetypes…all meant to be for subjective viewing…to leave as a msg. for personal use. I saw in this film, Cain and Abel and the redemption through suffering and death. In the film, there is a mark on the head of the son…the mother, at one point, tries to rub it off. Cain was marked and sent by God to go through life wandering. The eldest son struggles with good and evil as his spirit wanders through life trying to find sense in it all. In the end good wins. But …not until he come to grips with the fact that his brother died…for what??? The conclusion the allegory between Abel [the innocent son], Innocent Christ [who is sent to redeem the world through his death…and the mother giving him back to the Father…Creator] and the innocent son-brother… who’s death in not taken in vain because it is given back to the Creator. At the end of the film…forgiveness and reconciliation…was it angels present or the persona or each person???Lots of Carl Jung in this film.

  29. all i can say is that I wish i had read this review before watching the movie. i definately appreciate it a lot more. unfortunately, i cannot sit through the movie again no matter how ethereal.

    • So I’ve watched it a few times, each time noticing something new. I disagree that the mother is “grace” and the father is “nature.” As stated in the beginning, grace is selfless while nature is selfish. (btw I’m guessing the bald spot kid was a neighbor whose house burnt down?) Back to my point, the father, though it appears his acts are for his own gain, has abandoned his passion, his pleasure which is music. He went a safer route so he thought in his attempts to make money for his children. When he comes back from his trip with all the souvenirs, he is so excited to show the kids what their father achieved. He was doing this for them, even admitting one cant be all good and succeed. He lost touch at a point with the reason we are here to begin with. He feels guilt for losing sight. He repents. He comes to terms with the insults and the punches, he eventually handles it gracefully, blaming only himself. The mother battles with being unselfish. She loves her children and loving them comes easy and they are what she wants. She often does not support the way her husband handles the children. She too comes to terms with pain and loss but not instantly. She grieves, she asks why, what did she do? Both parents are grace and nature. Also, every person in the film struggles with God, trying to be good enough for Him. I believe in the end scenes where they are reunited, they are smiling to find that all still maintained a strong love for God and have made it to the same place. They held on, and kept their love.

  30. Two parts of the movie that I would like to mention are the father’s obvious material success at the time of the death of his second son and the father’s apparent struggle with the feminine side of his character. Regarding the first part, there are the scene where the father tells the mother that the plant is closing and that he has been given a choice between no job and the job that nobody wants and the scene where the family sorrowfully moves away from the home in the neighborhood where the children have lived all their lives to go to the place where the father will take “the job that nobody wants.” In contrast, when the mother receives the telegram informing the family of the son’s death, she is living in a well-designed, tastefully-furnished contemporary home on a live-oak-lined street in an apparently affluent neighborhood. it seems that this “job that nobody wants” has proven to be a lucrative one.

    As for the second part, there is one scene that shows the father striking an affected pose with his hand on the back of a chair and another showing him with his glasses in his mouth while listening to classical music that makes him appear effeminate. Another scene shows him playing an organ with a rapturous expression on his face, while Jack waits to turn the pages of the music.(By the way, his ability to portray both the feminine and the masculine sides of the father is a testimony to Pitt’s talent.) Did the father choose a “manly” career over that of a musician to suppress this feminine side of himself? Is his toughness on his boys another way of compensating for and overcoming his own femininity?

    • Would Amy, the therapist please explain where on earth she saw sexual abuse on the part of the Father with any of the sons or the brother with his brothers? What on earth are you seeing.? The brother got hit in the finger with a bb gun. How do you link crying in a feild a few minutes later sexual abuse. That is mind boggling. The Father was mean and abusive at times, throwing the boy in the cellar for protecting his little brother, and he was constantly critical of the boys, but again I did not see any signs of sexual abuse, Can you please explain why you would say such a thing. Maybe your work is getting to you and you need a break or vacation or something.

  31. I find the dino seen as showing compassion which sparks new evolution for the world so astroid comes in to transform us to next level Of living with better understandings of compassion. in a crazy sence jack is the raptor starting in lower levels of creation but then becomes passionate raptor touches dino and jack touches brother after bb scenes.
    Without light and dark together we can never
    decide our path. bit all paths are valid
    this movie should be a 6 star coming out at the right time.

  32. I just needed to point out my theory that if you sum up the initials Jack O’Brien you end up having no other than Job, mentioned in the beginning. This is of course logical since we already knew that the family suffering is compared to that of Job.

  33. One insight about the movie I have is the significant of the title of the film itself. Towards the beginning of the movie, young Jack is present around his father while his father (Brad Pitt) plants a tree. The relevance of the tree should not be overlooked. As young Jack grows, the tree grows. Additionally, in the beginning of the book of Genesis, there is a spiritual schism between the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, and the “Tree of life”. One leads to death, the other leads to grace, relating to the two paths of life that Jack’s mother whispers at the beginning of the movie (the way of nature and the way of grace). Further, the book of Revelation, the last book of the bible ends with a “Tree of life” at the end of time where there will no longer be any pain or darkness and will be a “healing of the nations”. I noticed that the final scenes of the movie that lead to the beach scene, there was a “healing of the nations”, You may have noticed different families passing through the end of times were death and grief was finally restored into joy and comfort. The parallel and significant of the “Tree” of life is very significant

  34. I now understand more about what this movie tells us, readers. At the beginning I didn’t quite understand the dinosaurs, explosions, etc happening. Now I understand that as time evolves, so do we as humans. Things unexpectedly happen and sometimes our only “happy place” are the memories. This is what Jack does throughout the movie, but he has moments of doubting God as to why he let this happen to one of his best friends, his brother. I enjoyed your opinion on Mr. O’Brien’s personality. I thought he was so cruel and very harsh on his boys, but it does make sense that he was trying to prepare them and protect them for what the world had in store for the boys. I didn’t quite understand the ending. I felt like his whole family died. I can kind of see what you said about how he’s walking out of his skyscraper and trying to redeem himself and live as normal as he can. He’s in between the stages of accepting and moving on as his family would want him to. Thank you for sharing! Made me understand the movie A LOT more clearly.

  35. I felt the boys were crying in the field because they had been told they were leaving their current life and home (be it good or bad it was theirs and all the knew) for another life. I thought the finger/air rifle scene didn’t involve the crying in the field. I thought the beach scene was a crossing over “cleansing” scene where Jack found grace with his family and his brother as he previously stated “I will find you”. At first I thought yes he jumped off the bridge, but I think it was a metaphor connecting the hell we can experience from “man” to the realization the “nature” is often unkind and unforgiving and we must figure out a way to deal with that and put it in perspective so mankind can move forward and hopefully not repeat the mistakes of our fathers.

    • The author wrote ‘A large dinosaur, upon witnessing a smaller, wounded animal, triumphantly and inexplicably plants his foot on its head. In the grand scheme of life, per Malick, nature’s brute strength and cruelty are embedded in our very DNA.’ But the more powerful Raptor actually displayed empathy. From the beginning, nature’s DNA has contained ‘grace’, in the form of empathy.

      The author wrote ‘He chases patents for his designs only to fail each and every time.’ Pitt’s character thought that he could rise above nature by using his mind. The patents were not failures. He was screwed out of the benefits by corrupt companies that stole them, and then used a corrupt legal system to get away with it. This was a huge turning point in his life. He came to realize that he could not rise above nature.

  36. Excellent review of this epic film. After watching it for a second time, I realized how many subtleties I had missed during my first pass (which was primarily spent trying to gain a foothold on the narrative). Your review really helped fill in some of the missing pieces for me. My only slight point of disagreement was in the dinosaur scene: where you saw a sense of random violence, I saw an act of grace (the stronger dinosaur chose to not kill the maimed beast, but instead, seemed to feel compassion for it). But, therein lies the beauty of any great work of art.

  37. Hello I am looking for a certain still in the movie and cannot seem to locate it having watched the movie several times. Can someone help who is very familiar with it? It is the still where the younger boy (blonde) is being handed something, maybe a bird or bone. The sky is illuminated with clouds and sunshine behind his head, it looks very biblical.
    Thanks so much! Any help is appreciated.

  38. does jack kill himself at the end of the movie by jumping off the bridge? i took the bird flying down off the bridge in the last shot as a symbol of his suicide and subsequent “liberation”.

    • You might be right. If you have not seen The Thin Red Line I recommend you check out the scene early in the film where Jim Cavezel’s character hopes that he can pass (die) with the same ‘calm’ as his mother(?). Sean Penns character seemed to have reached that important level of ‘calm’ prior to the scene you mentioned. A recurring them for TM? On an unrelated topic, I went back and watched the final track and noticed for the first time the scar on his brother’s head. I assumed from context that he had been killed in Viet Nam. Does anyone have some insight?

  39. The World Trade center is a symbol of the econony. In the same way the Tree that grew tall and strong in the Book of Daniel 4:20 –

    A Tall Tree is a metaphor for a Skyscraper

    20 ” ” The tree that you beheld, that grew great and became strong and the height of which finally reached the heavens and which was visible to all the earth, 21 and the foliage of which was fair, and the fruit of which was abundant, and on which there was food for all; under which the beasts of the field would dwell, and on the boughs of which the birds of the heavens would reside, 22

    Clearly the tree is a symbol of the economy in the same way the twin towers were a symbol of the economy. When the tree fell so did the economy.

    The Tree that King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream was the World Trade Center. Nebuchadnezzar and Suddam are the same KIng in Iraq. When the tree was cut down Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom fell in the same way when the twin towns came down Saddams empire fell.

    Daniel 4:20 “finally reached the heavens and which was visible to all the earth,”
    Everyone on the face of the earth saw the towers on TV when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. It was visible to all the earth.

    The story about Neb and Saddam are exactly the same right down to where both Kings sons are killed in the end. Daniel 5:25

    This is one of the greatest prophesys in the Bible. The Book of Daniel was writen well over 2000 years ago and now came true.

  40. Only Rogan understood the movie. It is not a Rorschach Test. You have to try to see the director’s intention. Clearly, the eldest son is the center of the movie and dies at the end. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? The movie is a life review before dying or crossing the bridge. The eldest son is offered as a Christ-like figure by the mother at the very end. Nothing else makes any sense.

  41. I believe the telegram told of the son’s suicide, not of his death in the Military. An officer was usually sent to convey the news of a loved one’s death in military action. Also, Malick’s guitar-playing brother committed suicide in real life.

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