Tell us what you thought of ‘The Tree of Life’

Posted by · 10:40 am · May 27th, 2011

Today, Terrence Malick’s latest opus “The Tree of Life” opens on four screens, two in Los Angeles, two in New York. So while it’s a small slice, the US public now has its chance to see the film, so it’s time to gauge reactions. Guy reviewed it out of Cannes, I followed up with my take (to be accompanied by another extended piece later today) and we’ve used the occasion to look back on performances in Malick’s filmography. But I’ll be very interested to hear what you all think of the film, so whenever you get around it (or whenever it gets around to you), please let us know.

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32 responses so far

  • 1 5-27-2011 at 11:43 am

    Speaking English said...

    I have to wait another two weeks for this one, but on a bit of a different note: have you seen the reviews for “X-Men: First Class”??? Unbelievable. Was not expecting it to be as good as that!

  • 2 5-27-2011 at 12:08 pm

    Andrej said...

    Haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll just leave this to any fellow chileans or south americans peeps reading this blog:

    The Tree of Life will premiere here in August, and somewhere around the second half of the year The Skin I Live In and The Kid with a Bike will follow along.

    The Beaver will arrive on June 30th, and Melancholia won’t arrive at all since the argentinian distributors, who declined to show Lars’s latest after his nazi joke, also had the rights to distributing it here in Chile. Bummers. :(

    That’s all.

  • 3 5-27-2011 at 12:48 pm

    Rafael M said...

    Well. I deeply believe its the furthest the medium of cinema has gone into being art and fulling with its own modes (images/senses/sounds/drama/editing) the deep human need for experiencing life. All in short, probably one of the great movies of all time for the future. Just pure organic and crazy beauty. and the acting (even if with archetypes characters), so truth and sincere….

  • 4 5-27-2011 at 12:58 pm

    Sebastian Nebel said...

    I saw THE TREE OF LIFE last Friday in Luxembourg and loved it. I, too, was amazed by Hunter McCracken’s performance. In a perfect world, this would be his Oscar to lose.

    Malick and Lubezki’s approach to filming coverage was a breath of fresh air; I also liked the use of symbolism.

    I agree with most critics that the family drama at the center of the film would have made a great movie by itself, without the pro- and epilogue(s), but I didn’t really mind those scenes, either. They presented space and time to reflect on some of the heavier themes of THE TREE OF LIFE’s core story, all while showing some beautiful imagery that one doesn’t get to see on the big screen that often.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the movie again once it hits German theaters next month.

  • 5 5-27-2011 at 1:59 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I just saw it a few hours ago. Beautiful.

  • 6 5-27-2011 at 2:07 pm

    Fitz said...

    I have to wait the better part of another month or so before this hits anywhere near me. Sometimes I hate living in NV.

  • 7 5-27-2011 at 5:30 pm

    Brady said...

    I saw it at the infamous (?) 8:30 AM screening in Cannes with all five of the boos. I, however, loved it. What Malick did with individual moments and memory was astounding. It accessed a part of my childhood I had nearly forgotten and I’m looking forward to a second viewing.

  • 8 5-27-2011 at 5:37 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Obviously, I was at the same screening — why infamous? (Unless you’re talking about the boos, which are par for the course at Cannes and, as you say, weren’t particularly widespread.)

  • 9 5-27-2011 at 6:44 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Not to bring up the whole actors director thing again but let me say Malick is great at getting quality performances out of kids, babies, and hell even animals. For example a scene with Chastain catching a butterfly with her hand and then caressing it while it lays in the grass while a cat approaches I guess he is just a natural at that.

    I loved Pitt, his finest work since Fight Club but I agree with Guy in that the third act did not work for me. Of course I’ll have to do some reading and then watch it again.

  • 10 5-27-2011 at 6:57 pm

    Ben M. said...

    While I think booing a movie at a festival screening with people who worked on the film in attendance is completely rude, I understand the negative reaction and it might even be as low as the third worst of the 40 or so 2011 films I’ve seen (certainly ahead of Your Highness and Sucker Punch, but I can’t definitively say it is better than The Adjustment Bureau, Battle LA, or On Stranger Tides without some more time to digest the movie).

    While there were some impressive moments, I never cared at all for the characters or the story, and all the attempts at trying to say something profound came off as pretentious to me. The best part of the film by far IMO was the history of the universe sequences originally intended for an Imax documentary. There were some spectacular images and as a standalone in Imax it could have been a really cool experience.

    Sadly, I’m not even sure a theater is the best way to experience the film despite those beautiful shots. As I felt a bit motion sick and got a small headache from the odd angles and bouncy camera-work in the first half of the film, which usually is easier to take on TVs.

  • 11 5-27-2011 at 7:34 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Another thing. I have been listening to Desplat’s score and hardly any of it was used in the film. Maybe three or four tracks at most…

  • 12 5-28-2011 at 3:19 am

    julian said...

    I saw it last week (in Denmark, where the film premiered just three days after its screening in Cannes). I was mesmerized by Hunter McCracken’s performance. He was utterly captivating in every single scene. Overall, the 1950s sequences are magical in the sense that Malick succeeds in capturing the wonder of the world in a child’s perspective.
    The prologue/epilogue cosmic meanderings, I could have done without. I especially resented the dinosaur sequence where Malick implies that the gift of grace is inherent in nature (one dinosaur shows compassion towards a “fellow” dinosaur…come on!!)

  • 13 5-28-2011 at 6:35 am

    Andy W. said...

    I saw the film yesterday in New York; I honestly have never had such a strange, almost opinion-less feeling about the film right after seeing it. But after mulling it over, I think it succeeds despite its share of problems (especially at the end).

    The unresolved questions are put aside, resolved through forgiveness. This film is largely a prayer; in the words of adult Jack: “guide us to the end of time”.

    Plenty of nice themes: the (inner) conflict between the ways of Nature and Grace, the meaning of life, the necessity of love in life, the loss of innocence/boyhood, forgiveness.

    A film that questions the significance of our existence, yet displays the miracles and wonders of being.

    Initially, I had a strange opinionless, somewhat mixed feeling; there were aspects of the film I honestly did not admire (including the possible overuse of fadeouts, soft voiceovers [Mr. O’Brien does not give any], and redundant explanation, preaching, a very long drawn-out coda). Some things still don’t make any sense. Why the mask at the end? Why the bridge as the last shot? – You’ll recognize this after seeing the movie. Great usage of it in the film

  • 14 5-28-2011 at 4:16 pm

    Rashad said...

    Andy do you remember the sequence that was used? I remember really liking that but my memory is off

  • 15 5-28-2011 at 4:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s actually used a number of times.

  • 16 5-28-2011 at 4:26 pm

    Andy W. said...

    SPOILER: The music exerpt? I think that music excerpt was used twice, once 5-10 minutes in, right after the parents hear the news about their son. And again following something that happened to another boy/neighbor, and Mr. O’Brien wasn’t able to do anything about it. [avoiding spoilers as much as I can].
    My memory is a bit off too; don’t take me by my word.

  • 17 5-28-2011 at 4:35 pm

    Moviehobbyist said...

    Seen it once thus far and I can say that you have to be very cinema-literate to understand and connect most of what’s going on. But it’s incredibly rich and deserving. I also feel it’s very unbalanced and that many different people have different sections they adore. I loved the part where the children start groing up, from being babies etc. It had a certain verité style to it that really struck me.
    Malick certainly pushes the boundaries of narrative cinema, but like so many others, he can’t do that without some kind of structure derived from popular film. It sure makes for a fruitful film class in schools.

  • 18 5-30-2011 at 5:49 pm

    Isaac said...

    Ben M. if you are comparing Tree of Life to Battle L.A. and On Stranger Tides you need to rethink your understanding of cinema

  • 19 6-01-2011 at 9:30 am

    Jesse Crall said...

    C+. What made Days of Heaven so moving was that it matched its imagery with a focused narrative. Manz’ narration had purpose and sounded wholly authentic for a young girl. The Tree of Life was too elliptical and scattered, leaving me wanting more scenes with Pitt and McCracken and growing bored when the film took detours toward allegorical space gas and natural phenomena. At times I felt like I was watching a very well-made science video.

    Midnight in Paris may not have had the same artistic ambitions, but I enjoyed the experience watching it so much more.

  • 20 6-01-2011 at 6:06 pm

    Harry said...

    it seems cruel that my memory cannot recollect all of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of beautiful shots and evocations in Tree of Life. I think it’s of paramount importance to appreciate this film for its moments and transitions rather than as a whole piece. Malick’s camera is like Virginia Woolf’s prose. he’s all about celebrating the moment. The most beautiful moments in Tree of Life are, naturally, in the early stages of three boy’s lives. Malick brings their youth front and center in a way I honestly cannot recall any other film accomplishing. Tree of Life gives me the sensation of watching parts of my own childhood flash by with a detail and humanity that, in my opinion, is comparable only to great works of literature and art. It’s not a perfect movie as a whole but strangely enough I don’t think this movie should be analyzed as a whole. It’s many beautiful pieces, at least for me, filled up a lifetime.

  • 21 6-02-2011 at 12:10 am

    James said...

    Great, uncompromising cinema with mixed returns.

  • 22 6-03-2011 at 9:41 pm

    cineJAB said...

    it was a beautiful film that really needed a clearer narrative…I felt like I was watching a very long screensaver…

  • 23 6-04-2011 at 3:17 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Saw it this morning at 11. As with most of my experiences with Terrence Malick movies on a first viewing, I was somewhat baffled by the end of it, although I knew I liked it. It definitely has flaws, as most people have stated. I thought the creation of the universe sequence went on a little long, and the ending sequence I didn’t think was completely successful. It had some nice moments, for sure, but something just didn’t totally connect with me. I also thought the moment where Jessica Chastain was flying around in the air almost bordered on self-parody.

    Aside from those flaws, it’s definitely a movie that has stuck with me since I walked out of the theater. In a way I started to look at the world around me in a different way than I had before I saw the movie, which is something I wasn’t expecting. It’s hard to explain, but it’s not a movie that you can just watch and forget about. I’d like to watch it again, since most of Malick’s films get better for me on repeated viewings, but I’m not sure if I’d want to experience it in a theater again, just because it was a bit irritating hearing audience members whispering to each other at times and saying ‘what the fuck?’. It got a little distracting at points, so I may wait until it’s on Blu-ray or something.

    The strongest parts of the film, for me, was the story of the family in Texas. The music at times reminded me of something like Andrei Rublev, although I wouldn’t necessarily call this just a ‘Christian movie’, but definitely a spiritual one. And as beautiful as the cinematography was, I kind of wish there wasn’t so many changing angles and bouncing camerawork. Perhaps it was because I was sitting somewhat close to the screen, but it got a little overwhelming at times.

  • 24 6-10-2011 at 1:36 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Absolutely tremendous. Even if you don’t completely understand what’s going on, the film strikes you at such a human, elemental visceral level you can’t help but be moved. This is some of the most stunning imagery ever captured on film, without a doubt. Might as well give Lubezki his Oscar now, since there’s no competition and will never be competition for something as extraordinary as this. The images are as tactile, sensuous, and transporting as I’ve ever seen, each frame coming at you as if you were experiencing the world for the first time, again.

    A truly transcendent, spiritual experience that I can’t wait to soak up again.

  • 25 6-18-2011 at 6:24 am

    James D. said...

    I see a lot of movies every year, and most are terrible. I ask myself why I bother, and why not stick to proven classics or old favorites? Why look for something when modern cinema is so bad?

    The Tree of Life is why. I have never had the feelings in a theater like that before. I saw it in a packed house full of college kids, and we all sat there and absorbed its beauty. I cried, I laughed, I thought about my life, my brother, my parents, my childhood, and everything in between. It is a masterpiece.

  • 26 6-18-2011 at 9:43 pm

    Bryan said...

    Simply, a protest of beauty.

  • 27 6-19-2011 at 7:51 pm

    Nancy said...

    I am a fan of Malick so I am, to begin with, biased in his direction. I loved the film and found it moving. – the work, as a whole, was like a beautiful poem or symphony rather than a story. Hence I agree with some of the previous comments about the wonderful imagery. Rather than worrying about a storyline I found myself simply letting the work flow in and around me. I loved much of the symbolism, but do need to see it again to take it all in. The scene with the boys playing using Smetana’s The Moldau was brilliant – one of the top film scenes of this or any time. Particularly meaningful was the constant questioning of humanity’s beliefs; and how the film, seemingly, points out, on some levels, our insignificance. Still – we reach, we reach. The juxtapositioning of the mundane and the magnificent was quite effective. An obvious point being made was that all we really know is that we’re here and we choose what we do with our time.

    Brad Pitt was astounding in his role. Though I found the beach scene a little odd (probably due to my own b.s. – belief system) it did not spoil the fim for me.
    As I mentioned, I do look forward to seeing it again.

  • 28 6-23-2011 at 3:07 am

    Dominik said...

    It´s probably a thin red line between ambitious and pretentious, and “The Tree of Life” exemplifies this particularly well.
    I´m a huge Malick-fan and I´m very familiar with his style (macro-cinematography, voice-over, religious/philosophical background et cetera), but this movie didn´t work for me too well. For example, I agree about the mass of beauty the film is enriched with. The “best of-Universe”-shots were extremely pleasing to the eye. You never knew for sure what exactly you were seeing sometimes, but it´s truly plenty of material for some nice posters to decorate your walls with.
    But what the hell had that to do with the story of the O´Briens? All is connected, ok, but still it felt way over-ambitious and incoherent. The same with the epiloug. Maybe I´m not religious enough, but the film sometimes felt a bit dull for me. Kudos, of course, to the actors (especially Brad Pitt) and the wonderful cinematography by Lubezki, who for sure will get an Oscar-nomination for this.

  • 29 6-25-2011 at 2:37 pm

    Joshua said...

    Just saw it at the Tivoli in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Was such a gorgeous, powerful, developed and interesting experience. As one of three sons, I felt as if the film resonated with me moreso because of that–but other filmgoers I spoke with felt the same way. I think this is a uniquely American film in that way.

    I’m a slam poet so this film was especially inspirational and a joy to marvel in. Don’t think it was perfect, but was unbelievable. Deserves to be recognized come Award Season for a few different things (Cinematography being the most obvious).

    (I’ve been waiting to post in this thread for sometime!)

  • 30 7-28-2011 at 1:44 pm

    Geoff said...

    Well shot, pretentious, deliberately obscure (to make you think that perhaps your’e not smart enough to get it). Yeah, it does make you think but more like someone in a gaol cell or in separation therapy. The ending……what ending?

    Super long screen saver with super long skin care add type footage. If someone could help the director with a storyline, there might have been something there.