The Tree Of Life BY Terrence Malick


Terrence Malick’s 2011 Tree of Life comprises an exemption in a market that is inundated with marketable film productions. Its experimental disposition is revealed best by an ingenious approach to an old theme, non-linear narrative, and breathtaking images of how the universe originated. This one of a kind film mulls over human existence from eternity’s standpoint. This award-winning film, which gained its moment of glory at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, holds an era of terrestrial and cosmic history in no more than 150 minutes. Its most provoking progression envisages the origin of creation, how life developed on earth that involves some expressive dinosaurs, and more succinctly, the end of time.

Upon seeing a tree being planted at the rear of a building, Jack a middle-aged architect meditates on his upbringing and teenage years in Waco Texas in the fifties. Several aspects emerge in this meditation about his family and social life; his liaison with a strict father who represents nature, a gentle mother that symbolizes grace, experiments with violence and sexuality, his mother’s anguish upon the death of his brother, and his father’s efforts to triumph over failure. These transitions from innocence to childhood prompt a number of questions on the meaning of life.

The tree of life is a shocking revelation in an industry that is flooded with commercial based movies (Malick, 2011). It innovates both storyline and technological terms. For example, it has exceptional camera angles showing the world from children’s perception of life and the earth. The special effects recreate the universe formations, the non-linear narration that relentlessly varies between memories of Jack’s teenage years, and his current life as a disillusioned adult. On a contrary perspective, it highlights the congregation of the living and the dead, roving on the beach in the shores of time.

This freshness is not superfluous nor does it give up the plot; rather, it divulges its symbolism and underlying principle that was cautiously crafted in 2008 when the shooting of this incredible movie began. The tree of life represents one of the greatest experimental films of its kind in the history of the US Cinema (Hagerty, 2012). It covers 14 billion evolution years, deals with the captivating intangible entity (God), and advances an indisputable existing question: what is the meaning of life? This applies both to atheists and religious cohorts.

Analysis of Malick’s Tree of Life

The Sun emerges as a depiction of God in the tree of life whereas oceans, rivers, and lakes symbolize eternity. On the other hand, the oak tree, from which the film’s name is generated, constitutes an allegory and synecdoche for life. Malick’s cinematography is full of the North American landscape. It serves not only as a background setting but also as an exhilarated element. This is in harsh distinction to human deceit. In the Tree of life, nature comprises the eternal fundamental nature that evades those who try to grab it, and intermittently, it offers them a chance for salvation (Hagerty, 2012).

In most of the film’s scenes, the oak tree, which is the tree of life, is shot from a low angle giving it a powerful appearance. On the other hand, the sunrays that highlight heavenly symbols, glitter through leaves and branches. The Oak represents two dimensions. On one hand, it is a symbol of life while on the other hand, it represents a consecrated area where the O’Briens, specifically Jack and his mother, commune with God by fronting their reflections and queries. Therefore, the Oak so conceived encapsulates a representation of the beginning and the enduring, vegetable, human and animal life.

In one of the scenes the year is 1956 in a sub urban house’s garden, three brothers: six year old Steve, eleven year old Jack and nine year old RL, their dog Shep and their parents play. This is a countrified scene saturated with household joy apparently almost Edenic. While admiring the sunrays that surge through the Oak’s branches, Mrs. O’Brien makes a promise to God, “Whatever comes I will be true to you.” The soundtracks thirty different pieces from Bach, Brahms and Mahler as well as Lacrimosa’s excerpt by Zbigniev Preisner. The polish film composer reinforces the Oaktree as a representative of creation and life. It is an innate temple where two main characters in the movie, Jack and his mother, talk to God instantaneously symbolizing the epilogue of life.

In this scene, as a trial of their faith, the death of the O’Briens middle son RL is conveyed to the mother by a western union mailman. Mr. O’Brien, at the age of 19, is working at the airport as an Engineer where he receives this shocking message. As much as the noisy airport harshly contrasts with his serene and quiet home, the outlook is similar because the sun sets on the trees, instantaneously symbolizing the epilogue of life and the end of a tough day (Hagerty, 2012).

To deal with a complex question and a temporal immensity of this kind within 140 minutes connotes massive challenges. However, Malick looked for a distinct storyline and technological solutions. He resorted to natural symbols to signify both life and the deity. A boy, in a whispered voice over, speaks to his Creator, who is by nature oblique in His responses. The boy asks, “Where are you?” and prowling in this question is another one, which would ask, and what am I doing here?

Waco Tex is the ‘here’ in this question” a piece of earthly certainty caused to be in the 1950s by the film’s exquisite designer and cinematographer. This was indeed their unmistakable devotion to Malick’s accurate eccentric vision. The concern by which they cajole ideas into brilliant cinematic actuality is done in the same manner as the stirring images in the movie. The images essentially surge and bend to equally subliming music. The utter beauty of the film is irresistible. However, just as other creations of religious focused art, its visual grandeur is tethered to a self-effacing and dignified objective which is to shine the sacred light on secular realism.

Entrenched in the passages of spiritual fables, cosmology, and microbiology is a story whose acquaintance is as significant to the objectives of The Tree Of Life as the exploratory flights that enfold its plot. The world of modest houses and tidily spruced lawns impeded from dappled streets is one the audiences impulsively think they know. This is also evident just as they instinctively discern the family whose joint life inhabit the One and half hours of the movie. To a certain extent, words cannot do justice to the mellifluous sunlight flowing through kitchen panes and refracted past the gush of garden sluices or the wobbly limbed tempo of playing kids. It indeed provides a romanticized sight of the lost Garden of Eden. However, it would be unbecoming to just relax in Malick’s wistfulness for the misplaced world in his Eisenhower-era upbringing.

In Malick’s perspective entrenched in a romantic mythical custom and an eccentric Christianity, losing innocence is not a single event in ones history but an adage of human occurrence. This is replicated in every generation and in the sensitivity of all humanity. The astounding inconsistency is that this global prototype replicates itself in unique circumstances. Given this perception, The Tree Of Life is a post war story judicious in its evaluation of the emotional dynamics of a South American nuclear family (Malick, 2011). It also provides an addition to childhood knowledge and an explanation of the abrupt fall into awareness that precludes childhood fantasies.

Jack O’Brien forms the center of the film he forms Malick’s amended ego. The audience first meets him acting as Sean Penn where he is a middle aged architect, who lives in glinting skyscrapers and tidy contemporary surfaces. He is troubled by the death of his young brother several years earlier. In the first scenes, the audiences are exposed briefly to Jack’s youth that familiarizes them with his parents, Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt. Malick allows their sorrow over their lost son to cast a shadow of sorrowfulness that tags every aspect of their lives in the subsequent scenes.

This is followed instantaneously by the creation of the world, which hits the audience as a surprise. Jack wonders where his brother is located. He poses, “where are you?”  This question is directed to both God and his brother. The scale of his yearning demands an extraterrestrial response. However, this response can only be logical if it is actualized. In an exquisite surrealistic stroke, Jack is envisioned rising from a submerged house and whirling towards the surface sunlight. In a split second impulse, he becomes an infant held in his mother’s embrace. Impetuously, two of his brothers arrive, one after the other, and they are given room in the world.

A lot is put across about the kindheartedness and nervousness in the O’Brian family through the disappointments that indent their happiness and the precariousness of the sibling’s bonds. This is without the normal architecture of dramatic elucidation. One shot surges into another, dialogue is displaced by whispered voice over, and an approximately ideal household account takes center stage entrenched in three exceptional elegant performances; McCracken the hunter who brings the audience into Jack’s agitated itching skin, Ms. Chastain and Mr. Pitt. The tree of life in the end ventures into a well travelled terrain and then excavates everlasting and prehistoric meanings (Malick, 2011).

This film stubbornly stands alone partly due to its insolent eccentricity. The most momentous scene in the Tree of life is where Sean Penn wakes up and goes to work in a sky scrapper (Malick, 2011). Jack, who has a career in architecture, browses critically through plans. However, the faded dialogue does not indicate where he really works. The drudge in an office meeting does not strain Malick’s gazes, but by Jack’s dejected glances from the high windows and the transcendence flashes that are vouchsafed by steel and glass patterns.

It can be argued that Michael Mann is not very much fanatical about the physical spaces inhabited by people. Within no time, Malick withdraws into the past, particularly into the 1950s Texas. The movie was mainly shot in Smithville town; however, the audience can see a vehicle written on City of Waco on its rear side. This seems to be the only traffic in that scene.

In the relaxed streets, children are playing fearlessly. Amongst them is Jack. a position that is played then by the exceptional hunter McCracken. Jack is a boy that grew up with his younger siblings: Steve (Tye Sheridan) and R.L. (Laramie Eppler) overshadowed by the patronizing nature of their parents: Mrs Chastain Jessica and Brad Pitt (Mr. O’Brien). None of their parents have a first name and like most of Malick’s dramatic persona, they at all times feel ungraspable and unyielding.

Jack’s mother, who adorns a Pre-Raphaelite copper hair, is more like an angel. At one instance, she danced in the air and even though the family is not economically endowed, she is never seen dressed up in the same dress two times. As much as Jack’s father works in a local factory, Malick once more does not get into details of his work. What concerns Malick most is what O’Brian may have done (Lane, 2011). He plays the organ on Sundays in Church and the Piano while free at home. During Supper, he enjoys putting on Brahms’s Symphony. Therefore, the audience is left with a troubled sense of wrong turnings that cannot be retraced.

The Tree of life wakes up with sorrowful issues when the audience realizes that O’Brien decides to vent his frustrations on his family (Malick, 2011). To start with, fondness and ruthlessness are intertwined. O’Brien asks his son, Jack, if he really loves him upon which Jack replies “Yes Sir”. However, tempers are lost when the perceived delinquents (the sons) are shut in closets for boldly talking back. There is even a frightening scene where the sons are instructed to dangle punches at the patriarch. “Hit me,” asserts O’Brien as he exposes his jaw. This was the most salient feature of O’Brien’s anatomy.

When O’Brien leaves the home, the boys relax in an almost oedipal ecstasy predisposed to a mother whose values, as she chants, are ludicrously sapped of strictness. “Love every ray of light, everyone every leaf not because there is comedy here.” The tree of life remains not only a joke free precinct but is also uneasy with misbehaving bodies. There are no sex intrudes in the tree of life; however, one scene shows how the out of the ordinary succession where the first premise of sex flushes Jack’s mind. Like a fever, he break-in a neighbor’s bedroom and ransacks her lingerie. After he holds her nightdress against the surging light, only to steal it and float it in the river, the audiences are left with undulating questions (Lane, 2011).



At the start and the end of the film, the audience is made to stare at a flickering flame that can only symbolize the Creator and not its director, Malick who has a preference for less publicity. However, he remains the films indefinable deity whose charismatic nature in the world characterizes not only the film’s overtones, but also the basis of its far-reaching mysteries. With frightening reserved erudition, the tree of life contemplates some of the unrelenting and hardest questions. In most cases, these types of questions leave adults speechless when cornered by their children.






Hagerty, Terry. (2012). “Oak in Tree of Life moved to downtown Smithville”. The

Bastrop Advertiser, February 9: 1A, 2A

Lane Anthony (2011) Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” Web.

Malick, Terrence, dir. (2011). The Tree of Life. Brace Cove Productions, Cottonwood Pictures, Plan B Entertainment, River Road Entertainment



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