The Tree of Life (2011)

 ●  English ● 2 hrs 18 mins

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Embedded with deep emotion and amazing visual expression, this intricately crafted family drama chronicles the origins and meaning of life by way of Jack O'Brien, a middle-aged man's childhood memories of his family living in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe and the inception of life on Earth. Jack's life has been shaped largely by his formative growing-up period in suburban Waco, Texas with his parents, and his two younger brothers, R.L. and Steve. It is primarily the dichotomy between his parents that is causing an emotional conflict within him, now specifically with his father. Although both his parents loved him and his siblings, they demonstrated that love in different ways which was often at odds with each other. His mother was overly caring and nurturing, and tried to provide a sense of wonderment about the world to her children. His father was unbending, and did not tolerate disobedience as he wanted to prepare his children practically for a difficult world. Mr. O'Brien's actions were also shaped by his own internal conflicts about what he did and what he wanted to do in life. Middle-aged Jack's current thoughts also reflect back on the death of his brother R.L., who was killed in military duty at age nineteen. This thought-provoking tale explores existential questions about the meaning and origin of life, expressed through extraordinary visuals.
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Brad Pitt

Crew: Terrence Malick (Director), Emmanuel Lubezki (Director of Photography), Alexandre Desplat (Music Director)

Rating: U/A (India)

Genres: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Release Dates: 29 Jul 2011 (India)

English Name: The Tree of Life

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Did you know? The town of Smithville, Texas was chosen because the practical structure houses still mirror the '50s settings required by the film. It is one hour's drive from Austin, Texas with a population of only 4500 people. While the crew was filming there, there was no additional lighting equipment being used and camera equipment was stored at a rented garage. Read More
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as Mr. O'Brien
as Rue
as Jo Bates
as Robert
as Prisoner
as Harry Bates
as George Walsh
as Jack @ 2
as Grandmother
as Mr. Bagley (as Hudson Long)
as Young Jack
as Messenger
as Mrs. O'Brien
as Guide
as Jimmy
as Jack's Wife
as Bi-Plane Pilot
as R. L. @ 2
as Beth
as Cayler
as Father Haynes
as Mrs. Brown (as Kim Whalen)
as R.L.
as Jane (as Margaret Ann Hoard)
as Dusty Walsh
as Jack @ 5
as Mr. Brown
as Nicholas Swimmer
as Mr. Reynolds
as Samantha
as Mrs. Kimball
as Jack
as Mrs. Stone
as Tommy
as Steve
as Tyler Stone
as Clergyman
as Architect
as Jack's Work Colleague


First Assistant Director
Second Assistant Director


Executive Producer
Associate Producer
Production Supervisor


Dialogue Writer

Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography
Still Photographer
Camera Assistant


Music Director
Music Coordinator


Foley Editor
Sound Re-recording Mixer




Art Director
Production Designer
Set Decorator
Storyboard Artist


Casting Director
Casting Associate

Costume and Wardrobe

Costume Designer

Makeup and Hair

Post Production

Post Production Supervisor

Special Effects

Special Effects Technician


Stunt Director


Special Thanks

Visual Effects

Visual Effects Coordinator
Visual Effects Artist


Film Type:
Colour Info:
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
Filming Locations:
Factual Mistake
The credits say that Johannes Brahms's fourth symphony, second movement is heard (in a version by Herbert von Karajan, not Arturo Toscanini as in the film), but it is the fourth movement.

Crew/Equipment Visible
When Mr. O'Brien receives the terrible news at the beginning of the movie by phone, the camera and camera operator are reflected in the handset.

Mrs. O'Brien's dish-washing liquid comes in a clear plastic container, which wasn't invented until after the '50s.

During the prehistoric sequence, explicitly shown to be prior to the event which wiped out dinosaurs, we see a shot of sharks. Then we see a large Manta Ray. The Manta Ray evolved from shark-like ancestors only as recently as 5 million years ago, much too late to coexist with dinosaurs who lived prior to 65 million years ago.

The O'Briens have a fancy ceiling fan with lights attached in their lounge room; these were not available in the '50s.

When young Jack enters the neighbor's house to snoop, there is a brief glimpse of a tuned wind chime which is heard sounding. Tuned wind chimes didn't exist in the 1950s; there were only the un-tuned, jangly type (and very few of those in middle-class Texas homes).
Much of the film parallels writer/director Terrence Malick's own life. Like Jack, he grew up with two brothers in rural Texas; their father, Emil, was an aspiring musician who went to work as a geologist for an oil company, and found an outlet for his artistic talent by playing the organ at his family's church. Malick outlived both of his brothers: Lawrence R. Malick committed suicide in Europe at age 19 while studying to be a musician; and Chris Malick died in 2008 at age 60, several years after being severely burned in a car crash in Mexico that killed his wife (the telegram that Mrs. O'Brien receives indicates that R.L. died in a car crash). Both of Malick's parents were still alive in 2011 when the film was released. His mother, Irene Malick, even attended the premiere, though Malick himself did not.

Jack O'Brien's initials are J-O-B. In the Bible, Job was a man tested by Satan after his wager that Job only serves God because of His blessing. After losing his wealth, family and health, Job would rather curse himself than God. A passage from the Book of Job - "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation... while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" - is used to open The Tree of Life.

An Italian cinema showed the film for a week with the first two reels switched. Even though the film starts with production logos, no one in the theater noticed and thought it was all part of Terrence Malick's "crazy editing style".

Heath Ledger was originally slated to play Mr. O'Brien. Brad Pitt took over the role.

When Jack (Hunter McCracken) is praying bedside, he says a few lines, stops, and then says more. Those pauses are Terrence Malick feeding lines to Hunter, who is just repeating them verbatim. This was edited in the sound recording.

Terrence Malick wanted the interior spaces to be unlighted, so 3 houses were used in the main story, depending on the time of day and the position of the sun. The sun is always visible shining through the windows.

Some American theaters set up signs - warning moviegoers about the enigmatic and non-linear narrative of the movie - following some confused walkouts and refund demands in the opening weeks.

The town of Smithville, Texas was chosen because the practical structure houses still mirror the '50s settings required by the film. It is one hour's drive from Austin, Texas with a population of only 4500 people. While the crew was filming there, there was no additional lighting equipment being used and camera equipment was stored at a rented garage.

According to Emmanuel Lubezki, Terrence Malick actually consulted with NASA for footage of the cosmos as well as other grand visuals.

The tree of life that appears in the film is a gargantuan 65000-pound live-oak tree situated at Smithville, Texas.

VFX supervisor Mike Fink described this film and Voyage of Time (2016) as being "not narratively connected, but thematically complementary pieces."

Emmanuel Lubezki explained Terrence Malick's approach to film by saying "Photography is not used to illustrate dialogue or a performance" but instead is used "to capture emotion so that the movie is very experiential". So the film, with Lubezki's own words, is "meant to trigger tons of memories, like a scent or a perfume".

The origin of this film goes back to the late 1970s, when after Days of Heaven (1978) director Terrence Malick was working on a project named "Q", that would explore the origins of life on earth. He abandoned the project, but this film contains elements from it.

The scene with the bats flying in the evening skies was not computer generated animation. Shot in Austin, the bats under Congress bridge is a well-known phenomenon as one of the largest known bats population in the world, and they all live under a bridge. During spring and fall, the bats can be seen flying out in the evening to begin their daily hunt for food.

In the childbirth sequence, The Orca sculpture at Bomarzo (Mouth of Hell) is shown. On the sculpture, an inscription reads 'Ogni pensiero vola', which can be translated as 'every thought flies'.

According to Emmanuel Lubezki, a whole movie focusing on Sean Penn's character could be made from cut footage.

This movie was shipped to theaters under the code name 'Oak'.

Over a million feet of film were shot and printed, with an average of 14,000 feet per day over 72 shooting days.

In August 2011, Sean Penn gave an interview to the French publication "Le Figaro" in which he was very critical of the movie and Terrence Malick's direction. Penn said "I didn't at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I've ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context. What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."

Production designer Jack Fisk drew inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The large swimming pool carved out of a natural setting is Barton Springs, a major tourist attraction in the heart of Austin, Texas, known in modern times for its large population of topless females.

The butterfly that landed on Mrs. O'Brien's (Jessica Chastain) hands was not a computer graphics image but a real one. One morning while both Chastain and Brad Pitt were rehearsing, Terrence Malick spotted it flying around. He got the crew and Chastain following it three blocks of Smithville, then got her to step into the middle of a street and hold her hand up.

In 2005 Terrence Malick had talked to Colin Farrell about starring in the lead role.

The critic Jim Emerson got word of what Terrence Malick intended the sequence of dinosaurs to mean, by way of the visual effects supervisor in charge of that very sequence who is Michael L. Fink. Emerson describes what he learned from Fink; "The premise of the four-shot scene was to depict the birth of consciousness (what some have called the "birth of compassion")-the first moment in which a living creature made a conscious decision to choose what Michael described as "right from wrong, good from evil." Or, perhaps, a form of altruism over predatory instinct".

The book Mrs. O'Brien reads to the boys at bedtime is 1908 Macmillan edition of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Dissatisfied by the look of modern computer generated visual effects, director Terrence Malick approached veteran special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, who was responsible for the visual effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to create the visual effects for the film using bygone optical and practical methods. This marks the first feature film Trumbull has provided the effects for in 29 years, his last being Blade Runner (1982).

Brad Pitt appeared in two movies that were both nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award (Oscar) in 2012. Pitt starred and produced both this movie and Moneyball (2011). Jessica Chastain also appeared in two movies that were both nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award (Oscar) in 2012. Chastain starred in both this movie and The Help (2011).