Cannes 2011: Group Discussion About Terrence Malick's 'Tree of Life'

May 16, 2011

The Tree of Life

It has finally arrived. After years of waiting, Terrence Malick's highly anticipated new film The Tree of Life officially premiered today at the Cannes Film Festival, to quite a bit of acclaim and discussion. Most have probably already heard that the film is considerably abstract and very cosmic, focusing not only on a family in Texas in the 50s, but also showing the creation of the universe and life as we know on it Earth. It's such an interpretive film, that I felt I really needed to watch it a second time before writing a formal review, so instead I decided to have a quick discussion about the film with a few friends, shot on location in Cannes.

I'll write out a few of my actual thoughts beneath the video as well. I caught up with my friend Raffi from and Yama from and asked them to join me out near the ocean to talk about The Tree of Life, our thoughts on it, and what it means. As with any Malick film, it's open to interpretation in so many ways and will connect with each person individually in different ways. The video below is mostly spoiler free and we chat about some of the ideas and the story presented in the film how it all ties together, and what it all means. It's our best attempt at talking about this immediately after seeing it.

I did wake up very early on Monday morning to catch the very first 8:30AM showing of The Tree of Life. It's over two hours long and juxtaposes a cosmic look at the creation of the universe and Earth with a more focused story of a small family in Texas in the 1950s. Brad Pitt plays the father of the family, Jessica Chastain the mother, and they have three sons. The film mostly focuses on the eldest son and we watch as he grows from birth to about 12 years of age and how everything shapes him and his life. Tree of Life is unquestionably beautiful to watch and the score is exhilarting. It's a film I will find myself re-watching simply for the experiential nature of it; I could watch the cosmic sequence over and over it was so beautiful.

Beyond that, I truly believe this film needs two or three viewings before I'm capable of actually delving into a full interpretation, and that's completely expect when it comes to Terrence Malick. Most have also probably heard there was a small amount of booing in the theater at the end, but that was a specific group of people, everyone else I've spoken with has been attempting to process the film further before formulating their complete opinions, but reviews have been all over the board anyway. That said, if you go see this film once it's released, don't judge it immediately, give it time to soak in and take the opportunity to discuss it.

Find more posts: Cannes 11, Discuss, To Watch



Im excited to watch the film

ind3lible on May 17, 2011


I thought it was good. The film captured fantastically the general and vague pondering of humans about our childhood and where we come from, which never really go anywhere or come to any conclusion. As a film though? a bit more of a story line might have made it feel more meaningful. But that is a seriously big ask given the subject. 

the rat barbara on Jul 15, 2011


 I disagree, I felt the film was completely cohesive and extremely well put together.  The complete opposite of disjointed.  Great movie!!

Anonymous on May 17, 2011


 I want to see this movie so bad now. I can't wait to join in on the discussion.

John Heuer on May 17, 2011


I'm excited to see this. Is this getting national/wide distribution, or is it going to be a limited release only? 

Chris_G on May 17, 2011


It will open in NY & LA on May 26th, then expand to 15 more cities the following weekend, but it'll be a slow limited opening, since it's such an art house film.

Alex Billington on May 17, 2011


I was actually coming back here to post a comment about this same thing It's getting a rolling expansion through June, where it's going to go from 4 to 140-something theaters, and get a nationwide release on July 8th. Obviously just how 'nationwide' the release on July 8th is depends on the success it has in the limited release, though. I figured you'd want to know to be able to spread the word. I wish the best for the film. Can't wait to see it.

Chris_G on May 20, 2011


 Chris_G, It's a film staring Brad Pitt what do you think?

Rossthx on May 17, 2011


Having seen all of Malick films and owning them on DVD.  I agree that watching a Malick film just once... isn't enough.  There is a lot to process.  I think this is definitely the best review of this film so far.  It's not very pretentious and it's not mean-spirited.  Those guys pretty much summed up what the film could be and such.  I will definitely see "The Tree of Life" when it comes out and I've got a review prepared as far as technical elements and such.  Yet, I'm not going to go full-on until I see it. Let's not forget that a lot of people couldn't absorb great films in the first place.  I remember Woody Allen in a Stanley Kubrick documentary talking about "2001".  He said he hated it when he first saw it.  Then after hearing a friend talking about it, he saw it again and liked it a bit more.  Then years later when he saw it, he loved it. Malick is a hard filmmaker to get into and the first film of his I saw was "The Thin Red Line" and I didn't get it.  It took me a while to really get into and such.  Now, it's one of my favorites.  Sometimes, art can't be immediately appreciated as it takes time and such.  Besides, it takes work to create these great films.

thevoid99 on May 17, 2011


For those who are reviewing this movie it would be helpful to know if they are previous Malick fans or not and how much they like his other films. It seems like to me that if you aren't a big fan of Malick's other movies you won't like this one, but if you do love his other movies you'll love this one. 

samir on May 17, 2011


That's a good point, but anyone can like or dislike a film, despite their previous history with the director. I'm a big fan of Malick's Thin Red Line and Badlands, I like Days of Heaven and New World, but he's not my all-time favorite director. That said, I was still blown away by the visuals in The Tree of Life and admire/appreciation a lot of elements of it.

Alex Billington on May 17, 2011


This will be a very good film, but will fall short of being memorable like a Forrest Gump, Titanic, or LOTRs.  If it takes more than one viewing to finally say if the film is good or not then it is unlikly to be a memorable film.  Im sure when I finally see the movie it will fall short of the pre-hype epicness that this movie was supposed t be. An extraordinary attempt but this movie will not be one for the ages and fall short of any of the big Oscar nominations, but hey I could be wrong. That's just my2cents. 

Mike Cromley on May 17, 2011


I agree with your ungrounded suspicions. 

basedgodard on May 17, 2011


Honestly, Alex, if I were to road trip for a movie this year, is Tree of Life worth it? I am willing to road trip due to it's limited release.

Angry Chief on May 18, 2011


Depends on how much you love Terrence Malick and if you really think this experience is worth seeing initially in theaters at its limited release. It's visually/aurally worth seeing in theaters, so my suggestion is to see it in theaters. If you need to road trip for that, then go for it! 🙂

Alex Billington on May 18, 2011


Absolutely. I would travel across the world to see this again. Just read about it first and be prepared to think philosophically about the concepts in it, and this film will move you.

Elsa-kl on Jul 23, 2011


This movie is a disastrous mess

Larry on Jun 17, 2011


I think it's a brilliant and courageous film. It evokes many emotions and thoughts... it allows you to have your own experience about what it is "about." Jessica Chastain said on the Jimmy Fallon show that "it is about everything." I think she's right. I know that people will have very strong reactions to it. It's isn't really the kind of film where a mere "I liked it" or "I hated it" is justified. It is a beautiful and ferocious work of art.

Merel on Jun 17, 2011


I became obsessed with seeing this film after seeing the trailer for the first time. Though I watched that trailer probably a thousand times, I never could say that I knew what the film was about at all. After reading multiple reviews and comments about it, I gathered that it was a film essentially displaying life and a comparative between Grace and Nature, and that the viewer should actively think about those comparisons/life concepts during and after the film. Knowing this is the key to really appreciating the film. By the end credits, I, weeping, could hardy move from my seat I was so moved by the imagery and story. There are a million things I want to say about this film, but most of all, see it.

Elsa-kl on Jul 23, 2011


once the credits started, I had to ask "did he just make a movie about the whole of existence? and show it through the experience of a small family in waco texas? Yes he did... and I had to drive home in silence, and couldnt turn on the tv for fear that my mind would stop twisting and turning and running through all the images and concepts that were processing... like the movie itself, what is thought is the heavy important and meaningful stuff in life..what we say will always fall short..

Lando on Aug 12, 2011


Great movie that needs viewing multiple times.  In all that I have read about the movie, I have not seen a comment that comes close to my interpretation.  Does Jack actually die in the attack on 911?  Does Malick take poetic license with the high rise building?  In what may be the key scene, Jack is going up the elevator and we hear the rumbling noises surrounding him.  Immediately, we are moved to the death scene where Jack walks through the door in the desert chasing himself as a young boy. The background music switches to the "Agnus Dei......" - English translation - Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world grant them eternal rest.  We are treated to images of powerful waterfalls making the same rumbling noises.  Is the movie a flashback on Jack's life?  What about the death of the brother and why would jack try to reconcile with his father on that day before traveling up the elevator?  Malick hints that it is the anniversary of the death of his younger brother with the lighting of the blue candle.  One more important point: Is the name of the movie taken from the "Tree of life" at ground zero.  There was a tree that survived that day that has been so named.  At various points in the movie we are shown a tree in front of the high rise building.  Just my thoughts on a great movie.  Whatever your interpretation, this is mine.

Thomas Dupree on Dec 29, 2011


hhhhmmmmm..... didn't think of 911 when I saw it - but maybe - but I think many people think of that day in regard to life and death since"911" I am wondering what all the stairs in the movie depicted

Debzom on Feb 12, 2012

New comments are no longer allowed on this post.



Subscribe to our feed or daily newsletter:

Follow Alex's main account on Twitter:

For only the latest posts - follow this:

Add our posts to your Feedlyclick here

Get all the news sent on Telegram Telegram