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Tree of Life Revisited

This weekend a friend of mine invited me to join him for a screening at BAM of Terence Malick's The Tree of Life with a live orchestra. 'But that's only for silent films,' I thought. I said yes right away more to spend time with my friend than to see the film again which I had very much admired but not quite loved in 2011.

Seeing it again five years later proved unexpectedly rewarding. Perhaps it was the huge screen - the first time I'd seen it was on a tiny arthouse screen in Manhattan. Perhaps it was the live accompaniment of a huge orchestra and choir but it felt newly electric...


The orchestra fell silent during the non-scored scenes but otherwise their presence and craftsmanship added an epic living spark to an otherwise familiar journey. The Tree of Life no longer felt as arbitrary in its strange structure and this time I didn't want the creation sequence to ever end. The movie's almost embarrassing Oedipal auteur confessions were also transformed into something endearing. Seeing Jessica Chastain so lovingly shot and reintroduced and rediscovering Brad Pitt's amazingly authentic 1950s dad was a dual aching joy.


You probably don't need a reminder that The Tree of Life is one of the most beautiful movies ever made on a visual level. It should be seen on the biggest screen possible always. It seems unthinkable now considering the three consecutive Oscars for Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematographic genius that this one, his most beautiful achievement which runs circles around his recentwork on The Revenant, was a losing nomination. And for something as comparatively gawdy and CGI'ed as Hugo!

What a world. 



What a vision this film was and remains.

Do you remember your first time seeing it? I remember I had a rather noisy audience.


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Reader Comments (27)

Yeah, I thought it was rapturous. The music!! The visuals!!! The casting!!!

The comment on Lubezki is telling. I have no qualms with him being a three-time oscar winner, but I really begrudge the oscars he's won. Even Gravity, which is a huge achievement, is one I can't get fully behind because my favourite was ignored (12 Years a Slave).

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Malick's last movie worth a damn.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBob

I do! Huge screen (Thank God). The Lady next to me cried so much. I did too. My favorite Pitt, my favorite Chastain...

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

One of the greatest films I've seen recently. Perfect cast and visuals.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Oh I've been dying for an opportunity to see it again on a big screen, ideally with an audience of non-imbeciles.

That universe creation sequence was/is one of my favourite cinematic passages this century but I can't deny that one of the main things I remember about it is the dunce three rows ahead of me choosing the silent passages to sllllooowly, methodically crack open multiple bags of chips.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I sorta had the opposite experience - I LOVED the movie the first time I saw it in the theater in 2011 - but when I rewatched it recently I was very underwhelmed by it.

But I agree, Brad Pitt cuts a great 50s figure - it suits him not having much dialogue!
He looked great with the 50s glasses and in the 50s clothes.

And you're right,
Chastain really is lovingly shot - her mother-character is so moving and easily the best part of the film - the way she interacts with the kids AND the camera is really quite special.
Could be her best performance to date.

Even though I didn't like Tree Of Life as much upon rewtach, it's still infinitely better than To The Wonder and Knight Of Cups - just awful movies!

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I saw it in June of 2011 at the Regal Tara near the Cheshire section in Atlanta as it was close to the home that an old family friend lived in. There weren't a lot of people at the screening but man.... it is a film for the ages.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

upon rewtach?! - upon rewatch!

I saw Tree Of Life in Grand Teatret in Copenhagen - my screening didn't have a noisy audience - my screening didn't have ANY audience! - except me, which was great - I love having a movie theater to myself.

But I did have a noisy audience for The Fountain - ridiculing and laughing at the film. I didn't join in, because I hate stuff like that, but I so wanted to join in, because that movie was so fucking silly, it deserved to be booed.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I loooove this movie and I've never even seen it on the big screen.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

The best film of the decade, the 21st century and one of the greatest films of all time. This is what cinema is about. Glad you enjoyed it a second time.

I saw it at age 14 and it has stayed with me so much since. Haunting.

(and you're right, how Lubezki doesn't have an Oscar for this, and how this lost to Hugo is beyond me.)

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Beautiful but boring as hell
Chastain is breathtaking, a proper introduction for a star

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Do you still think Chastain was better in The Help than in this movie? I remember you wrote that she was a concept and not a character, but I personally love the way she embodies this concept. It's a killer performance.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I remember my first viewing of it. It was a Saturday afternoon in London. A couple walked out laughing during the dinosaur sequence. I didn't. I thought the film was riveting.

But not perfect. The beach sequence is like an Apple ad. And I've never got the timeline of the Sean Penn stuff. If he's a grown-up version of an early teen from the mid-1950s, shouldn't he be about 70?

And while I too would have probably given this the Cinematography Oscar, Richardson's work on Hugo was divine and not a bad winner at all.

But I'll never forget those sunflowers...

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Robert Richardson is a great cinematographer, but he won for the wrong movies.

He wasn't even nominated for Kill Bill!!! NO nominations for his best works with Scorsese, Casino and Bringing Out the Dead?

I dig his work in Hugo and The Aviator, but, come on, the winners should have been The Tree of Life and The Passion of the Christ.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I mainly remember the creation sequence. I specifically remember telling people that the beautiful creation sequence is worth the cost of admission. I liked, but didn't love, the film, too. A live orchestra performance sounds amazing.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I must not be as cultured and sophisticated as many of you. Most of the film went over my head, and the stuff that did stick didn't last much past my initial (and so far only) viewing.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Cal -- i stand by my comments about concept rather than character... but the performance was better than I had remembered and the concept rather than character didn't feel like a flaw this time but 100% the goal. I'd still nominate her for the Help but what a year that was for her.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh BOY do I remember seeing this for the first time. It was in a small independent theater in CT, with my partner at the time. I was mostly in love with it, despite feeling it was a bit long at times. I was just totally enraptured with the swooning beauty of the images and the intuitive, nearly silent performances.

My partner so hated it that I lost movie-picking privileges for two months.

It was worth it.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

I saw this the first time at the TIFF Lightbox. The sound and visuals were incredible. I cried like five times. I fell in love with Jessica Chastain. A man mumble coughed "pretentious" when it was all over. The second time, I took my boyfriend who hated it. Me taking pictures of the sun through trees on my iphone is still a running Tree of Life joke. This film will be remembered forever. Hoping Weightless with Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling is more Tree of Life level but my gut says it'll be more like Knight of Cups.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

Maybe your opinion of The Master would change with a live accompaniment?

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Has it really been five years?!

This movie is incandescent. I'm not sure the dinosaur/creation sequence really does it for me (and I saw the movie twice in theaters, once on DVD), but omg, that middle section still moves me to tears.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I went to the cinema alone to see this in London, and was blown away. I couldn't leave my seat when it finished. I've not seen it again since, how I felt that day has stayed with me, and I'm scared that if I watch it again I won't feel the same. For me, this is THE masterpiece of the decade.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

My favourite film. Malick is a singular filmmaker but this one spoke to me on a level unlike the rest of his work. I watched it twice in 2011 and remember the audience's stunned silence as the credits rolled. I agree that you should only watch it on the big screen as even a large TV does not do it justice. Having said that, there was a story a few years ago about Malick working on a six-hour cut of the movie that would flesh out more of the family storyline. Here's hoping for a release on Criterion (his first four films have already been released there so I'm thinking this is a real possibility).

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

JB - take it from me, don't rewatch it!
You'll likely be disappointed - as disappointed as I was upon rewatching it.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Well, I've loved it all along - but I saw the first time at the Lincoln Plaza theater on a pretty small screen. I sat way down front to try to maximize the experience but it didn't matter. I saw it a second time, on a slightly larger screen, at a Westchester art house theater, and that was a bit better. But I would love to see it at MOMA or the Walter Reade theater one of these years.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

My second favourite Malick film after Days of Heaven.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPete

Malick has made 3 masterpieces: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red line -
2 abominations: Knight Of Cups and To The Wonder.
New World and Tree Of Life fall somewhere in the middle.

I fear that the upcoming Weightless will be closer to Knight Of Cups To The Wonder.

And the other upcoming movie, Radegund, is very left field - interesting to see how that one turns out.

November 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

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