The Tree of Life (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 9, 2011 by  

“The Tree of Life” for me was more than just a film, it was an experience.  Fantastic picture quality and phenomenal 7.1 lossless soundtrack, a magnificent Blu-ray release!  I shed a tear and I appreciated the film because it was visually beautiful and cinematically deep and resonated strongly within me. What a wonderful, profound and beautiful film!  Thank you Terrence Malick!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Tree of Life


DURATION: 139 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

COMPANY: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox

RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematical Material)

Release Date: October 11, 2011

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick

Produced by Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad

Executive PRoducer: Donald Rosenfeld

Associate Producer: Nicolas Gonda, Sandhya Shardanand

Line Producer: Susan Kirr

Music by Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki

Edited by Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa

Casting by Vicky Boone, Francine Maisler

Production Design by Jack Fisk

Art Direction by David Crank

Set Decoration by Jeanette Scott

Costume Design by Jacqueline West


Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien

Sean Penn as Jack

Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O’Brien

Hunter McCracken as Young Jack

Laramie Eppler as R.L.

Tye Sheridan as Steve

Fiona Shaw as Grandmother

JeCole Cockburn as Hary Bates

Brayden Whisenhunt as Jo Bates

Joanna Going as Jack’s Wife

Through stunning cinematography and raw emotional power Malick’s hymn to life excavates answers to the most haunting and personal human questions through a kaleidoscope of the intimate and the cosmic, from the raw emotions of a family in a small Texas town to the wildest, infinite edges of space and time, from a boy’s loss of innocence to a man’s transforming encounters with awe, wonder and transcendence.

An impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950′s, the film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn), through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt).

“The Tree of Life” for me was more than just a film, it was an experience.  I shed a tear and I appreciated the film because it was visually beautiful and cinematically deep and resonated strongly within me. What a wonderful, profound and beautiful film! Thank you Terrence Malick!

From creating wonderful films such as “Badlands”, “Days of Heaven”, “The Thin Red Line” and “The New World”, Terrence took on experimental elements in his 2011 drama, “The Tree of Life”.

Loved by film critics and hardcore cineaste and shunned by the average movie-goer, “The Tree of Life” is one of those films that you are either going to love or you are going to hate as indicated by many reviews and opinions on the Internet.

“The Tree of Life” opens with the words from the Book of Job,  God asks, “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?”

We see a flicker of light surrounded by blackness and we hear the voice of a grown-up Jack saying, “Brother, Mother, it was they who led me to your door.”

The film begins sometime in the ’50s as we see the O’Brien family sharing time together.  We hear the voice of Mrs. O’Brien (played by Jessica Chastain, “The Help”, “The Debt”, “Take Shelter”) narrating, and we see a young boy named R.L. (played by Laramie Eppler) departing the family as he walks away.

Flashforward sometime in the future in which Mrs. O’Brien receives a telegram informing her of the death of her son R.L. and we see Mr. O’Brien (played by Brad Pitt, “Inglorious Basterds”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “Fight Club”) receiving the call of his son’s death at work.

Mrs. O’ Brien mourns and says, “I just want to die, to be with him.”

We see the family mourn and seeing how their faith is keeping the family together.  Mrs. O’Brien being told of how her pain will past in time, life goes on and that at least she has two more children.

The lord gives, the lord takes away.

Mr. O’Brien then reflects on his son, how he was hard on him when he was younger and he feels shame.

We then see the flicker of light, surrounded by the blackness.

We are now taken to the future in which the older brother, Jack (played by Sean Penn, “Milk”, “Mystic River”, “21 Grams”), reflects on his time as a child and the moments he spent with his younger brother R.L.  How his brother died at the age of 19.

We see the life of Jack as a successful architect and he is living an unfavorable life and looks at society as unfavorable.  Jack calls his father and apologizes to him and talks about how he still thinks about his brother to this day.

Jack reflects on how could he have lost him, forgotten him.

And then we hear a child’s voice saying, “Find me”.

We see the flicker of light surrounded by black and here the words of a young Jack saying “Lord…why?  Where were you?”.

We hear Mrs. O’Brien talking about a lesson taught to her by her father that one must choose the path of grace or the path of nature.

The film then changes visually to show the birth of the galaxy, the birth of our world, the birth of animals,  the era of dinosaurs and seeing one dinosaur preparing to kill its pray which lies on the ground wounded… but instead of killing it, it lets it go and leaves.

We hear Mrs. O’Brien saying, “Life, my light.  I search for you. My hope. My Child.”  And then a large meteorite approaching and hitting the planet.

Despite the end of life, life will once again begin anew.

And we are then taken to a flashback of the O’Brien family.  Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien have their first child Jack, followed by the birth of his two brothers and the boys grow up. We watch Mrs. O’Brien raise her baby boys.

The film then begins to focus on young Jack (played by Hunter McCracken) as he is conflicted by life.  He loves his caring mother but he is hurt by his upbringing by his strict father.

Mr. O’Brien loves his kids but wants them to appreciate fine music, to do good and learn about people and work but he is adamant that they learn from him because he feels the world can be corrupt and exploitative.  He is strict, short-tempered and the authoritarian.

Mrs. O’Brien is the nurturing type, the playful type and doesn’t get involved in the more stern discipline like her husband.  She is more gentle an authoritative and tells her children about the world as a place of wonder.

But Jack is conflicted…should he choose the path of grace or nature.  His mother is about grace, his father about nature.

But as he grows up, he finds himself resenting his father, choosing the path of grace and hoping his prayers to God will be heard.

Life between Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien are becoming rough as they have different ways of parenting and also because Mr. O’Brien’s work often has him traveling.  And one day, while traveling to work…we see how the boys are when they are not around their strict father.  We them growing closer to their mother and enjoying that way of life instead of the strict way of their father.

And as for Jack, we see him start to take advantage of rebelliousness.  From the peer pressure of other kids his age to vandalize, to take part in animal cruelty, to breaking into a neighbor’s house and stealing the woman’s underwear.  Needless to say, he is conflicted by each of these acts but yet his mother is there to comfort him and to protect him, instead of punishing him.

But when Mr. O’Brien arrives back from his work travels, the freedom the boys have had with their mother have led them to upset their father.  Especially for Jack as his rebelliousness will not go far with their father and they will be disciplined.

And for Jack, he is conflicted about his life.  The path of grace or the path of nature.  He sees how his brothers are also affected by their father’s return as they are not used to his strict rules, especially when their mother never made them follow those rules and feels that he doesn’t listen to his own rules.

Jack has hatred towards his father and prays to God in hopes to help to be shown the way, of what direction he should take as he is conflicted about the emotions that he feels, even thoughts of killing his own father.

“The Tree of Life” shows us a part of life, the conflict emotions that not only the young have about their parents, but parents about their lives.

A portrait of everyday life of a family, when things are good, when things are bad.

The lord gives, the lord takes away.

Despite the end of life, life will once again begin anew.


“The Tree of Life” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1).  The film is absolutely gorgeous!

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (“Sleepy Hollow”, “Children of Men”, “Burn After Reading”) is magnificent.  The various cuts of family, city, architecture, past, present, the afterlife,  life in balance with the CG elements of the film, there are so many cuts of this film and Lubezki and the many editors who took part in this film should be applauded.

I know that this is the biggest contention that many viewers had, to be taken out of the story and having to watch the beginning of life in the universe, our galaxy and of course the comparisons to a film such as “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  But I do want to emphasize that “2001″ and “Tree of Life” are nothing similar.

There is a message within the film, but its subjective of how one identifies with the film and how they interpret those scenes.  Because the CG elements may take people out of the film and lose them, I’m sure those viewers will be disappointed but for those who are able to enjoy those elements, will find how the inclusion of Malick’s experimenting makes this film quite profound, visually and emotionally.

Look at the cinematography and these elements of the film as a form of art, a painting or poetry, existential thoughts, nothing more, nothing less.

As for the picture quality, I was amazed by how vibrant this film looks on Blu-ray and in HD.  There are so many shots utilized for this film, many colors. Even during scenes with a lot of reds where you think there is a chance of banding, none whatsoever.  No artifacts, no sign of DNR, black levels were nice and deep, detail incredibly high and everything was crisp.  Videophiles will be pleased with how breathtaking this film looks on Blu!

But for the most part, “The Tree of Life” is a visual masterpiece!


“The Tree of Life” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 Dolby Digital.

When you see right at the beginning of the film that the creators of this film want you to watch this loud, you know you are in for a treat!  The lossless soundtrack for “The Tree of Life” is immersive!

From the earlier scenes when Mrs. O’Brien opens the door to receive the telegram and then Mr. O’Brien receiving the phone call of his son’s death and hearing that jet’s engine and propellers envelop the soundscape, I knew that I was in for a treat.

During the musical moments featuring Alexandre Desplat’s music, may it be operatic or orchestral, music envelops the soundspace as all channels are being utilized.  During the narration moments, the dialogue is crisp and clear as audio is carefully selected and dialogue is heard clearly through the center channels.

But once you start watching the birth of life, the creation of the universe and planet, this is where the film shines as you can hear the lava crashing into each other, during the scenes of water and hearing splashes all around you.  When the planet Earth is created, you can hear the wind and the rustling of the tree leaves, when the dinosaurs are shown, you can hear the booms and the ambiance crisp and clear.

And even during the scenes with Jack playing with his brothers and friends and hearing the ambiance of sound all around you was magnificent and if I haven’t mentioned it, Alexandre Desplat’s music is phenomenal.

Audiophiles, “The Tree of Life” utilizes the 7.1 soundtrack magnificently!  This is one heck of an immersive soundtrack that is magnificent!

Subtitles are presented in English SDH and Spanish.


“The Tree of Life” comes with the following special features:

  • Exploring the Tree of Life – (29:56) Producers, cast and filmmakers talk about Terrence Malick’s work but also creating something new and different in American cinema.  The making of the film, from casting, production,  set design and more.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “The Tree of Life”.
“The Tree of Life” comes with a slip cover case.  The Blu-ray release comes with the DVD featuring a standard definition version of the film as well as a Digital Copy version of the film.

“Tree of Life” is a profound film in which is possibly the first film I would call a masterpiece knowing that so many people either loved or hated it.

Filmmaker Terrence Malick has always known how to reach out and touch people through his films and those viewers also having multiple opinions.  But with the “Tree of Life”, it’s one of those films where film critics loved it, and when the masses went to watch it, immediately sites such as imDB and other blogs were filled with “I don’t get it”, “a dull rehash of ’2001′” and of course alluding to the rave reviews at festivals to the boos at film festivals.

Even actor Sean Penn wasn’t sure what to make of the film as he told the French publication”Le Figaro”, “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.” (note: translated in English courtesy of the New York Times)

But I wonder if the busy Sean Penn is commenting about his actual role on set vs. his role in the film because for me,  it was quite easy to see where his role comes into the film.

In fact, I’m quite intrigued to read the various comments from viewers because I often wonder, “are we all watching the same film” because each comment is so different.  Needless to say, it was a film that led to subjective comments and I’m sure Terence Malick is probably having his own laugh of how people are reacting to the film or possibly doesn’t care.

He’s not the only filmmaker who has created films that went over people’s heads.  Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” didn’t receive much fanfare, nor did F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” and the list goes on of films considered as a masterpiece today but was not appreciated during its time.

But everyone has their own opinion of this film and for me, I absolutely loved “Tree of Life” and I have to say it was a film that resonated strongly within me.  It’s story, its visual elements and even the voiceovers, the words spoken, I was truly touched by them.

I was born and raised Catholic, similar to the character of Jack, I was raised with a nurturing mother, while my father was in the military and each time he was home, I grew up thinking it was one of the worst times of my life.  As he grew up from a strict upbringing, at the time, I couldn’t understand how life was so miserable at times whenever he returned back home.

Miserable in the fact that my mother allowed me to have fun with friends, my father did not.  My mother allowed us to have fun, my father did not.  He was an authoritarian and when we did wrong, we were punished, spanked and I could not understand why my life was like it was when he was around.   Interesting juxtaposition today, where I now have a closer relationship with my father as an adult.

But as a child, burning inside me was these conflicted emotions to stand up to my father and his strict rules and those very emotions that we see with young Jack, I was very like him.  And with Mr. O’Brien, I find a lot of myself in him today, wondering about today’s world, raising a children in this world and wanting my child to be prepared for this world.  I inherited my father’s strictness, his hot temper but also having a nurturing side as my mother as well.  But I often worry that my son will have those feelings that I did as a child towards me. But I know that in life, parenting and the emotions that a child has eventually changes in time.  It’s an evolving cycle of life in which people choose their own path, make their own right and wrong decisions.  It’s life!

And as for Mr. O’Brien and Mrs. O’Brien, I often see the parallels of my own family life and growing older, having seen loved ones, friends who have lost their own children.  Even with me and my wife, also having that dark moment of our lives of something that was not meant to be.

This film is about life.  The pain of losing a loved one but knowing life goes on.  It’s a long human life of love, pain, suffering…but we move on.  And for the CG elements incorporated into the film which many complained about, my feeling about the experimental use of the CG to show the creation of the world, the planet, the dinosaurs, the asteroid hitting the planet…this planet has seen its fair share of the death of life but also its fair share of the birth of life.

Within our own family, we see life and death happen.  For our own demise or someone else’s demise, we know it’s coming… may it be natural causes or one’s decision to live life recklessly, we know death is always around the corner.  We don’t dwell on it but we try to make the best out of our lives, especially for our children.

But sometimes, while life is good, we are thrown a curve ball.  We live, we move on…and for some, they forget.  But we hope as parents, our children learn from life’s lessons, our lessons and hope they are prepared to move on, after our own demise.

The conflicts of love, family and life is what embodies this film.  We feel it because we lived it.  Terrence Malick is able to capture it on film but not by traditional means.  Yes, it’s a complex film but its a film that asks the question of which path do you take, of grace or nature.  Money or love?  God in your life, or no God in your life?

And as for human life, in the context of this world alone…we know we had Dinosaurs before us, were obliterated during a catastrophic event on Earth but yet, life continued.  New life began, humans lived and possibly, we are causing our own catastrophe on our own planet or something else is bound to happen but still, life continues.  Whatever that life may be.

I have to say that the casting on Terrence Malick films are typically spot-on and “The Tree of Life” is no different.  Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are absolutely wonderful in their role but the children selected for the film was perfect.  And to find out that it took two years to find the children for the film using 15 casting directors and searching all over Texas to get the right children, it goes to show how meticulous Malick is when it comes to the characters.  In fact, even Jessica Chastain had to undergo many auditions and interactions with Malick before she was hired as the mother.

And of course, visually the film is a masterpiece.  There are so many shots that were planned and also unplanned (Malick would shoot the boys playing around at times they were not shooting to capture that natural element).  There is just so many wonderful things that lend to the film’s efficacy.  Wonderful acting, its script but it’s visual storytelling and its wonderful music is fantastic.

As of this latest review, I have watched this film now five times, because I love it so much!  And while this film has garnered split reviews of those who loved it and disliked it, those who are able to appreciate it for its story, its beauty and its overall message can understand how Malick was once again able to create a masterpiece.  It’s a fantastic film!

While “The Tree of Life” may not come with a lot of special features, the Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic and you also get the DVD and Digital Copy version of the film.  I just feel it’s one of those must-buy Blu-ray releases, especially for cineaste who are Malick fans!  This is a fantastic film!

From the many shots and how vibrant this film looks via HD to the wonderful lossless and immersive 7.1 lossless soundtrack, especially the awesome music of Alexandre Desplat, just on its picture and audio quality, this film achieves 5-stars.  This is a wonderful Blu-ray release that Malick fans, cineaste especially videophiles and audiophiles can really appreciate!

Overall, “The Tree of Life” is as a straightforward or as complex as one wants it to be.  In fact, I’m confident enough to say that “The Tree of Life” for me was more than just a film, it was an experience.

And if one is able to accomplish that within a film, I know it’s a masterpiece.  Thank you Terrence Malick!

“The Tree of Life” is highly recommended!

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