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The Tree of Life

September 1, 2015

TTOLThe impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.

The story ends in hope, acknowledging the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family — our first school — the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover life’s single most important lesson, of unselfish love.

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”.

Some American theatres 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.

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’.

Jack O’Brien’s initials are J-O-B. In the Bible, Job was a man tested by God after Satan wagers Job only serves God because of His protection. 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.

Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.
[silence]
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.
Jack: [voice over] Brother. Keep us. Guide us. To the end of time.
Jack: [whispered voice over] Brother. Mother. It was they who led me to your door.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] I will be true to you. Whatever comes.
[first lines]
Jack: [voice-over] Brother.
[last lines]
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice-over] I give him to you. I give you my son.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Where were You?
[silence]
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Did You know ?
R.L.: Tell us a story from before we can remember.
Young Jack: [voice over] Where were You? You let a boy die. You let anything happen. Why should I be good ? When You aren’t.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.
Young Jack: [voice over] Dad.
[on camera]
Young Jack: Why was he born ?
Young Jack: [voice over] How do I get back? To where they are.
Young Jack: [voice over] What I want to do, I can’t do. I do what I hate.
Young Jack: [voice over] I didn’t know how to name You then. But I see it was You. Always You were calling me.
Father Haynes: He is in God’s hands, now.
Mrs. O’Brien: He was in God’s hands the whole time. Wasn’t he?
Jack: [voice over] I see me as a child… I see my brother. True. Kind. He died when he was 19.
Young Jack: [voice over] Mother. Make me good. Brave.
Young Jack: [on camera] Help me not answer my dad… Help me not to get dogs in fights… Help me to be thankful for everything I’ve got…
[whispered voice over]
Young Jack: Where do You live?
[on camera]
Young Jack: Help me not to tell lies.
[whispered voice over]
Young Jack: Are You watching me? I want to know what You are. I want to see what You see.
Young Jack: I am sorry. You are my brother.
Mrs. O’Brien: [voice over] Lord, Why? Where were you? Did you know what happened? Do you care?
Prologue: [on screen, unspoken] “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:4,7
Mrs. O’Brien: [pointing to the sky] That’s where God lives!
Mr. O’Brien: I wanted to be loved because I was great; A big man. I’m nothing. Look at the glory around us; trees, birds. I lived in shame. I dishonored it all, and didn’t notice the glory. I’m a foolish man.
Mr. O’Brien: [voice over] I wanted to be loved cause I was great, a Big Man. Now I’m nothing. Look. The glory around… trees, birds… I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory. A foolish man.
[on camera]
Mr. O’Brien: They’re closing the plant. I was given this choice: no job or transfer to a job nobody wants.
Mr. O’Brien: [voice over] You’re all I have. You’re all I want to have. You’re a sweet boy.
Mr. O’Brien: Toscanini once recorded a piece sixty five times. You know what he said when he finished? “It could be better.” Think about it.
Mr. O’Brien: Your mother’s naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, people take advantage of you.
Father Haynes: Do you trust in God? Job too was close to the Lord.
Mr. O’Brien: If you want to succeed, you can’t be too good!
Mrs. O’Brien: Come here!
Young Jack: NO! I’m gonna do what I want to do, and you let him walk all over you.
Young Jack: She only loves ME!
Mr. O’Brien: You are not to call me “Dad”. You will only call me “Father”.
Young Jack: But…
Mr. O’Brien: Don’t interrupt!
Young Jack: But you do…
Mr. O’Brien: Don’t interrupt!
Young Jack: It’s your house. You can kick me out whenever you want to. You’d like to kill me wouldn’t you.

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