The Tree of Life

Jessica Chastain as: Mrs. O’Brien
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Screenplay by: Terrence Malick
Selected Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn,
Running Time: 139min
Release Date: May 16, 2011 (Cannes)
Wide Release: May 27, 2011
Genre: Romance, Drama, Horror

The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents’ conflicting teachings.

Production Notes

Terrence Malick pitched the concept of The Tree of Life to River Road’s head Bill Pohlad. Brad Pitt first was only a producer, but he ended up being part of the cast later. The film was announced in late 2005, and was set to be shot partially in India, with pre-production scheduled to begin in January 2006. Colin Farrell and Mel Gibson were at one stage attached to the project. Heath Ledger was set to play the role of Mr. O’Brien, but dropped out (due to recurring sicknesses) a month before his death in early 2008. Chastain signed on to the film without receiving a traditional screenplay from Malick, and she improvised on several scenes and dialogues with Pitt. She considered her part to be “the embodiment of grace and the spirit world” and in preparation, she practiced meditation, studied paintings of the Madonna, and read poems by Thomas Aquinas.

Principal photography began in Texas in 2008. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki returned to work with Malick after collaborating with him on The New World. Locations included Smithville, Houston, Matagorda, Bastrop, Austin, Dallas, and Malick’s hometown of Waco.

Following several delays in release, the film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival to a polarizing reception from the audience, although it was praised by critics and eventually won the Palme d’Or prize.

The film appeared on over 70 critics’ year-end top ten lists, including 15 first-place rankings. The Tree of Life was voted best film of 2011 in the annual Sight & Sound critic poll, earning one and a half times as many votes as runner up A Separation. The film also topped the critics poll of best released film of 2011 by Film Comment, and the indieWire annual critics survey for 2011, as well as The Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll 2011. It received an Academy Award nomination as Best Film, alongside over 100 wins and another 103 nominations.

In 2015, the film was named as one of the top 50 films of the decade so far by The Guardian.