The Tree of Life

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Tree of Life Movie Poster Image
Unique, difficult, poetic masterpiece about life and death.
  • PG-13
  • 2011
  • 138 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie wrestles with some big and universal themes. The kids begin to behave badly, mainly in response to their father's all-encompassing anger and frustration. But when one grows up, he begins to realize that all things are connected, specifically families and nature. In a kind of dream/fantasy sequence, he learns empathy and tolerance for his family. In general, all of these themes -- and others -- are not literally outlined. They're up for interpretation and debate.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Certainly the father is no role model. He's bitter and miserable and takes out his frustrations on his family. He keeps preaching that, to get ahead in the world, you have to be ruthless. His oldest son, Jack, struggles with these teachings his whole life, but in the end -- in a kind of dream/fantasy sequence -- he seems to reconnect with his family and find a kind of inner peace, though this revelation is very abstract.


Most of the violence is just under the surface. The father is constantly angry and threatening, but he rarely lashes out in a physical way -- though in one scene, he tries to slap one of his boys for talking back at the dinner table. A boy drowns in a swimming pool. A little blood is on display during a poetic flashback sequence. Two boys play with a BB gun, and one is shot in the finger. Other scenes include some mildly disturbing imagery.


There's something akin to a "creation of life" montage with some peripherally sexual images; viewers see a pregnant woman, and later they see her with her newborn baby.


"Hell," "my God," and one character says "get 'em by the nuts."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In brief sequences, there are hints of secondary characters smoking, though none of the main characters or kids actually smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, even more so than his previous movies, this drama from legendary and elusive director Terrence Malick is a work of poetic images rather than a cohesive, solid story. The main theme seems to be family relationships, but it all takes place within a huge universal context of infinite time, space, and even dreamscapes. There's the suggestion of simmering violence on the part of the father, but while he often yells, he very rarely lashes out physically. Language is minimal; a flashback sequence contains passing visual references to sexual reproduction. But even though there's not a huge amount of age-inappropriate content for teens, younger viewers are likely to be bored; this movie requires a great deal of patience and the ability to embrace new and unique cinematic encounters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycamchicago July 30, 2018

A visual feast with a philsophical message

The director of this movie (and his dir of photography) took pains to set up many visually stunning (or at least intriguing) scenes. Some scenes have been desc... Continue reading
Parent Written bymr jag December 28, 2012

Beautiful and moving, but sad and difficult to get through

Incredibly well-filmed, beautiful cinematography, and quite moving. But also very sad. Even with the positive resolution at the end, I found this difficult to... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byClorox bleach April 11, 2021

The tree of life

I watched the extended version of this and this is my first Terrence malick film. This movie had existential meanings. The whole thing is about life. The way th... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysingmadi December 22, 2016

One of the most beautiful and artistically moving movies of all time!

With this movie there is a great deal of patience needed, but for an artistic eye it is one of the most engaging movies around. The minimal dialog just ads mean... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the 1950s in Waco, Texas, a man (Brad Pitt) tries to provide for his pretty wife (Jessica Chastain) and three boys, but bad luck gets the better of him. He begins to take out his failures and frustrations on his family. Years later, the oldest boy, Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn), contemplates his life and a terrible tragedy that continues to haunt him. He enters into a kind of dream state where he revisits the figures of his past. In between these time periods, images of the universe and the origins of life offer a new perspective on these small, earthly events.

Is it any good?

This may be director Terrence Malick's darkest and most difficult movie to date, focusing on an angry, troubled father and the way he takes out his frustrations on his children. At the same time, hope comes in the most abstract of ways, which may leave viewers unsatisfied. But Malick's astoundingly potent physical poetry makes all this spring to life; it's a movie to be felt and experienced deeply.

Malick is one of the most mysterious and powerful filmmaking talents in the world today, and the infrequent release of his movies (only five in 40 years) creates a tremendous sense of anticipation. At the same time, his movies are a hard sell, focusing mainly on powerful, poetic imagery instead of clear, linear storytelling; most viewers simply aren't used to watching movies like this. But at the same time, Malick delivers, making the same kinds of movies today as he made in the 1970s, as impossible as that sounds.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the film's underlying violence. Why is the father so angry and frustrated? How does he express it, and why?

  • What does the grown son actually learn during his quest? Does the movie have a happy, or hopeful, ending?

  • Who do you think this movie is intended to appeal to? What message is it trying to convey to its audience?

Movie details

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