Parents' Guide to

The Tree of Life

By Jeffrey Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Unique, difficult, poetic masterpiece about life and death.

Movie PG-13 2011 138 minutes
The Tree of Life Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 10 parent reviews

age 14+

A doozy of an abstract film about all life and one life

Bold, daring, and reaching for something that it cannot quite grasp. This film embodies cinematic risk, broad stories that try to capture essence and try to explain ourselves to ourselves. It attempts to do A LOT. It succeeds most of the time. Malick has created a masterpiece of far-reaching cinema that attempts to tell all stories in order to tell one story. How do you present life? The pain of loss and what shapes us and our sense of self? Feels like it could go off the rails into pools of abstraction, but with Malick's steady direction it always comes back to the core questions.
age 15+

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 described as being Kubrickian. Furthermore, he dips into classical music quite a bit, which gives it more depth. There are two themes (at least): One referring to the quote from Job that asks: "what is my life compared to the wonders of the universe?" as it applies to a mother's anguish regarding the loss of her son (not shown on camera). The other is an illustration (through the parents' actions) of a life lived by "nature" (i.e., dog-eat-dog) and one lived with grace (empathy). The father is tough on his sons (following "nature'), but this rings true to my own experience of WWII-era dads and their stunted ability to live emotionally. One captivating aspect is that many of the "growing up" scenes are written and shot from the perspective of the kids, not often seen in movies. Perhaps the dad (who teaches his boys that it is a tough world met only by rule-following and looking after oneself) might be tough for younger children that simply are too naive to know a lot about the "real world", but for high-schoolers and inquisitive kids, I'd say it is fine. Kids by that age have seen plenty and the opportunity for parents to discuss it with the "controlled environment" of a movie is good. Some aspects are hard to grasp right off; for example, the whispered lines early on are hard to discern and the symbolic "afterlife" is just that. It is not a particularly religious film, but a thoughtful and philosophical one; one needed for our modern times. To see illustrated the results of two different life philosophies (nature vs grace) seems to me an important movie. No consumerism, relatively low violence, little swearing or addictive habits.

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Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (10):
Kids say (7):

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.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: May 27, 2011
  • On DVD or streaming: October 11, 2011
  • Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn
  • Director: Terrence Malick
  • Inclusion Information: Middle Eastern/North African directors
  • Studio: Fox Searchlight
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 138 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: some thematic material
  • Last updated: October 8, 2022

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