All Things Shining, Pt 5

The films of Terrence Malick: The Tree of Life
by Serena Bramble and Matt Zoller Seitz  posted October 24, 2011
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Still the most divisive major studio release of 2011, Terrence Malick's fifth feature The Tree of Life is a dream film, a special effects extravaganza, an experimental movie, a rueful reflection on love and pain, and a memoir of small-town Texas life in the 1960s. Since Malick's movie has a deliberately open-ended, perhaps unfinished, quality, I've conceived this two-part video essay along similar lines. It does not purport to be a definitive or even comprehensive take on the movie, but more of a loose personal reaction to it, one that could very well be revised or revisited in the future. It is intended as Chapter 5 in the Moving Image Source series "All Things Shining: The Films of Terrence Malick," which ran earlier this year.

The first half of this chapter concentrates on the "creation" sequence of the film, with special attention paid to the work of effect master Douglas Trumbull (2001), the influence of experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson, and the connection between the cosmic vistas and the more intimate human drama. The second half delves into the subjective and free-associative nature of the storytelling, the film's portraits of the mother, father and narrator characters, and the possible meaning of the film's much-debated final sequence.

I wrote and narrated the piece. Serena Bramble, a regular contributor to my IndieWire blog Press Play, edited. —M.Z.S. 


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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick


October 28, 2011–March 17, 2012 See It Big!


All Things Shining, Pt 1 by Matt Zoller Seitz
All Things Shining, Pt 2 by Matt Zoller Seitz
All Things Shining, Pt 3 by Matt Zoller Seitz
All Things Shining, Pt 4 by Matt Zoller Seitz
The Shadow Army by Michael Atkinson
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More: Article Archive


Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes about movies on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind and contributes video essays to Press Play.

More articles by Serena Bramble
Author's Website: Press Play

Matt Zoller Seitz is a writer and filmmaker whose debut feature, the romantic comedy Home, is available through Netflix and Amazon. His writing on film and television has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, and The Star Ledger, among other places. He is also the founder of The House Next Door, a movie and TV criticism website.

More articles by Matt Zoller Seitz
Author's Website: The House Next Door