Malick’s Tree of Life: What We Know

There are films to be excited about, and there are films to be EXCITED about.

Then there are films that one’s entire life waits years—even decades—for. Or maybe that’s just me. In any case… such a film is coming soon, and it’s directed by Terrence Malick (the most mysterious and brilliant living filmmaker). It’s called Tree of Life.

Here is what we know thus far about the latest film from the reclusive, Salinger-esque Mr. Malick (and predictably, it’s all gleefully mysterious and writ large):

  • The film is described as “a cosmic epic, a hymn to life” with the main theme being “the loss of innocence.”
  • It stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as father and son.
  • It was filmed outside of Austin, Texas in the town of Smithville.
  • The film is being released by Apparition, a new distribution company that is also behind Jane Campion’s new film Bright Star.
  • The release date has been stated at various times to be December 25, 2009, but just in the last few days IMDB has switched to listing it as “2010.”
  • The official plot synopsis from the film’s distributor:

We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does, with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world’s way, of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

Framing this story is that of adult Jack, a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our world’s preparation, each thing appears a miracle — precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.

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.

  • Jack Fisk—who has worked with Malick on all of his films—is back as production designer.
  • Costume designer Jacqueline West is back after having worked with Malick on The New World.
  • Emmanuel Lubezki is back as cinematographer (he worked wonders on The New World).
  • Alexandre Desplat (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) composed the music.
  • Sarah Green—producer on The New World—is back as producer.
  • In a 2008 interview about his 40 year working relationship with Malick, Jack Fisk said the following:

It’s such an important film to Terry and I think this is the film he’s most wanted to make. His approach to filmmaking just keeps evolving. We made this film with hardly any lighting. People were working without scripts. He would dole them out and take them back. It was Terry at his most excited. He seemed stronger and more inventive than any time in the last forty years… I saw some dailies and when I see this footage it looked like you’d found some film left over from the 50s. It was just magical.

…It’s not structured like a regular film. I think it could change some parts of cinema. I’m just so excited about it. I told Terry, “your going to make it hard for me to work on another film after this. Because they look like films, and this… is different.”

  • There is an IMAX film called Voyage of Time that is reportedly going to be a companion piece to The Tree of Life and will be narrated by Brad Pitt.
  • The IMAX film reportedly covers “the birth and death of the universe.” Of course!
  • There will be dinosaurs. Mike Fink, who is doing effects work on the film, reported this to Empire magazine: “We’re animating dinosaurs, but it’s not Jurassic Park. The attempt is to treat it as if somehow a camera wound up in the middle of these periods when dinosaurs roamed the earth and creatures first started to emerge from the sea onto the land. The first mammals appearing. We’re doing a number of creatures all seriously scientifically based… I think when it’s finished it’ll be something that’s referred to for years.”
  • Douglas Trumbull, the visual f/x pioneer who collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on 2001 and Steven Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was reportedly brought in to help with visual effects.
  • In one version of the screenplay, the story opened with “a sleeping god, underwater, dreaming of the origins of the universe, starting with the big bang and moving forward, as fluorescent fish swam into the deity’s nostrils and out again.” Malick supposedly wanted to create something that has never been seen before, and dispatched cameramen all over the world. They shot micro jellyfish on the Great Barrier Reef volcanic explosions on Mount Edna, and ice shelves breaking off in Antarctica. Special effects consultant Richard Taylor describes sections of the script as “pages of poetry, with no dialogue, glorious visual descriptions.”
  • Some rumors suggest that Tree of Life is a reworking of Malick’s abandoned project Q, which he wrote back in the 1970s. Q has been described as originally having been a “multi-character drama set in the Middle East during World War I, with a prologue set in prehistoric times.”

Whew! Well if that doesn’t make The Tree of Life the most anticipated “might change cinema” movie of the year, I don’t know what does!

The countdown is on. I cannot wait.

6 responses to “Malick’s Tree of Life: What We Know

  1. The film is described as “a cosmic epic, a hymn to life” with the main theme being “the loss of innocence.”

    Oh good, a change of pace from Mr. Malick!

    (I’m kidding, I’m as excited as you are)

  2. It’s interesting to compare the buzz building for this compared to the hype surrounding “Avatar”.

    I enjoyed “The Thin Red Line” and thought the cinemetography of “The New World” was astounding.

  3. I am vibrating wtih anticipation. I can watch “The New World” without stumbling around weeping for hours afterwards, cursing modernity and my place in it.

  4. IMDB not being the most reliable, is it possible the 12-15 date is still feasible?

  5. I mean 12-25?

  6. Anything new on release date?? I’m getting anxious! Can’t wait..

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