The Tree of Life opens with a quotation from the Bible’s Book of Job ("Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Job 38:4, 7) coupled together with an image of a small flame representing its creator, God. It continues onward interlaced with grand images of what appears to as the creation of the world. Saying that the film’s setting is a quaint Texas suburb in the 1950s would be doing Malick a disservice. The movie jumps back and forth thereon to images of creation, seemingly, a particular exterior shot of the world as we witness the Big Bang, the age of Dinosaurs and forward to man’s journey to eternal life. From its premise in Texas, the movie centers around a typical suburban family- the O’Brien family, consisting of a sweet and sincere, stay-at-home mother (Jessica Chastain), a hard-working and stern father (Brad Pitt) and three adolescent boys who enjoy endless summer days playing under the sun. At its core, it a movie about relationships, about love for one’s family, and about love for one’s own self. In the beginning, we are told that one of the O’Brien son’s has died young, at the age of 19. But instead of establishing a story around the loss, the movie jumps back 20 years to the three of them growing up together, reflecting on the existence of life, rather than the loss
What is central to the movie’s foundation is a statement said by Mrs. O’Brien early on the film as if preaching to the audience- “...there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.” From that point on, the film seems to be a grand illustration of what the world is, why we exist and what becomes of us after death. Answering these types of questions is difficult, even for Harvard graduate Terrence Malick, who was rumored to have begun writing the script in the ‘80s under an early title, Q. What The Tree of Life does is leave more questions than answers at its end, which can leave audiences with an unfulfilling conclusion.