[[quoteright:267:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/TreeOfLifeMoviePoster_5178.jpg]]

->''"There are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow."''
-->-- '''Mrs. O'Brien'''

A 2011 Creator/TerrenceMalick film, [[SpeculativeFiction equal parts a period piece, a family drama, and an existentialist meditation.]] It stars Creator/BradPitt as a strict, disciplinarian father in [[TheFifties Fifties]] Texas, with Creator/JessicaChastain as a kind, nurturing mother, newcomer child-actor Hunter [=McCracken=] as their son Jack, and Creator/SeanPenn as Jack in his adult years. Directed by reclusive director Creator/TerrenceMalick, the man behind ''Film/{{Badlands}}'', ''Film/DaysOfHeaven'', ''Film/TheThinRedLine'', and ''The New World'', it is his fifth feature in a career spanning decades.

''The Tree of Life'' begins as a normal family drama, but in just a little while in it transforms into a gallery of jaw-dropping images and SceneryPorn related to the [[DistantPrologue Beginning Of The Universe]]. Some have called it this generation's ''Film/TwoThousandOneASpaceOdyssey''.

Much like that film, it contemplates man's place in the universe, and it can be considered one of the few "big-budget art-house films". Also like that film, it features work by legendary visual effects artist Douglas Trumbal (the man responsible for the Star Gate sequence) who Malick had actually convinced to come out of retirement.

----
!!This film provides examples of:

* AbusiveParents: Jack's father, when he's "defied".
* AnAesop: Turns out, the answer to the meaning behind man's existence is [[spoiler: love]].
* {{Angst}}: Adult Jack.
* AgeAppropriateAngst: Young Jack.
* ArcWords:
** "The Way of Nature and the Way of Grace".
** "Where were you?"
** "Brother..."
* AsTheGoodBookSays: The movie starts off with a quote from the Book of Job, to set the theme about the role of God in the universe and how God's way is often incomprehensible to human
-->Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
* BillingDisplacement: Sean Penn is billed second but appears in only about five minutes of the film.
* BlessedWithSuck: Mankind. And yet, at the same time, the film still has a hopeful tone.
* BookEnds: The coooolooors...
* ChekhovsGun: "There are two ways through life. The way of nature, and the way of grace..."
* CosmicPlaything: Jack; though the viewer can argue that [[spoiler: the CosmicPlaything in question is ''everyone'']]
* CrapsackWorld: Juxtaposes nicely with AWorldHalfFull
* DecoyProtagonist: Zig-zagged. Jack's parents (particularly his mother) are the POV characters until the focus switches to Adult Jack who is given several minutes of build-up before the focus abruptly switches back to his mother (who monologues during the Big Bang/Creation sequence), and then finally settles on Young Jack for most of the movie. Then, in the last few minutes, the focus shifts back to Adult Jack, then to the Mother, and finally back to Adult Jack during the final seconds.
* DistantPrologue: It begins simply enough, and then [[spoiler: the Big Bang happens.]] Literally.
* EarthyBarefootCharacter: Jack's mom, though when she's at home she wears shoes. But when she is barefoot she's usually standing in nature.
* EpicMovie: Albeit relatively more subdued than most
* EtherealChoir / OminousLatinChanting: ''Lacrimosa,'' part of the ''Dies Irae'' sequence of the ''Requiem'' mass (composed by several different artists, but most famously [[WolfgangAmadeusMozart Mozart]]) places over several scenes.
* EverythingsBetterWithDinosaurs: Much was made about their appearance in the movie. In truth, they're only in it for a minute or two and we only see two species at that. (They are at least [[SeldomSeenSpecies not-so popular genera.]])
* ForTheEvulz: One interpretation of [[spoiler:Jack breaking into an unoccupied home, then stealing a dress from it and sending it down a river.]]
* GainaxEnding: Once again, you have no idea. [[spoiler: Okay, so while everyone in the audience should be pretty certain that the finale involving the heavenly beach, Adult Jack chasing his younger self in the desert, and his mother's prayers are all either a HeroicBSOD or some sort of variation of that, it doesn't make it any less baffling. Audiences ''will'' be divided.]] You'll either feel at one with the universe, or like you're just being shown completely random images.
* GrayAndGrayMorality: Creator/BradPitt's character may be a jerk at times, but it's because he cares a bit too much for his kids. Young Jack can be just as jerkish as well, but whether it's from the abuse and expectations of his father, his [[spoiler: first time experiencing death and realizing we all don't live forever]], or just from general {{Angst}} is up to the viewer.
* {{Heaven}}: At least the ending can be interpreted that way.
* HeroicBSOD: The viewer can argue that the minute Adult Jack ascends in the elevator, the HeroicBSOD begins.
* [[IWantToBeARealMan I Want My Sons To Be Real Men]]: Played with. At first, Mr. O'Brian plays this straight, such as trying to teach his kids how to fight. As the movie progresses, he starts to accept that he's doing it more for himself, and promises to be a better father.
* KidsAreCruel: Once Jack's father leaves for a business trip, he and his friends start to drift into crueler acts, like blowing up birds' eggs or tying a frog to a rocket.
* LivingProp: Jack has a wife, but all she does in the film is get dressed for work and leave.
* MeaningfulFuneral: One of the many important events building to Young Jack's loss of innocence.
* MeaningfulName: Jack's initials are J.O'B.
* MetaphysicalPlace: [[spoiler: The heavenly beach]], the vast desert Adult Jack wanders through, that weird field with styrofoamy-looking rocks or plants or whatever those are supposed to be. Expect this to pop up a lot.
* MindScrew: Not just the GainaxEnding, but a few brief, but glaringly noticeable shots such as [[spoiler: the underwater house shot signifying Jack's birth]] and [[spoiler: one very random scene in which the mother is floating and dancing in the front yard. Why? Because TrueArtIsIncomprehensible]]
* MommyIssues: Oh yeah. [[spoiler:"She only loves ME!"]]
* MonochromeCasting: Approximately 3 of the over 120 minutes of this movie feature non-white people onscreen.
* [[{{Montages}} Montage]]: Like most of Malick's films, this one could be considered one long Montage.
* {{Motif}}: It's a Terrence Malick movie, therefore, expect lots of gorgeous shots of nature and SceneryPorn.
** Oh yeah, and expect it to be long, and ''feel'' long.
** In particular, the ambiguous flame imagery
* MotherNatureFatherScience: Jack's parents embody the YinYangClash; his father is the Way of Nature and his mother is the Way of Grace.
* MundaneMadeAwesome: ''Ye gods''. As if the constant EtherealChoir over family picnics and kids playing wasn't enough, a tense family dinner is played to swift classical music, which may or not have actually been in the scene.
* NoNameGiven: Only Jack is given a name within the story; the other brothers' names and the family surname are only revealed in the credits: [[spoiler: R.L. and Steve O'Brien.]]
* NonLinearStory: It's about as linear as the goddamn Navier–Stokes equations.
* PhilosophicalParable: See An Aesop above.
* RageBreakingPoint: "Be quiet."
* RandomEventsPlot
* RuleOfSymbolism
* SceneryPorn: Taken UpToEleven
* SomethingCompletelyDifferent: See GainaxEnding
* StalkingIsLove: Jack gets a crush on a fellow classmate and follows her home. Later he spies on through her house's windows and sees her father yelling at her mother. [[spoiler:Lastly, he enters their house while her family's gone.]]
* StandardFiftiesFather: A rather grim example, also including elements of DadTheVeteran (although he is still in active service during the movie, it seems) and ToughLove.
* TemptingFate: [[spoiler: Kid, if you think that putting your finger in front of a BB gun will result in anything other than pain and misery, your loss.]]
** Averted earlier with [[spoiler:Jack's brother being dared to poke a wire into a lamp without the lightbulb. He's initially suspicious, but even after licking his finger and poking it in, still nothing happens.]]
* ThousandYardStare: Practically everyone in the movie at some point but especially Jack.
* TooGoodForThisSinfulEarth: Adult Jack's narration suggests that this applies to the brother who died in Vietnam.
* TrippyFinaleSyndrome: And what a trip it is...
* VictoriousChildhoodFriend: Perhaps averted. Jack's wife when he's an adult doesn't seem to be the girl he crushed on at school; she looked Hispanic, and Jack never even spoke to her.
* VisionQuest: This troper shall say it again. See GainaxEnding
* WellDoneSonGuy: Father seems to be one of these.
* WhatHappenedToTheMouse: There are ''many'' quick visuals and suggestions of bigger stories that are merely glimpsed and then never revisited, including: [[spoiler:a man has a seizure on the family's front lawn, and the mother prevents her children from seeing it; a man is arrested as the entire town watches; a house burns down and a young boy, one of the brothers' friends, suffers burns on his head, and more. Also, we never find out which brother died.]]
** [[spoiler:Although it's never clarified, from Mr and Mrs O' Brien's reactions to seeing him on the beach coupled with the emphasis on his and Jack's relationship it is presumably the blonde slightly younger brother who kicks the bucket.]]
* AWorldHalfFull
* TheWorldIsJustAwesome: The Dawn of Time
* WorldTree: Despite the title, it's mostly averted.
** Although there is an awful lot of shots of trees, many of them positioned so that the tree takes up most of the frame.
* YinYangClash: "The way of nature, and the way of grace."

----