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THE TREE OF LIFE

The Beginnings
Terrence Malick has always created thought-provoking, intensely visual and viscerally emotional films of our times, each one a distinct experience rife with mystery and depth. His new film, THE TREE OF LIFE, may be simultaneously his most intimate and epic work yet – a quest that traverses from today's urban corporate towers to a 1950s Texas family's back yard, and at the same time, from the beginnings of life on earth to the end of the known universe, in search of what is true, what is lasting, what is infinite.

The story unfolds symphonically, like a piece of music divided into movements, or the limbs of a towering tree, tracing the evolution of a single life – that of Jack O'Brien, who is trying to square a series of lingering questions about his father's anger, his mother's love, his brother's death, and his own struggles with meaning and faith. But Jack's story plays out within the vast beauty and the recursive rhythms of the universe itself. His human struggles become part of the cosmos' vast creative and destructive powers, as he begins to sense his connections to the dust of the stars, to the prehistoric creatures who once roamed the earth and to his ultimate destiny. It is a deep love story about how love emerges from life and life emerges from love.

THE TREE OF LIFE is an open-ended journey into uncharted territory for contemporary movie audiences, one that will no doubt impact each person in a unique way. As Malick enters such nebulous, imagination-rich worlds as childhood memory, pre-human history and the burning realm of the stars, the story plays out both at the microscopic level of the heart and at the unfathomably massive level of eons and eons of time, with both always in motion.

Sarah Green, who also produced THE NEW WORLD, was awed and excited by her initial encounter about the project. "Terry showed me an early treatment and I remember thinking immediately that this film had to be made – and that I would do everything possible toward that end,” she recalls.

Says Green, "The very title of the movie brings up so much. The ‘Tree of Life' is a key symbol in many of the major religions and in Darwinism as well. It brings up nature; it brings up spirit. Everyone has a reaction to those words.”

"Terry has his own unique cinematic language,” notes producer Grant Hill, who previously worked with Malick on THE THIN RED LINE. "No one else talks the cinematic language that he has invented, in a sense. He has this wonderful gift of being able to really make you feel that you are there, that you know his characters. And with THE TREE OF LIFE, he takes that film language somewhere new in order to draw the audience into an original journey, to take a leap of faith, and to allow them to bring parts of their own life experiences into the canvas of this story – a story that is very much about a single family but also, simultaneously, the creation of the cosmos.”

The script would go through its own process of evolution, unfolding in new ways at every turn, yet always kept wide open to other possibilities as part of Malick's process. It quickly attracted additional producers who had been in touch for several years with Malick, hoping to work with him on impending projects: River Road's Bill Pohlad and Plan B partners Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner.

Says Pohlad of his reaction to a script that was a highly unconventional read, "It was an amazing piece of writing but not like anything I had read before. Basically it was like a poem. I don't know what I was expecting when I started to read it, but it just hit me on a very emotional level. It was an amazing, powerful script that balanced a profound intimacy with an epic scope.”

Continues Pohlad, "There's a powerful connection to be made between the universal and the personal. The beauty of THE TREE OF LIFE is the organic weaving together of the two."

Gardner, who notes that seeing DAYS OF HEAVEN years ago blew her mind and inspired her own career in film, adds, "I was shocked by how moved I was by the script and I took a very particular thing away from it inside myself but I think different people will take different things away from it, and that is the real beauty of what Terry does in THE TREE OF LIFE.”

She goes on, "For me, this family's story and what it tells us about ego, shame, humility and grace becomes so much more accessible because it is put so beautifully into the bigger context of a timeless, borderless world. What's so amazing to see is how Terry can bring all these vast layers of perspective – so enormous in size and scope – to it, without ever altering the feeling that this is an incredibly intimate and poignant family story.”

As the film moves outward into time and space, it creates images largely unseen in the pantheon of motion picture history: images of the universe and earth forming out of explosive chaos, then growing and evolving into the stunning structures of life. Malick consulted with an array of scientists from around the world to better understand all the forces at work -- the physics, astronomy and biology—in what he was attempting to capture and, for the first time in his career, he worked extensively with visual effects. He did so in concert with the accomplished team of Douglas Trumbell of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY fame and veteran visual effects supervisor Dan Glass (MATRIX RELOADED, V FOR VENDETTA).

"I don't think I've ever seen any director try to authentically render the beginnings of the universe in a feature film before,” states Gardner. "I think it's magical. I could watch hours of it. But beyond its beauty and wonderment, what's so impressive is the way Terry weaves that all into the film, allowing you to see that this family, this father's ego, these struggles that Jack feels inside are so miniscule and temporary in the face of it.”

Sums up Green, "It's an extraordinary experience and one I don't believe filmgoers have had before, particularly the way Terrence Malick brings nature to the screen in all its wild, extreme glory.”

Though a strand of specific themes weaves through all of Malick's films – the contrast of innocence and violence, nature and spirit, stark reality and transcendent beauty – there is something else that unites them: they aren't so much films a person watches but experiences a person inhabits.

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