Discussion questions for The Tree of Life

  1. What lingers in your mind after your first viewing of The Tree of Life? If images, which ones? If events, which events? If words, which words?
  2. Early in TOL we hear Mrs. O’Brien in a voice-over say, “The nuns taught us there were two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” Discuss this quote. What do you think she meant by the way of nature? By the way of grace?
  3. TOL consists of 2 parts: the larger is the unfolding story of the O’Brien family. The smaller, folded somewhat awkwardly into the larger, is the story of the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the process of evolution. Discuss what role each story plays in Mr. Malick’s film. What relationship do the two stories have to one another? Why does Mr Malick insert one into the other?
  4. How did the music played during TOL make you feel as you watched the story? Did the pairing of music and image feel like a good pairing? Why or why not?
  5. Discuss the last scene in TOL. Where does it take place? Who is there? Who is not? Were you surprised by this ending? Did it seem an appropriate ending to the story that had been told before it?
  6. In your opinion, did Mr. Malick’s use of voice-overs enhance his story? Defend your answer.
  7. In an interview about TOL, Mr. Malick (who doesn’t do interviews) said of his film, “Experience it like a walk in the countryside. You’ll probably be bored or have other things in mind, but perhaps you will be struck, suddenly, by a feeling, by an act, by a unique portrait of nature.” Discuss this quote.
  8. In your opinion, what role should relationships play in making sense of life? How do you think Mr Malick would answer this same question?
  9. One reviewer said Mr. Malick’s goal in TOL is “to shake us loose from our dependence upon linear narrative and plot.” Do you agree? Is this dependence something we should be shaken loose from?
  10. If you were given the honor of dining with Mr. Malick after watching TOL and of discussing his film with him, what questions would you like to ask him?