Story

The Tree of Life explores the idea that life can be shaped in two ways, by grace or by nature. The movie explores these two themes through imagery of life across many cosmic domains including the life of a family.

Jack (Hunter McCracken) is the oldest son in a family of three sons. Jack struggles in his relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). The movie follows Jack into adulthood (played by Sean Penn) as he thinks through his damaging past, his present life and the future.

Themes

Death of a child; cruelty to animals; child abuse

Violence

This movie has some violence. For example:

  • The father teaches his two boys to box. Throughout the lesson, he encourages the boys to punch him by taunting them and slapping them on their heads.
  • The family eat dinner while the father is in a very tense and aggressive mood. He snaps when his middle son says something and then reaches across the table to smack his son hard across the head. The boy cowers and runs from the room. The father puts his oldest son in another room as the smallest son cries in his mother’s arms.
  • After the abuse at the dinner table, the father chases the mother, who is visibly upset. She tells the father how angry she is about his treatment of their son. The father grabs her and holds her wrists forcibly until she settles down.
  • Jack has a shotgun and shoots at birds in the bushes. Jack turns and asks his younger brother to trust him and put his finger over the gun. When the brother does this, Jack fires the gun. The boy screams and cries out in pain.
  • Jack looks into his neighbours’ home and sees the father yelling at his wife aggressively. The children cower at the back of the room as their parents fight.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example, there’s a scene of a shark eating a large fish. The scene shows blood in the water.

From 5-8

In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example, one scene shows a man on the ground having a fit.

From 8-13

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • This movie has a high level of tension, with a particular focus on the father’s relationship with his boys. The father is extremely controlling and punishing towards the boys. At times, he’s also physically violent.
  • Jack struggles with the way his father treats him. One time when his father’s angry at him, Jack says to his father, ‘You’d like to kill me’.
  • In one scene, the father is fixing his car. He’s lying under his car, which is on blocks. Jack thinks about knocking over the blocks and causing his father to be squashed. He has an internal argument with himself about hurting his father. He wishes for his father to be killed, saying, ‘Please God kill him’ and ‘Let him die’.

Over 13

There are no more upsetting scenes to add to those above, but this movie has the potential to disturb children in this age group because of its emotional intensity. This intensity is created through visual images, music and the scenes described above.

Sexual references

This movie has some sexual references. For example, Jack breaks into a neighbour’s home to steal lingerie. He fondles and sniffs the lingerie.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example, the mother and father cuddle and kiss.

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie.

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Tree of Life is a poetic and complex exploration of life. It’s less interested in telling a story and more interested in evoking the audience’s emotional responses. The movie’s emotional intensity and family violence is likely to make it too disturbing for children under 12 and some younger teenagers.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include family loyalty and the beauty of life.

You might also want to talk about the negative and positive connections in families and the consequences of these.