This post will mean nothing to anyone who has not seen Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” perhaps not even to any who have.
I sat in the theatre the other night trying to capture as much of the film as possible on on a little yellow pad of paper. I wanted to get down as much of the script as I could and to record the sequence of images and events.
But, be warned, without the stunning visual impact, the stirring music, and the superb acting, the words on paper are flat and lifeless, completely unlike the film.
No doubt a great deal is missing from what follows. It certainly contains a number of mistakes. But it gives some sense of the flow of the film and does capture some of Malick’s poetry.
Here are my notes from a viewing of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”:
Opening quote: Job 38: 4,7: 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?
Opening ethereal image on dark screen
Jack: Brother, Mother… it was they who led me to your door.
Mother: When I was young the nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which path you’ll take.
Mother: Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts all things. It does not mind being slighted, forgotten, disliked, insults, or injuries. Nature only wants to please itself.
Mother on swing
Mother: Love shining through all things. No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.
Camera focuses on RL
Mother: I will be true to you whatever comes.
Telegram arrives, cut to airplane, father receiving news over telephone
Mother walking in suburban road, trees overhead: My son. I just want to die, to be with him.
Walk through house, paints and brushes on art table, empty bedroom, guitar
Priest in church at funeral: He’s in God’s hands now.
Mother: He was in God’s hands the whole time.
Mother: My hope, my God. I shall fear no evil.
Father outside on front lawn to neighbour woman: We’re alright. Pinches hose stopping flow of water.
Unidentified woman/Grandmother – You have the other two. You have your memories. Time heals, nothing stays the same…The Lord gives and takes away. That’s His nature.
Father: I never got a chance to tell him how sorry I am. He used to hit himself in the face for no reason. He’d sit next to me at the piano and I would criticize the way he turned the page. I made him feel shame.
Father walking in the trees.
Ethereal image from opening
Adult Jack: How did you come to me, in what shape, what disguise?
Jack walks by door, getting out of bed, touching water from tap
Woman lays branch on counter. Adult Jack lights candle in blue glass holder.
Jack: I see the child I was. I see my brother true, kind. He died when he was nineteen.
People walking in the shallows of the ocean
Adult Jack: I just feel like I’m bumping into walls.
Boys in the river
Adult Jack: The world’s gone to the dogs, people greedy, getting worse. On cell phone:
Hey Dad. I’m sorry I said what I said. Yeah I think about him every day. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I‘m sorry.
Adult Jack: How did I lose you? Wandered. Forgot you.
Adult Jack wandering in the wilderness
Wooden pier jutting out into nowhere open at the end
Boy Jack: Find me. How did she bear it?
Swarm of birds in the sky around huge, sterile office tower
Mother wandering in the woods
Ethereal image from opening
Mother: Lord why? Where were you?
25 minutes – Creation sequence begins
Mother: Did you know? Who are we to you? Answer me.
Picture of the Helix Nebula known as “The Eye of God” from the Hubble telescope
Mother: We cry to you. My soul. My son. Hear us.
Mighty cascading water
Orange cave with swirling patterns, camera moves up towards light.
Under water, jellyfish, primordial fish forms
Barren landscape, beach, dinosaur with wound in side, blood in water, hammerhead sharks circling above
Blood veins, eye in utero, trees, forest, dinosaur alone in forest
River – three dinosaurs
Mother: Light of my life, I search for you, my hope, my child.
Mighty cascading water
Jack: You spoke to me. Through her you spoke to me, from the sky, the trees. Before I knew, I loved you, believed in you.
Jack: When did you first touch my heart?
Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien together with affection. Pregnant belly
Figure in white
Image: The Door of Hell from Park of the Monsters Bomarzo, Italy
Woman in white with children dressed in white beckoning
Child swims up out of open door
Mrs. O’Brien delivering baby. Father holds newborn’s foot.
Looking down on small boy at the bottom of staircase as he climbs
Chair moves out from table by itself
Butterfly lands on mother’s hand
Mother dancing, wind in the trees. Mother and toddler on lawn playing with wooden Noah’s ark
Second child in crib by window
Mother and newborn and toddler Jack outside on lawn. Jack stares at baby then has temper tantrum. Throws figures from Noah’s ark. Mother: No! No!
Bubbles float in the air. Sunrise
Young Jack standing by table, takes piece of cake: It’s mine!
Planting tree in garden with his father. Watering tree from watering can
Boys under water
Frightened by dog
Mother: Were you afraid?
Father trying awkwardly to comfort baby
Dark stairway, empty bare room with window at far end and table or box under window
Father outside with Jack: That is Spencer’s yard. You see this line. Let’s not cross it. You must understand.
Mother reading Peter Rabbit – Peter don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.
Mother outside points up to sky: That’s where God lives.
Mother spraying water from hose
Old Man leans towards camera: Goodnight. We’ll see you in five years.
Children sleeping, safety, peace
Boys now about eight, ten, and twelve, playing outside in field with dogs
Jack – I found a dinosaur bone.
Boys throwing a ball over the house, running. Mother calling boys in for dinner, boys hiding, barking like dogs
Dinner table, Jack ties to balance piece of meatloaf on knife without touching it, looks around nervously
Father: Pass the butter… Sir!
Father holds up record of Brahms
Father: Son fetch me my lighter. Have you forgotten something? Jack kisses his father who gives him a stiff hug.
Father: Do you love your father?
Jack: Yes Sir.
Reading The Jungle Books the rock python admiring his beautiful new coat
Jack to mother: Which one of us do you love the most?
Mother: I love you all the same.
RL: Tell us a story from before we can remember.
Mother flying in airplane
Jack: Make me good. Brave.
Under water, wind
Father in his work place, taps watch
Mother wakes boys with icecubes
Boys in town mimicking the rolling walk of a man who is drunk, they look back at a tall man walking with a cane and see two men under arrest
Mrs. O’Brien gives one of the men under arrest a drink (see Matthew 25:37)
Steve (youngest of the three boys): Can it happen to anyone? Nobody talks about it.
Jack saying his prayers: Help me not to sass my Dad. Help me not to get dogs in fights. Help me to be thankful for everything I’ve got. Where do you live? Help me not to tell lies. Are you watching me? I want to know what you are. I want to see what you see.
Father rips blankets off sleeping boys to wake them in the morning.
Father playing organ in church. Jack stands by the organ.
Father hosing the boys outside
Screen door slams, Father jumps up tells Jack: Stand there and close this door fifty times. Count it.
Jack pulling weeds
Father: Your mother’s naïve. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, people take advantage of you. Everyone of these top executives, you know how they got where they are? Floating right down the middle of the river. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s anything you can’t do. Don’t do it like I did, promise me that. I dreamed of being a great musician. I let myself get side-tracked. When you’re looking for something to happen, that was it. A lie, you lived it.
Sermon: Job expected to make his nest on high… Misfortune befalls the good as well… Do you trust in God? Are your kids and your family your security. He alone sees God who sees when he turns his back as well as when he turns his face. Is there nothing deathless?
Stained glass window of Christ awaiting crucifixion
Father: The world lives by trickery. If you wanna succeed, you can’t be too good
Father and boys attend an outdoor barbecue in a black neighbourhood
Dinner table – Steve is sent from the table
RL plays the guitar out on the porch while his Father accompanies him on the piano inside. Jack lurks in the background watching
Jack speaking about his father: Tells lies. Makes up stories. Says ‘Don’t put your elbows on the table; he does. Insults people. Doesn’t care.
Father: I remember when you were born. They wouldn’t let me come home.
School, Jack looking at girl fidgeting with her hair. Teacher gives words for spelling: Volcanoes… socket
Swimming pool, boy drowns, Mr. O’Brien noticeably takes charge
Funeral for drowning victim – boys play outside church
Jack drinks from a cup given by invisible hand. Woman puts water on child’s head. Boys play in cemetery.
Jack: Was he bad?
One of the boys to their mother: Will you die too. You’re not that old yet Mum.
Jack: Where were you. You let a boy die. You let anything happen.
House fire. Burned boy.
Jack: Why should I be good if you aren’t?
Woman hanging laundry in sun. Woman washing her feet.
Jack and father walking together. Jack hugs father.
Father: You’re cropping that too close. You’re going to have to keep that watered.
Father: Toscanini once wrote a piece sixty-five times. You know what he said after – it could have been better. You make yourself what you are. You make your own destiny. You can’t say ‘I can’t.’ You say, ‘I’m havin’ trouble; I ain’t done yet. You can’t say ‘I can’t..’
Jack: Why’s he hurt us, our father?
Father to RL: Give your father a kiss.
Jack distorting music on record player
Dinner, Father asks Jack: Did you actually buy this from Mr. Ledbetter.
RL to his Father: Be quiet.
Jack: Leave him alone.
Steve hugged by mother
Father: You turn my own kids against me. You undermine everything I do.
Mr. O’Brien holds his wife by the sink so she can’t move
Clown in dunk tank
Empty room, box gone. Tall man points
One of the boys: Where’s Dad?
Mother: He’s gone on a trip.
Running around house, scaring mother with lizard
Mother: Help each other. Love every one, every leaf, every ray of light. Forgive.
Jack waking outside sees neighbouring parents fighting in their home. Sees woman inside house in evening wearing slip.
Boys walking through neighbourhood, smashing cans, put firecrackers in bird nest with eggs, throwing rocks at tin wall, breaking windows with rocks, tying frog to rocket
Boy to Jack: What do you need to be afraid of? You’re afraid; I see it.
Jack enters neighbour’s house after woman leaves. No music. Goes upstairs into woman’s room, takes slip out of drawer, lays it on bed.
Jack running by river. Hides slip under plank of wood; takes it out and throws it in the river.
Walking home hits tree with stick
Jack sees his mother standing on the corner. She walks towards him. Jack on the swing in their yard
Jack crying: I can’t talk to you. Don’t look at me.
Mother in nightie walking through the house. Jack watching.
Jack: What have I started? What have I done?
Boys sitting in house at table trying to put puzzle together
Jack coaxes RL to stick coat hanger in light socket, then finger.
RL: I trust you.
RL: I don’t want to fight.
Jack screams through door: No I don’t want to do the things you tell me. You let him run all over you.
Jack and RL in woods
Jack in school
In woods, Jack: How do I get back where they are?
Swimming under water.
Father returns home from trip around the world
Jack: Can Taylor come over?
Father: Is your family not good enough for you?
Father in restaurant: You know what subjective means? Subjective means it comes from your own mind. Nobody can prove it.
Jack to father: It’s your house. You can kick me out whenever you like. You would like to kill me.
Father working under car. Jack walks by. Foreboding music.
Jack: Please kill him; let him die. Get him out of here.
Jack running shouts: He only loves me.
Confirmation: Defend this thy servant oh Lord.
Jack snuggles with his father.
Jack shoots RL’s finger with bb gun.
Jack: What I want to do I can’t do. I do what I hate. (Romans 7:15)
Jack and RL playing in ruined old house
At home Jack fans RL with electric fan, kisses RL on arm, gives him a piece of wood: You can hit me if you want. I’m sorry; you’re my brother.
Jack: What was it you showed me? I didn’t know how to name you then. But I see it was you. Always you were calling me.
Jack helping burned boy, touches his shoulder
Father in desiccated garden
Father: I wanted to be loved because I was great, a big man. I’m nothing. Look. The glory around, trees, birds. I dishonoured it all. Didn’t notice the glory, a foolish man.
Plant where Mr. O’Brien has worked closes
Jack: Father and mother, always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.
Father: All I ever wanted for you was to make you strong.
Jack: I’m as bad as you are. I’m more like you than her.
Father: You boys are about all I’ve done in life. Otherwise I’ve drawn zilch. You are all I have. You’re all I want to have. Sweet boy.
Boys crying, comforting each other
Tulip tree in wind
Loading suitcases into car outside house
Father: You gonna stand there like a bump on a log.
RL burying toys in backyard
Mother: The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.
Car drives away
Mother in woods on day of RL’s funeral
Adult Jack in elevator going up
Orange cave with swirling patterns, camera moves up towards light
Barren landscape. Adult Jack following woman, comes to door from beginning
Jack:Keep us. Guide us to the end of time.
Sun rising over earth
Young Jack: Follow me.
Woman dressed in white carrying candle, lights another candle, children in white with her
Young Jack and Adult Jack in barren landscape
Wooden pier jutting out into nowhere opening at the end
Dead bodies lying on beach wrapped in shrouds
Woman reaching into grave
Adult Jack goes through door
Woman in bridal gown
Adult and young Jack, and people walking on seashore
Adult Jack kneels
woman strokes hair
Mighty cascading water
Mother meets adult Jack; they embrace
Adult Jack with father who touches his shoulder
Father picks up RL, hugs him, pushes him towards his mother
Steve looks between Mother and RL
Mother picks up RL
Mother kisses old hand
Mother and father kiss
Door opens under water
Night time on beach
Mighty cascading water
Mother holds RL
Mask drifts down below the water
Mother takes RL to the door kisses him and he walks out
Adult Jack stands behind mother; she walks alone stroked by angelic figure
Choir: Amen Amen
Mother: I give him to you. I give you my son.
Choir: Amen Amen
Elevator going down
Adult Jack outside building
Bridge from nowhere reaching across to land where sun is shining
Ethereal image from opening
Seagulls and sound of water
Silence, bird song, piano, closing credits