Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life


Tree of Life PosterVariety announced in April, 2008 that Jessica Chastain was cast opposite Brad Pitt in the drama The Tree of Life, written and directed by Terrence Malick. Sean Penn was also to be in the movie. Finally, on May 27, 2011 (three years later), The Tree of Life, released to theaters starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain with equal billing. It had been a long wait!

Tree of Life warrants its own page on Chastain Central because it was Jessica's first big movie and also due to the long period of mystery and anticipation prior to its release.

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Jessica and The Tree of Life
The Long Wait
Release Date Announced
Cannes Film Festival
The Tree of Life in Theaters
Awards Won by The Tree of Life

Jessica about The Tree of Life
Director Terrence Malick
Jessica Chastain - Actress
Jessica Chastain News
Jessica Chastain Film Reviews
Make a Comment!

Jessica and The Tree of Life

Tree of Life Still Shot
Tree of Life
On April 15, 2008 Variety reported that "Jessica Chastain has been cast opposite Brad Pitt in the drama Tree of Life, written and directed by Terrence Malick. River Road is financing the pic, which began shooting recently in Texas. Bill Pohlad is producing with Sarah Green ("The New World") and Grant Hill. The story concerns the loss of innocence as seen through the eyes of the son of the characters portrayed by Pitt and Chastain. Sean Penn appears in a supporting role. Pitt replaced the late Heath Ledger in the starring role. Chastain next stars in Al Pacino's Salomaybe and Dan Ireland's Jolene." Finally, on May 27, 2011 (three years later), Tree of Life releases to theaters.

Jessica and a crew member on set
Jessica and a crew member on set
After the initial announcement, we learned that the movie was being filmed in Houston, Utah, and Iceland. Some speculated from these sites that the movie was from a script Malick wrote in the late 1970s called Q, which began in prehistoric times and ended in the far future, with the bulk of the film following a family from 1947 through 1968. The film wrapped by the 1st of July, 2008. Then we waited. And we waited.....

Secrecy over Tree of Life was tight. In news items regarding her later film projects, The Debt, Coriolanus, and The Fields, Jessica was often said to be in the upcoming Tree of Life, but little else was heard about her participation in the film. Even an article about Vanity Fair's 'Opening Acts' list for January 2010, which mentions Jessica, identifies her only as being in The Debt. Then in late June of 2010, after two years of waiting, Playlist posted a photo of her and a crew member in a 1950's Texas home. The accompanying article reported that composer Alexandre Desplat said the film was “a deep story about love, how you transmit love, through your family; from the parents to the children. And the evolution of mankind… since the creation,” possibly hinting the inclusion of dinosaurs in either the feature itself or an IMAX companion documentary titled The Voyage Of Time. For the first time, we had some concrete information on the film.

The Long Wait Continues

Tree of LifeOriginally scheduled for a Christmas, 2009 release date, in October 2009 Tree of Life was said to be on hold until some undesignated date in 2010. Meanwhile, articles about Jessica's other films, Take Shelter, The Help, and Murder on the Orient Express, continued to mention her Tree of Life role. Tree of Life In July 2010, we learned from that the rating for Tree of Life was PG-13. The Collider article commented: "The real pull here is that someone has actually seen the long delayed film. In fact, when you consider that no official images and/or trailers have been released for it to date, the rating itself takes on a whole new life of its own as hope that it may actually get released around the time of its latest purported release date, November 2010." The article went on to raise the possibility of dinosaurs.

Malick took his time doing the edits. The Independent wrote in May 2011:

Malick is notorious for continually tinkering in edits, but everyone expected that The Tree of Life would premiere in Cannes last year [2010]. In the incubation period Chastain found herself being continually called from the sets of other movies to record more dialogue for the director. She says: "We filmed it three years ago and he always works on it. He would call me up and say, 'can you do some voice-over for me?' And he'll send me 30 pages. I'll be in London or wherever and go into a sound-booth and whisper these lines, you know, in Terrence Malick fashion, and then he would use maybe one line, maybe nothing, and he would edit, I did that maybe over 30 times."

Jessica continued to receive mention of her role in Tree of Life in magazines and in articles about her newer films, The Debt and Take Shelter, both of which were playing at film festivals, and in Wettest County, which was announced in December, 2010. In August of 2010, indicated the movie would release by the end of 2010, writing, "A new favorite sport among movie lovers is forecasting exactly when Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life will come out." The article continues with additional insights, "Apparition sources say they expect to open the movie by year’s end, but are waiting to get a firm date from the indecisive Pohlad, who in turn is unwilling to deliver any firm ultimatums to Austin-based Malick, who is therefore calling the shots. The cautious and slow Pohlad and the deliberate Malick are 'a lethal combination,' says one source close to the movie. 'Terry’s very nice, but he does whatever he wants.' That’s why nothing is happening. Word is, Malick has not finished cutting the movie down from three to two and a half hours."

The very next month, we learned that Fox Searchlight Pictures had acquired U.S. rights from River Road Entertainment and that they would release the film in 2011. Jessica in Tree of LifeNBC San Diego wrote: "Tree of Life won't arrive until next year. Fans of writer-director Terrence Malick have long been wondering if the film, which also stars Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, would be ready for Cannes, then Venice, then Toronto and finally for eligibility for next year's Oscars. But today, Fox Searchlight announced that they will be distributing the film next year...And to think, just two months ago we figured its release was right around the corner." Another source added: "We also get the most precise description of the picture I've seen to date telling us the film tells the story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s chronicling the journey of the eldest son, Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) from childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile his complicated relationship with his father, played by Pitt."

Soon after, the Los Angeles Times asked Jessica for hints about the movie. "'I'm not sure what I can say,' she began when we raised the subject. But then she did indeed say a few things. The actress said the movie was essentially about the conflict between 'nature and grace' -- which she defined as the conflict between a spiritual life and one of more primitive survival. Her character represents the former, while Pitt's stands for the latter. 'And the children have to decide which path they want to take.'" After that 'nature and grace' became a common theme in discussing the movie.

Release Date Announced--May 27, 2011

Posters 1 and 2
Tree of Life Poster Number OneTree of Life Poster Number Two
On October 22, 2010 the Los Angeles Times reported, "Fox Searchlight has put Terrence Malick's long-awaited The Tree of Life on the calendar, scheduling the film for a May 27 release. The move offers a strong indication that the movie will travel to the Cannes Film Festival, which opens earlier in May. (There were rumors Malick would be there last year, but the film was not finished.)" A few days later a poster and an official synopsis of the film were released:

We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does, with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world’s way of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

Framing this story is that of adult Jack, a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our world’s preparation, each thing appears a miracle — precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.

Posters 3, 4, and 5
Tree of Life Poster Number ThreeTree of Life Poster Number FourTree of Life Poster Number Five
The Tree of Life trailer was first revealed in conjunction with the release of the Black Swan in the first week of December: "Father, Mother, always you wrestle inside me." Flaunt Magazine described "the trailer rolling out three names written in the same size, scrolling across a black, blank screen that can't help but be read by the mind as, "One, two, who?" The 'who?' is Jessica Chastain. Wow! An announced date, a synopsis, a poster, and a trailer? It seemed for the first time that Tree of Life was a reality! Another poster was released in January 2011.

March 2011 was a very busy month for Tree of Life news. We learned that the film runtime is two hours and eighteen minutes. A few days later, the visual effects supervisor confirmed in an interview that there were dinosaurs in the film. The interview was picked up in several other on-line reports, but then it was taken down from everywhere. However, it still piqued the interest of those who read it. After that several sources reported and displayed 72 new production images, but they also disappeared almost immediately.

Then the announcement came that Tree of Life was premiering at the Cannes Festival in May just before the theater release date. Beginning on March 28, there was a rapid series of developments regarding the controversial announcement that the film would release in the United Kingdom on May 4th, ahead of both Cannes and the North American release. But on April 12 word came from Summit Entertainment that "The information regarding the May 4th UK release is incorrect. Icon Film Distribution Ltd. does not have the right to distribute The Tree of Life in the UK, as it is in default of its agreement. The matter is pending before an arbitration tribunal in Los Angeles."

Tree of Life Dinosaur
The Dinosaur Photo
There came news of a third Tree of Life poster--and this one had a dinosaur on it! (This poster was followed later by two international posters). In early April, The Tree of Life put up an interesting and interactive Tree of Life Website. One can click steps on either the father's way or the mother's way to see comments and brief clips from the film. Read each caption and then click the full screen feature. Following this, Rope of Silicon received and posted twenty-five new images from The Tree of Life, some of which were the same images taken down in March. That same month, we learned about the soundtrack to be released on May 24. The cover is similar to the second Tree of Life poster, and the full tracklist is: Childhood, Circles, Clouds, River, Awakening, Emergence of Life, Light & Darkness, Good & Evil, Motherhood, City of Glass, Fatherhood, Temptation, and Skies. See a one minute-eight second clip of the three boys chasing their mother with a lizard while their father is on a trip.

The first review of Tree of Life came from a French site. An English translation was posted by The Film Stage on April 29--more than two weeks before the Cannes Festival--and is excerpted here. It was very positive and exciting:

We may indeed find the film too Christian, close in its message to the beautiful sermon of the elder in Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”, which will surely bother many Parisian critics and intellectuals. We may find the movie sometimes long and obscure, like “2001" for example. One is reminded of Kubrick’s film by several shots and a cosmic sequence where millions of years disappear in a single cut, with the universe and the planets completing human history.

But, at the end of the screening, you sit there, frozen in your seat, and you understand that you cannot reproach this film, because it is beautiful, even sublime and very moving. The story is an anti-plot, there is no conflict, and the emphatic meaning of the film eludes analysis and discussion. This movie is a little like Spielberg, but deeper and more beautiful.

The actors are truer than true, Malick’s direction shows them so completely naturally that it makes you forget that you are watching fiction. The images mesmerize you with the strength and poetry they inspire. But that is not the best part. The best part is that you’ll rediscover your feelings of childhood like never before in film. You will see, laugh, run, grow and marvel like the child you were. You will literally rediscover the world…

The Cannes Film Festival

Finally, almost unbelievably, it was May 16--the day of the Cannes Film Festival premier of The Tree of Life. For many of us it was like we were little children and Christmas had finally arrived. The initial reaction to the screening was surprising. The end of the film was attended by both boos and cheers. There was disagreement as to which was stronger. We were told that boos are normal from Cannes audiences, but in this case the first reports set a pattern. It became apparent in the reviews that followed immediately after the premier. Some loved the movie; some hated it.

Among the positive reviewers was Roger Ebert, excerpted here:

Terrence Malick's new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence. I believe it stands free from conventional theologies, although at its end it has images that will evoke them for some people...

Not long after its beginning we apparently see the singularity of the Big Bang, when the universe came into existence. It hurtles through space and time, until it comes gently to a halt in a small Texas town in the 1950s...

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience...

What Malick does in "The Tree of Life" is create the span of lives. Of birth, childhood, the flush of triumph, the anger of belittlement, the poison of resentment, the warmth of forgiving. And he shows that he feels what I feel, that it was all most real when we were first setting out, and that it will never be real in that way again. In the face of Hunter McCracken, who plays Jack as a boy, we see the face of Sean Penn, who plays him as a man. We see fierceness and pain. We see that he hates his father and loves him. When his father has a talk with him and says, "I was a little hard on you sometimes," he says, "It's your house. You can do what you want to." And we realize how those are not words of anger but actually words of forgiveness. Someday he will be the father. It will not be so easy.

Many reviewers were very positive; some were effusive. They praised the scope, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, the technique, the editing, the philosophical reflection, and other points. On the other hand, others complained that the film was confusing, boring, unfocused, indulgent, lengthy, pretentious, and meaningless. They also disapproved of the religious-spiritual aspects of the film. However, quite a number of people remarked that even though the film was unsatisfying at the first viewing, one tended to reflect on it afterward and arrive at a more positive conclusion. Some had the opinion that a second viewing was called for in order to better experience it.

However, despite the partially negative press, The Tree of Life won the festivals top award, the Palme d'Or! After that, the movie played in a number of other film festivals.

The Tree of Life in Theaters

The dichotomy among reviewers continued as the film was released gradually to increasing numbers of theaters between May 27 and July 8, 2011. As the movie was released, public opinion was also mixed. Some adored Tree of Life and some were completely confused by it. Tree of Life came to my city on June 17. At the end of my viewing, there were no boos, but there were only two who applauded--myself and someone farther behind me in the theater, but we were enthusiastic! As I was leaving, I heard a number of people make comments like: 'Can someone tell me what that movie was about?' As the release expanded to new theaters, there began to be reports of walk-outs and actual disgruntlement. One can get an idea of the balance of reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, which summarizes that critics gave the film an average of 8.1 of 10; top critics gave 8.4 of 10; and audience reviews gave 7.0 of 10.

Despite mixed responses, box office receipts per theater were very impressive. The following information is taken from data reported on Box Office Mojo. The chart shows the average receipts per theater for Tree of Life and the number one movie for that week. In each case, the number one movie was in its first week. The last column shows average receipts for the number one movie in its sixth week.

Week Date Rank Theaters Average Number 1 Movie Average 6th Week Average
1 May 27 #15 4 $123,447 The Hangover Part II $28,600 $1448
2 June 3 #13 20 $30,915 X-Men $15,400 $1740
3 June 10 #11 47 $17,596 Super 8 $10,950 $1350
4 June 17 #11 114 $10,210 Green Lantern $13,935 $906
5 June 24 #12 215 $6,177 Cars 2 $16,072 $1332
6 July 1 #15 228 $4,686 Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon $24,271 $1665

The seventh week of Tree of Life was supposed to be a wide release, but the total theaters reported were only 237 and the film dropped to #17 for the week with weekly revenues of $793,706 to bring the seven week total to $9,014,467. We could find no announcement explaining why there was no general release or whether the general release was to come later. As the weeks continued with no wide release, it became apparent that, while the average per theater held up well for an aging movie, the total receipts for the film were going to be much lower than what we at Chastain Central anticipated.

In week #11, Tree of Life was no longer on the top twenty list, but neither were Hangover, Super 8, nor Green Lantern.

Week Date Rank Theaters Average Domestic to Date
7 July 8 #17 237 $3349 $9,014,467
8 July 15 #17 235 $2667 $10,090,489
9 July 22 #16 230 $2415 $11,038,150
10 July 29 #20 196 $1699 $11,685,371
11 August 5 #23 170 $1500 $12,158,119
12 August 12 #33 118 $1347 $12,472,585
13 August 19 #37 96 $1248 $12,693,868
14 August 26 #41 97 $846 $12,852,427
15 September 2 #48 86 $925 $12,988,672
16 September 9 #52 62 $760 $13,090,521
17 September 16 #55 41 $861 $13,150,733
18 September 23 #57 39 $814 $13,205,306
19 September 30 #67 29 $612 $13,246,069
20 October 7 #75 11 $897 $13,279,566
21 October 14 #88 6 $957 $13,292,167
22 October 21 #86 4 $1,537 $13,303,319

After October 21, The Tree of Life was no longer on the charts. The Blu-ray was released October 11, 2011. Tree of Life opened on May 18, 2011 in several European markets and continued to expand to other foreign markets; as of February 1, 2012 total worldwide receipts were $58,000,000. The largest foreign receipts were France ($8.9 million), Japan ($6.2 million), Spain ($4.6 million), and Italy ($3.8 million).

The theater version of The Tree of Life is 138 minutes. The initial cut of the movie was about eight hours, and there are reports that Malick is editing a six-hour release that will include more of Jack's childhood. Mystery continues.

Awards Won by The Tree of Life

The very first viewing of The Tree of Life was at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011. The film was both praised and booed by critics, but it won the festival's top award -- the Palme d'Or. It was the first of many awards presented to The Tree of Life over the next ten months. Jessica was awarded Best Actress by the Dublin Film Critics Circle and Best Supporting Actress by the Satellite Awards, the Chicago Film Critics Association, and the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. She also received the Gucci Award for Women in Cinema at the Venice International Film Festival for Tree of Life and numerous awards for her work in Tree of Life together with her other movies of 2011.

The Tree of Life was nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, and Cinematography; it, but did not take any home. Other awards for The Tree of Life include:

Jessica About The Tree of Life

Jessica in Tree of Life(E! Online) Chastain isn't allowed to reveal too much, but that doesn't stop her from talking about Mr. Pitt. "I remember I was working and he came to set," she told me at Elle's Women in Hollywood event, where she was given the Calvin Klein Collection Emerging Star Spotlight Award. "I was like, OK, I'm going to meet Brad Pitt! I was trying to be like it's no big deal—we just have to play husband and wife!" Turns out she had nothing to worry about. "He was so chill, nice and funny and cool," she said. "He's like a normal dude." Even so, she did have to be careful. "I had to keep calming myself, like don't geek out," Chastain said. "Yes, this is Brad Pitt, but you have to be normal. At least I didn't scare him." So did she get to lock lips with Angelina Jolie's main man? She smiled, "I can't tell you that." Jessica in Tree of Life

(Collider) In the beginning it was like, ‘Oh my God when is this movie [coming out]? I just want everyone to know what I know about this film!’ The great thing about—I’ve done ten films so far, I’m about to go shoot my eleventh, and no one has seen really anything that I’ve done. The great thing about that is it’s allowed me to go meet directors, and them not have the baggage in their mind of a performance that I’ve done. They can actually, because they haven’t seen it, they actually go ‘Okay I can see her’ as the character I’m about to do. Jessica in Tree of LifeSo I’m excited for everyone to see Tree of Life, but the great thing about it taking so long to come out is that it’s given me a lot of opportunity to do characters that are different from the character that I play in Tree of Life.

(Flaunt Magazine) Having only seen [The Tree of Life] herself a few days ago, even though filming concluded close to three years ago, Chastain is still gleaming with a kind of pride and excitement about that one picture...“It’s a very strange thing to be in the best movie you’ll ever be in at the beginning of your career. It’s good because I got to be in a movie like that and most people don’t ever get that. This is a movie that in 30 years, when I’m doing plays, someone will come up to me and be like, ‘You were in Tree of Life.’”

See also:
Jessica Chastain - Actress
Jessica Chastain News
Jessica Chastain Film Reviews

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Director Terrence Malick

Director Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick

Some directors churn out films, but including The Tree of Life Malick has directed only five movies in thirty-eight years:

 Terrence Malick2011 Tree of Life
2005 The New World
1998 The Thin Red Line
1978 Days of Heaven
1973 Badlands

His former films achieved considerable acclaim and built for Malick quite a reputation, so his Tree of Life has generated tremendous anticipation. It was planned as a follow-up to Days of Heaven, released in 1978. There are several common characteristics shared by Malick's movies. He favors period settings, focuses a lot on nature, and uses narration to move the film along.

 Terrence Malick and Martin Sheen in Badlands
Malick and Sheen
Malick's first film Badlands stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. Based on a true story, it is about a young couple who become serial killers; see Roger Ebert's 1973 review. Days of Heaven, with Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, and Sam Shepard, is about another young couple, living before WWI, who leave Chicago for Texas. They come upon a young farmer and difficulties ensue. In Roger Ebert's Review, he says, "Days of Heaven is above all one of the most beautiful films ever made."

After an absence of twenty years (filled with rumor and speculation), Malick released his third film The Thin Red Line, about Guadalcanal in WWII, which contains a host of well known actors such as Nolte, Penn, Cusack, Harrelson, Travolta, and Clooney; Roger Ebert's Review. The New World, concerning Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, stars Colin Farrell, Q'orianka Kilcher, and Christopher Plummer; Roger Ebert's Review.

 Malick in Badlands
Malick in Badlands
In addition to directing, Malick also produced a number of films and appeared in three, including Badlands.

With Malick's tendency to wait years between films, it was a bit surprising to learn that he completed another film since The Tree of Life and that it may be released in 2012. It is yet untitled, but it is confirmed that Jessica Chastain has a part in it. Does this then mean that Jessica Chastain and Terrence Malick fans have another round of waiting and suspense in store?

In various interviews, Jessica made statements about Terry Malick:

 Terrence Malick

  • "Terry really is the last silent film director," Chastain said of the enigmatic auteur. "When sound came along, a lot of directors began to keep the camera stationary and it became more about blocking and less about movement. But Terry is always moving, and you always have to move with him." (Los Angeles Times)

  • She also said that Malick was taking a casual approach to the script. If there were seven pages of dialogue, and she didn't recall all of them, Malick would tell her to "just say what you remember." Fidelity to Malick's script, or the absence thereof, was a theme on the set of the 2008 shoot. As Malick was casting the children in the movie, Chastain pointed out that a particular actor wouldn't work because the script called for a 5-year-old and the kid in question was too old. Malick's casual response: "Oh, Jessica, no one reads the script." (Los Angeles Times)

  • [Jessica] talks about her experience working with Malick. Says she filmed a couple of days on his most recently filmed movie starring Ben Affleck: “I knew the script. I knew the story. Of course, every night he would give me pages to memorize for the next day, and sometimes when you’re on set you keep collaborating and he’s constantly giving you things to say and ideas to work with. But yeah he works in a very free form way. I actually went to that set and I played a couple days in Terry’s new film, and who knows if I’ll even end up being in Terry’s new film. But that was even a different experience than Tree. I think the great thing about Terry is he continues to evolve as a filmmaker and as a person so you can’t ever say ‘This is the way he makes a movie’ because, you know I did four months on Tree and then I went to his new set and it was kind of a different process. Similar, but still he’s always growing as a filmmaker. (Collider)

     Terrence Malick

  • "The beautiful thing about Terry is that he captures memory in a way that I've never seen before, like if you want to show a life and something happening, generally you'll see a flashback and it's a scene. With Terrence, instead of a scene it'll be an image, the perfect image, it's captured in a way where he makes the perfect film. It's hard to explain, but in The Tree of Life he has created a lifetime, this journey without big long scenes. I'm a big Terrence Malick fan." (The Independent)

  • [Terry Malick is] "probably one of the greatest teachers I’ll ever know. A great teacher for filmmaking, for acting, but also and mostly, a great teacher of what it is to be a great human being. I value him so much" (Flaunt Magazine)

  • "He's not a recluse, he's just reclusive to the press. It's actually a beautiful way of living. He believes that everyone's involved in making the film and he doesn't want to take all the credit. That's what I think it is, anyway, even though I believe he deserves all of the credit." (Female First)

    Terrence Malick also had a comment about Jessica. When Jeff Nichols was casting for Take Shelter, Malick said to him regarding Jessica, "Jeff, she's the greatest actress I've ever worked with."


    Sources for The Tree of Life can be found at Jessica Chastain News

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