Here's What We Know About 'The Tree of Life' Out of Cannes

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The last time we updated you on The Tree of Life, the super-secret, super-delayed new film from reclusive director Terrence Malick, the only thing we knew for sure was that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn would be in it (possibly as father-and-son, probably in different eras), salamanders would be shown in close-up, and Oedipal longings would be hinted at. Rumors of dinosaurs remained unconfirmed.

After the film's world premiere at Cannes today (it opens in the U.S. on May 27), we know more. Kind of. It's that kind of movie. Among the known unknowns to come out of Cannes.

Yes, there are dinosaurs

The rumors are true, Terrence Malick has made a dinosaur movie. What's more, writes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, "they are pretty good dinosaurs, the one thing in Tree of Life that impart a genuine sense of wonder." They're also the "weirdest of all"the sights seen during the film's "bizarre symphonic passages of non-narrative spectacle," says The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw

Brad Pitt is, in fact, Sean Penn's dad

Pitt is a strict Texan who raises three boys in 1950s Waco, one of whom grows up to be Sean Penn. two son grows up to be an emotionally sealed-off architect who looks like Sean Penn. He flashes back to his boyhood in Texas, where Pitt pits the boys against one another, while mother (Jessica Chastain), is "constantly twirling about in ’50s sundresses," snarks Zacharek. (The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Appelo has a much different take on Chastain, proclaiming her "[a] new comet the film will launch onto the film scene"

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It has a lot on its mind

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says Malick's movie "is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection. Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells agrees it's "hauntingly beautiful and immensely ambitious and spiritually directed," so much so that it doesn't matter that Malick gets trapped in  "impressionistic quicksand" for the next two hours

The initial response was mixed

The BBC reported "a mixture of boos and applause" after the first press screening. But in what proportions and at what intervals? Deadline's Pete Hammond recalls "a smattering of loud boos when the picture went to black at the end but then good (but not spectacular) applause once Malick's name came up on screen," USA Today's Claudia Puig deems it a "mostly positive response, with applause in greater volume than scattered boos."The AP describes the scene like a showdown between the Sharks and the Jets (or maybe just  auteur theory and New Criticism) with "a scattering of harsh, prolonged boos, answered by enthusiastic applause from others at the press screening."

The Mysterious Mr. Malick Rules All

There wasn't a bigger star in Cannes this week than Malick. Zacharek reports that today's press conference with Chastain and Pitt was "almost as hot a ticket as the screening itself," on the hopes the director would make an appearance. He didn't. He also wasn't at the screen. Pitt didn't think that mattered. "I don't know why it's accepted that people who make things in our business are now being expected to sell them," he declared. "I think he wants to focus on the making of, the not the real estate. It is an odd thing for an artist to make something and then be a salesman." Producer Sarah Green agreed "Mr. Malick is very shy...very shy."

This prompted one member of the press, apparently under the impression the director was a cyborg, to ask the  "Does he laugh...Does he like food?"Pitt said yes, "he even goes to the bathroom."As with all things Malick, we have to take his word for it

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.