What Sean Penn Really Said About ‘The Tree of Life’


The French publication Le Figaro recently bacame the first to get a quote from Sean Penn on what he really thought of “The Tree of Life.” The excerpts that have leaked all over the internet suggest that Penn disapproved of the film and that Terrence Malick misled him about his participation with the project.

This is the Penn quote that has been circulating around: “I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

Prevalently, the excerpt has been reprinted over and over without completing the context. This is what else Penn said in that very same interview:

“But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved.”

I have no doubt that Penn is a cerebral thinker with an ever-expanding open mind. He’s an actor of craft over paychecks, and a champion of cinematic art. He is an enthusiast of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and the Russian film “Come and See” (1985), and a defender of film artists.

This is also the second film that Penn has made with Malick, following 1998’s “The Thin Red Line.” Penn said something to the effect that he took the part in Malick’s WWII film without reading the part. “It’s a part I would have done for nothing,” he said at the time. As someone who is curious about the artistic relationship between Malick and Penn, I wish a journalist would have actually asked Penn how much money he took for “The Tree of Life.” I wouldn’t be surprised if he only did it for expenses paid.

This can’t possibly be the end of it. I imagine that Penn will return to press eventually, when his agent has another project lined up that requires publicity, and then at that point make another statement in his reaction to “The Tree of Life,” which I feel is the most lavish avante-garde film in forty years. Penn makes a huge metaphorical imprint in his role, as a man in mid-life crisis over the doldrums of his industrial vocation and the joys of rural living he left behind in childhood.

Last and not least, maybe Penn’s emotional richness is still yet to be seen if there is indeed an extended 6-hour cut that Malick is working on. Will there be a future special perfectionist edition DVD, something along the lines of “The Tree of Life: The Outer Limits Galaxy Cut” or something? Like Kubrick, the meticulous and self-gratifying Malick likes tinkering with his own films for his own peculiar sake.

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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