When Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life hit movie theaters ten years ago today, the responses were either viscerally positive or viscerally negative. Some hailed it as an instant classic; others dismissed it as pretentious or indecipherable, with many people reportedly walking out of the theater mid-movie.
The critical response was mostly positive, but though it drew the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes, it still drew “boos” from scattered audience members when it premiered there and was panned by a handful of top critics. Audiences were even more divided: The Tree of Life still carries an unimpressive 60% audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
But the film’s divisiveness could very well have been an early sign of its greatness. Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction also drew boos at Cannes, and Citizen Kane—now widely regarded as the greatest film ever made—had a very rocky start. As the decades roll along, the passion in both directions may just cool and converge into a single response: admiration.