Father: Brad Pitt.
Mother: Jessica Chastain.
Adult Eldest Son: Sean Penn.
Eldest Son (Jack): darker-haired, big eared, occasionally mean boy.
Middle Son: dirty blonde, artist (guitar and painting), gentle boy.
Youngest Son: sandy brown hair.
Scenes, in sequential order:
The Two Ways: A prism flame in the darkness. Voice: “Brother. Mother. It was they who led me to your door.” The way of grace and the way of nature.
Grief: Mother finds out that middle son has been killed in war; calls father and tells him. (Mother) “I just want to die, to be with him.” (Woman in blue dress, the Mother’s mother) “You still got the other two.” Father expresses regret for not showing more love.
The City: Adult eldest son (Sean Penn) wakes, lights candle, says “I see the child I was, I see my brother: true, kind, he died when he was 19.” At work: “I just feel like I’m bumping into walls.” Adult eldest son apologizes to Father: “I think about him [middle brother] everyday.” Eldest son: “How did I lose you, wandered.” Middle son: “Find me.” Eldest son thinks of his mother: “How did she bear it?”
Creation: Mother: “Lord. Why? Where were you?” Response in evolutionary imagery and music: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (quote from Job, from beginning).” Mother: “Who are we to you? Answer me.” The story of creation. Mother: “We cry to you. My soul. My son. Hear us.” Arid land and water, cells form and fuse, biology and chemistry. Jellyfish. Water plants. Sea life. Salamander/fish. Tree. Beach. Wounded dinosaur. Blood. Sharks. Stingray. Heart. Anatomy. Forest. Dinosaur scene: grace and nature. Mother: “Light of my life. I search for you. I hope. My child.” Eldest son: “You spoke to me through her. You spoke with me from the sky, the trees.”
Innocence: Eldest son: “When did you first touch my heart?” Mother and Father lay together. Mother is pregnant. Eldest son is born. Infant. Baptism. Eldest son grows. Middle son is born. Baby eldest son tries to hurt infant middle son. Mother: “You’ll be grown before that tree is tall.” Boundaries. Halloween. Mother (pointing to the sky): “That’s where God lives.” Sons grow. Youngest son is born.
Jack is now 12.: Eldest son: “I found a dinosaur bone.” Boys play. Dinner. Brahms. Father: “Do you love your father?” Eldest son: “Yes sir.” Eldest son to mother: “Who do you love the most?” Eldest son prays to his mother. Flash forward to adult eldest brother. Father at work.
Mother: Wake up, with ice cubes. Boys in town, mother helps criminal, give him some water. Eldest son prays. Schoolyard playground.
Father: Wake up, pulls off covers. Father plays church organ. Father plays with sons with water hose. Don’t slam the door. Pulling weeds. Father gives advice. The story of Job at church: “Misfortune befalls the good as well; we can’t protect ourselves against it, we can’t protect our children…” Father calls Frank Johnson “the fourth person the Holy Trinity.” Father: “the world lives by trickery… you wanna succeed you can’t be too good.” Father: “Hit me!” Meal. Music. Jealousy, contradictions. Father to eldest son: “I remember when you were born.”
School: Bell ringing. Teasing girl, flirting.
Drowning: Swimming pool. Emergency whistle. Father gives CPR. Funeral. Cemetery. Youngest son asks mother: “Will you die too?” Eldest son imagines and asks: “Where were you? You let a boy die. You’ll let anything happen. Why should I be good, if you aren’t.”
Weeds: Yard work and money. Embrace. Back to work. Father: “You can’t say ‘I can’t.’” Eldest son: “Why does he hurt us? Our father?” Father walks back into the house.
“Be quiet.”: Eldest son, to himself: “He lies.” Dinner. Middle son (quietly): “Be quiet.” Father: “What’d you say?” Eldest son: “Leave him alone!” Scene explodes. Mother and father struggle, Mother weeps. Clown. Attic and tricycle.
Dad’s away: Father is away on business. Sons tease Mothers with lizard. Mimic Father. Frolic with Mother. Mother: “Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.”
Mrs. Kimball: Eldest son goes into Mrs. Kimball’s house and room and digs through her drawers. Takes a slip. Runs and disposes of it in river. Mother sees when he returns home, upset. Eldest son to Mother: “I can’t talk to you. Don’t look at me.” Eldest son, to himself: “What have I started? What Have I done?”
“I trust you.”: Eldest son tells middle son to stick a wire hanger in a lamp socket. Middle son: “I trust you. (And then puts in finger, too.)” Sons horseplay in the yard.
I do what I hate.: Middle son paints with water colors. Eldest son destroys it. Mother calls him. Eldest son tells Mother: “No! I’m gonna do what I want. What do you know? You let him [Father] run all over you.” Eldest son asks himself: “How do I get back? Where they are.” Swimming hole.
Father returns: Father is greeted by middle and youngest son. Father went all around the world, all the way to China. Father orders food al dente and flirts with waitress at diner. Gives lessons. Father: “Don’t interrupt!” Eldest son to father: “It’s your house, you can kick me out if you want to. You’d like to kill me.” Eldest son wishes his Father was dead and considers killing him while he works under the car. Eldest son: “Please God kill him. Let him die. Get him out of here.” Eldest son yells at Father: “She [Mother] only loves me!”
BB gun: Eldest and middle sons ride bicycles to forest with BB gun. Shoot at things together. Eldest son tell middle son to put his finger over the end of the barrel. Middle brother does. Eldest son shoots. Middle brother runs away, in pain. Eldest son, to himself: “I do what I hate.” Eldest son kisses middle son’s arm, offers him a 2X4 to hit him. Middle son feigns and forgives. Eldest son, to himself: “What was it you showed me?” Eldest son shows kindness. Eldest son helps Father in the garden.
“They’re closing the plant.”: Father: “I wanted to be loved cause I was great. A big man. I’m nothing. Look… the glory around us. Trees. Birds. I lived in shame. I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory. I’m a foolish man.” Tells Mother that plant is closing and he can have no job or take a transfer to a job nobody wants. Father: “I never missed a day of work. Tithed every Sunday.” Eldest son: “Father. Mother. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.” Father apologizes to eldest son, son admits to being more like him than like his Mother. Father to eldest son: “You’re all I have, you’re all I want to have. My sweet boy.” Eldest and youngest sons cry together in a grassy field.
Moving away: Father packs car. Scolds eldest son. Eldest son plays with youngest brother through window. House is empty. Middle brother buries mementos in back yard. Mother: “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.” Car pulls away. Mother: “Do good to them.
Eternity: Mother: “Wonder. Hope.” Flash forward to mourning mother and blue candle lit by adult eldest brother. Adult eldest son ascends in an elevator. Adult eldest son: “Brother.” Adult eldest son walks through a doorway. Lava. “Keep us… guide us… till the end of time.” Eclipse. Eldest son: “Follow me.” Doors open. Adult eldest son meets himself as a child and follows himself. A grey beach. Sees youngest son. Oceans roar. Meets Mother. Embrace. Eclipse passes. Father. Sees middle son. Carries him. Father and middle son embrace. Mother and middle son meet. Mother weeps and fondles his face and holds him. Mother and Father kiss. Door opens. Sky darkens. Blue candle. White sands and light, masks falls away, middle son goes through door, mother lifts her hands to heaven and light. Mother: “I give him to you. I give you my son.” Sunflowers.
Was it a dream?: Adult eldest son descends and exits elevator smiles and sees glassy mirror-like skyscrapers. A suspension bridge and a river underneath. The prism flame in the darkness. Animals and insects chirping.
End titles: Credits roll.