Terrence MalickWhat's the best way to get an auteur to finish his long-awaited film? A deadline, of course! Everyone needs 'em, even (or especially) Terrence Malick, who has made four feature-length films since 1973. The highly respected, meticulous, and reclusive director has been teasing us with Tree of Life for what seems like ages. In 2007, the late Heath Ledger was in talks to star alongside Sean Penn. As Christopher Campbell pointed out, Tree of Life has been kicking around Malick's brain since 1978.

Would it be done by 2009? In time for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival? What about the New York Film Festival? For the 2010 Oscar season? The answer has been no, no, and no, but maybe now that Fox Searchlight has bought the US rights to the flick, it will put a fire under Malick to finish what is sure to be yet another masterpiece.

The film stars Penn, Brad Pitt, and Jessica Chastain; Pitt is also one of the producers. Fox Searchlight describes it as "the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's chronicling the journey of the eldest son, Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn), through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years - trying to reconcile the complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith."

There's an excellent article on PopMatters about the gestation of this film and more tantalizing tidbits about this epic story, its cryptic background, and a delicious description from Apparition Films (which was once attached to distribute).

As PopMatters points out, Brad Pitt did give Empire some exclusive details on the film earlier this spring. He told the UK mag, "It's this little tiny story of a kid growing up in the 50s with a mother who's grace incarnate and a father who's oppressive in nature. So he is negotiating his way through it, defining who he's gonna be when he grows up. And that is juxtaposed with a little, tiny micro-story of the cosmos, from the beginning of the cosmos to the death of the cosmos. So that's where the sci-fi – or the sci-fact – comes in."

I'm excited. Are you excited? Get excited, people. You have until 2011 to work yourself into a lather.