You have certainly seen a Tree of Life at some point (not the movie; the diagram of the evolution of species). Originally conceived of by Lamarck (though there is some interesting debate on this), it was Darwin himself who popularized the concept, first in his notebook, and next as the only image in The Origin of the Species. Though they have inspired beautiful illustrations, and a large and fascinating web project to map the tree, trees of life remain problematic since taxonomy can be complicated. One truly stunning way of redrawing the tree is the Hillis Plot, which maps 3,000 species by genetic similarity. You can print out the amazing illustration here, but, even though the Plot only contains 0.18% of named species, it needs to be 1.5 meters square to be legible. The Hillis Plot has been appearing in art, notably (and meta-rifficly) this one carved into an English oak, and, of course, tattoos.
For Roger Ebert, it's a prayer that made him "more alert to the awe of existence." For Rober Koehler, it's a kitschy New Age con. For Richard Brody, it perfectly captures the essence of a generation by depicting a character thinking "back to the musings and fantasies of childhood, which are the product of a wondrous and fantastic view of science formed by popular-science books for children and by the commercial artists whose illustrations adorned them." For Stephanie Zacharek, it's "a gargantuan work of pretension." For Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, it's "a creation myth in the guise of a crypto-autobiography" that invents a universe of its own only to destroy it. For J. Hoberman, it's lifeless and dull, "essentially a religious work and, as such, may please the director's devotees, cultists, and apologists." It spent thirty years in development, three in editing and, yes, it contains dinosaurs. The Tree of Life, written and directed by famously reclusive Zoolander fan and "JD Salinger of American movies" Terrence Malick , won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Tomorrow, it comes out in the United States. [more inside]
Festooning The Tree Of Life. Carl Zimmer describes new research on lateral gene transfer which makes the Tree of Life look more like a Gordian Knot.