It is rare for a filmmaker to cause violent opposing reactions among film viewers; Terrence Malick is one of these filmmakers. The Illinois born recluse auteur represents different things to different people. To some, his films mean meandering pacing, boredom and lack of focus. To others they mean poetic dialogue, philosophical questions and extreme beauty.
I fall into the latter camp. In fact he is my favourite filmmaker; and he has not only changed the way I look at cinema but in some ways, he has changed how I look at life.
While it has been frustrating waiting for Malick’s upcoming film The Tree of Life to be released, as fans, we can almost be certain that the wait will be well worth it. Over the next week this site will be dedicated to the films of Terrence Malick. I will be posting articles analyzing each of his films and his career.
Malick has always fascinated me, in part due to his extremely private and reclusive behaviour, but strangely enough, also because of his lack of output over the last four decades.
I wouldn’t say I truly saw one of his films until high school (I had seen The Thin Red Line when I was 10). As my love for film grew, I decided to watch The New World, Malick’s latest film. It took me by storm: a film personal and poetic, yet grand in scope–this being the one thing that ties all his films together.
Interestingly, having seen all of his films over the course of several years, they seemed to be all very similar in style. It was only after watching all his films over the course of last week, that I realized how different each one really was.
His first film, Badlands, tells the story of a misguided love between Kit and Holly. Two people who come together following a chance encounter and end in a country-wide killing spree. It meanders instead of flows, but in a good way. It is not a perfect film, but it is one of the most impressive debut films from any director.
With the shortest break between films in his career, after five years, Malick delivered Days of Heaven. This is a film Roger Ebert called “above all one of the most beautiful films ever made”– a sentiment echoed by film critics and fans alike. In this film, Malick doesn’t rely on plot, in fact he threw the script away quite early into filming, choosing instead to let the actors find the story. It is a timeless film, and a classic in every sense of the word. Even now, not once does it show its age–a real cinematic feat.
Unfortunately for film fans everywhere, following the release of Days of Heaven, Malick disappeared. People discussed where he could be; writing a play, working on a film or dying.
While he is very much alive, we still don’t know exactly why and where he disappeared. Finally, in the early nineties, after nearly twenty years of seclusion he returned on the scene. This time, every actor in Hollywood wanted to work with him, and nearly all of them did in his epic, philosophical masterpiece, The Thin Red Line.
This was a film that could be marketed easily, yet could be extremely difficult for audiences to stomach. It takes Heidegger’s philosophy and puts it into the context of WW2. The film does not focus on one character; in fact it has no plot to speak of. While this is jarring at first, due to the mastery of the film-maker I see this film as one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history. It is a film that requires unwavering concentration to grasp fully, however, the rewards are shockingly powerful and it can possibly have a monumental effect on the viewer.
After work on a project about Che Guevara fell through, production began on The New World. Based on a script he finished in the late 70’s, The New World is a romanticized look at John Smith and Pocahontas.
Criterion Cast co-host James McCormick described Malick’s films by saying “[his] films are all like a fine wine. They get better with every year that passes on by.” This statement is true about The New World. Often considered to be his least accomplished work, The New World, simply needs several more years until it will be fully appreciated. It is his most stylistically extreme film, and as such needs more time to be understood and appreciated.
Strangely, Malick has only now entered into his most active period of filmmaking. With long-delayed The Tree of Life on schedule for a 2011 release, and work having just begun on a yet untitled project, Malick is enjoying a creative output unheard of thus far in his career.