Reflections on Terrence Malick

Art and Literature, Film Diary, Film Review

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Last night Terrence Malick won the Palm d’Or at Cannes Film Festival for his newest film The Tree of Life, one of the few times that Cannes has managed to get it right, been waiting eagerly to see The Tree of Life  for more than two years now since the news of the new Malick film came out,  yet to see it! I know it is the best film of 2011, but can you judge a film before you see it? Yes, for I know Tree of Life is a masterpiece because Malick always make masterpieces,  since his first film Badlands (1973), Malick has made only 5 films in the span of almost 40 years and every single of those film is on class on their own, like Chaplin, he is a perfectionist.


Terrence Malick is an auteur (Bazin would agree), he is his film. When one think of Malick one think of his film and not a person, the man is a mystery, he has never given an interview nor written anything about his art, he didn’t even show up at Cannes to get his prize, all we know about his is through his films, Malick exist only in the realm of Cinema.

Days of Deaven

Malick is a philosopher more than a filmmaker, his films combined is single body of work with key signature styles e found in all his films: He uses philosophical theme as narrative tool through use of voice-overs, the theme of love, loyalty, truth and death. The change of narrative from first person into multiple and at times third person narrative. Time and space is used within a single content as everything is happening now, be it past, present or future, montage above everything else.

The Thin Red Line

Acting as gestures, people in a Malick film don’t act, they behave, gestures  above psychology. They don’t talk, they recite. Nature as reflecting the emotions of the characters. Human relation to nature and the nature of the human nature with its surrounding, a tree is not a tree in a Malick film but rather it has it own form and life (The New World),  the being as one not as many, even IT has a life in a Malick film, think of the House in Days of Heaven, it has a life of its own.

The New World

Above everything else, the multiple exposure of the audience into the rich narrative; images over images, sound over sound, music over music, narration over dialogue and dialogue as prose rather than a narrative tool to move forward the story. Within a single frame of a Malick film you may have multiple action taking place in term of narrative and style.  That is why it would take you multiple viewing in order to get a full exposure to a Malick film. Malick shows far more than it tell, visual and sound above everything else. I must have watched his films (total of 4 so far)  a total of 11 times and more to come for sure.


Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

Badlands (1973)

My first encounter with Malick was with his first film, Badlands (1973). It was in 2001 that first I watched Badlands, I was not impressed with the film at first. Checked out a poor quality VHS tape of the film from a local library with another film, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (you could only checkout 2 VHS). I first watched Lawrence of Arabia, blown away by the film, then came the turn of Badlands, and my first encounter with Malick was that of a disappointment, maybe it was the quality or maybe it was my naivety toward Art Cinema back then, I could only watch the first 20 minutes of the film (thinking now, the opposite is true, ranking Badlands way above Lawrence of Arabia).  Left Malick alone for a while. It was Godard who made me discover Malick again, for after watching Godad’s Pierrot Le Fou (for god know how many times!) did then I went back to  Badlands, few critic mention it, but there is a similar story-line between   Badlands and Pierrot Le Fou and there is no doubt that Malick was influenced in some way by Godard: Both film evolve around two lovers as they commit a crime, away from everything, on the run they encounter various people and incidents,  everything is against then, find comfort in nature, away from civilization only to get back into it, end up separated, both film are poetic, stylistic and use nonlinear narrative. So, checking back on my film diary, I went back to Malick on February 12, 2004 to see  Badlands again,  so impressed by the film this time that I watched it three times within two days.

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

From Badlands to Days of Heaven in Malick’s career span 5 years, but I in my film diary it span only two days, it was in February 14, 2004  that I noted watching Days of Heaven. Nowadays you could get Days of Heaven on gorgeous Blu-ray DVD from Criterion Collection, but in 2004 the only version available on DVD was a bad transferred print from Paramount, the version I watched was even pan and scanned, cropped for a 4:3 TV screen, imaging watching a film that was shot on  70mm on  such quality. Yet, watching a massacred version of Days of Heaven did not take away from the greatness of the film, one of the few films that has the capability to capture poetry into a visual/lyrical form of images within a fictional narrative.

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

It has been said that after making  Days of Heaven, Malick left Hollywood for France to work various jobs to support himself, he was gone for two decades  but back with another epic poem, the anti-war masterpiece The Thin Red Line. Twenty year later for Malick to make another film, watching if after Days of Heaven, you never could tell that the man was away for so long.

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2006)

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

The New World (2005)

Finally, I had a chance to watch The New World on the first day of its opening in Nashville, TN.  One of the few times that impatiently I waited for a film to open in a theater. How did it fell to watch a Malick film on the big screen? That is a question that could be answered by watching  a Malick film on a big screen, so if you ever get a chance to do so, never miss it. Eagerly waiting to see The Tree of Life.


8 thoughts on “Reflections on Terrence Malick

  1. So what about the danish director Lars Von Trier and his movie “Melancholia”? And all the fuss he has made in Cannes talking about Hitler and nazi’? I saw the movie thursday night in Cph/DK and it was fantastic. Kirsten Dunst made a glorious figure.

  2. I never liked Lars Von Trier, in my opinion the guy is way overrated. I was not surprised by his recent comments at Cannes (which is way blown out of proportion by the Media), he is a provocateur, he only make films in order to provoke the audience through manipulation; the more explicit the image, the more stylistic, the more exaggerated, the more your audience is provoked, his comments is another provocation. I don’t know what truth can come out from a man who once wrote a manifesto declaring Dogme95 as the only truth in cinema but soon left for Hollywood to make the “U.S. trilogy” which is anything but Dogme 95, not to mention his later films. I have not seen Melancholia, but his last film, Antichrist had to be among the worst film of 2009, Trier went as far as to dedicate the film to Andrei Tarkovsky. Poor Tarkovsky, he must be rolling in his grave.

  3. how right you are – Antichrist is disgusting! But everybody I know who has seen that movie says it is great – maybe they don’t dare to admit how it made them feel sick? I don’t like a director who I believe speculates in his audience’s feeling of being compelled to praise what “the majority” or “the experts” declares to be praiseworthy… better to trust in your own judgement. Trier’s Medea however I liked (but how much of it is his own?)

    1. Media was good, maybe only %33 on it is Trier, the rest is: %33 goes to Euripides, it is based on his play and %33 goes for the great Carl Theodor Dreyer for it was his adaption the ended up on the screen. And %1 for chance 🙂

  4. Cool write-up. I was going to do a similar one. Malick is definitely one of the most unique auteurs out there right now and “Tree of Life” is probably his most ambitious film thus far. Glad we don’t have to wait twenty years to see his next offering.

  5. Melancholia was one of the most insincere, and thus worst, films I have ever seen.
    I have read comments on that film to the effect of comparing it to Tarkovsky… (!) I can remember few (non-direct) things that have ever made me so upset.
    He belongs to that category of self-proclaimed artists that see art purely in terms of “originality” (whatever that means), seeing success in that goal largely in terms of how far that have offended the right people, and thus pandering to the whole system they claim to want to overturn.
    I am on to something here?

    1. Oh, you are to something here, and rightly so; that what Trier is trying to say in Melancholia, has already been said almost a century ago by Marcel Duchamp, in his Fountain. There is nothing new nor original in Trier’s Melancholia, for, Duchamp’s Fountain came before it 🙂

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