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The Cinema of Terrence Malick

The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America

Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Terrence Malick
    Book Description:

    With 2005's acclaimed and controversialThe New World, one of cinema's most enigmatic filmmakers returned to the screen with only his fourth feature film in a career spanning thirty years. While Terrence Malick's work has always divided opinion, his poetic, transcendent filmic language has unquestionably redefined modern cinema, and with a new feature scheduled for 2008, contemporary cinema is finally catching up with his vision. This updated second edition ofThe Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of Americacharts the continuing growth of Malick's oeuvre, exploring identity, place, and existence in his films. Featuring two new original essays on his latest career landmark and extensive analysis ofThe Thin Red Line-Malick's haunting screen treatment of World War II-this is an essential study of a visionary poet of American cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85011-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Poetic Visions of America
    (pp. 1-13)
    Hannah Patterson

    The central protagonists in Terrence Malick’s films are caught up in, or driven by, a search: for a different kind of life, a sense of self, a reason for being, or a spiritual presence in the world. ‘The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life’, deliberates Binx Bolling, the dissatisfied hero of Walker Percy’sThe Moviegoer, a novel that Malick was at one time rumoured to be adapting for the screen. FromBadlands(1973) throughDays of Heaven(1978) andThe Thin Red Line(1998) toThe New World...

  6. CHAPTER ONE All Things Shining: The Struggle for Wholeness, Redemption and Transcendence in the Films of Terrence Malick
    (pp. 14-26)
    Ron Mottram

    Although this question is raised in one of the seminal works of nineteenth-century American thought and letters, it helps define the character and vision of Terrence Malick, who has avoided being swallowed up in the desperate enterprise of American commercial cinema and who has truly moved to the sound of a different drummer. That the result is the limited output of only four films over more than a quarter of a century simply reinforces the uniqueness of his vision and the seriousness of his purpose. The thoughtful consideration of philosophical, social and personal issues that is so evident in Malick’s...


    • CHAPTER TWO Two Characters in Search of a Direction: Motivation and the Construction of Identity in Badlands
      (pp. 27-39)
      Hannah Patterson

      Since its release,Badlandshas received limited critical attention, particularly in comparison to other generically similar films such as the earlierBonnie and Clyde(Arthur Penn, 1967), and more recent variantsWild at Heart(David Lynch, 1990),True Romance(Tony Scott, 1993) andNatural Born Killers(Oliver Stone, 1994). Critics who have offered comment agree that the central characters display unusually motiveless, seemingly surface or ‘blank’ personalities. They disagree, however, as to the validity and effectiveness of this mode of characterisation and any value that can subsequently be awarded the film.

      In an unfavourable review of the film, Pauline Kael explicitly refers...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Highway Kind: Badlands, Youth, Space and the Road
      (pp. 40-51)
      Neil Campbell

      Terrence Malick’sBadlands(1973) is a hybrid mix of youth rebellion text, road movie and western, drawing upon and interrogating these traditional forms to construct an ambiguous and provocative film that resists comforting resolutions or moral closure. Deliberately borrowing from these very American genres, the film’s dialogical structure invites its audience to experience and examine the, often contradictory, value systems and assumptions that constitute the mythic territories of frontier, youth and the road. Hence mobility and stasis, inside and outside, youth and age, work and adventure, individual and social, and several other such oppositions are engaged with and explored throughout...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Days of Heaven and the Myth of the West
      (pp. 52-62)
      Joan McGettigan

      Terrence Malick’s films share a fundamental insistence on challenging generic expectations in ways that can be puzzling and disturbing to viewers. RegardingBadlands(1973), for instance, Michael Filippidis argues that Malick employs the road movie framework and yet ‘defamiliarises and critiques its familiar coordinates’ (2000), and Marsha Kinder analyses the ways in which the film uses and expands the parameters of the outlaw couple genre (1974: 2–10). Malick himself has noted that the humour in the film ‘lies in Holly’s misestimation of her audience’, in that her voice-over rarely addresses the violent acts her boyfriend Kit commits; instead, it...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Terrence Malick and Arthur Penn: The Western Re-Myth
      (pp. 63-76)
      John Orr

      The movie western is a hybrid vision of the American West inseparable from the idea of Manifest Destiny, the founding of a nation based upon the movement west by settlers, ranchers, soldiers, politicians and outlaws. The myth of the West incorporates two factors, the settling of a wilderness against the threat of Indian tribes and the settlement of a civil society against the threat of Outlaws. In this double movement, the myth of the Indian is set against the myth of the Cowboy. The former is the external barbarian, at times cruel and cunning, at times noble and brave, the...

    • CHAPTER SIX ‘Enjoying the Scenery’: Landscape and the Fetishisation of Nature in Badlands and Days of Heaven
      (pp. 77-87)
      Ben McCann

      Few directors have invested the American landscape with such beauty or meaning as Terrence Malick. Throughout his films, the environment plays a crucial role in the narrative, governing character emotions and motivations, providing a lyrical canvas for the action and, perhaps most importantly, offering a deeper understanding of the personal stories Malick wants to tell. He uses landscape to define what are essentially philosophical and ethical issues, and moves from tiny peripheral detail to epic perspective within a single shot. Initially harsh and unforgiving environments are thus imbued with a voluptuous significance, which conveys a unique symbiosis of word and...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Innocents Abroad: The Young Woman’s Voice in Badlands and Days of Heaven, with an Afterword on The New World
      (pp. 88-102)
      Anne Latto

      Among the most striking features ofBadlands(1973) andDays of Heaven(1978) is Terrence Malick’s decision to use young female narrators. Voice-over is a familiar convention of Hollywood movies but the voice is almost always male. In the infrequent case of female voice-over, the narrator tends to be adult.¹ Employing a child’s or a young person’s voice-over raises questions of point of view more acutely than the familiar adult voice – the possible limitations of the narrator’s experience, the reliability of their judgements.

      If children’s and young person’s voices are rare in Hollywood narration, they are more central to American...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Listening to the Aquarium: The Symbolic Use of Music in Days of Heaven
      (pp. 103-111)
      Richard Power

      Terrence Malick’sDays of Heaven(1978) is perhaps best known for Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler’s cinematography, and for Malick’s use of visual images to amplify his themes and narratives. The film earned Almendros an Academy Award, andVisions of Light(1992), a documentary on the art of cinematography, devoted an entire section to it, drawing attention to its location photography and use of the ‘magic hour’. Almendros is interviewed in the documentary and, while discussing his experience of filmingDays of Heaven, states that Malick

      told me it would be a very visual movie. He said that the film...

    • CHAPTER NINE Sound as Music in the Films of Terrence Malick
      (pp. 112-124)
      James Wierzbicki

      In an article on the aesthetic impact of Hollywood’s gradual adaptation of the so-called Dolby system of high-fidelity, four-channel stereophonic sound, Charles Schreger (1985) focuses his attention primarily on the work of Robert Altman, but deals in passing with a dozen other directors who in the late 1970s seemed interested in exploring the potential of the new Dolby technology.¹Days of Heaven(1978) receives three mentions, the first of which notes only that the soundtrack teems with cricket noises and the second that the narrator’s thick Chicago accent might well be unintelligible were it not for the sonic clarity afforded...


    • CHAPTER TEN ‘Everything a Lie’: The Critical and Commercial Reception of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line
      (pp. 125-140)
      Martin Flanagan

      Terrence Malick’s return to filmmaking withThe Thin Red Line(1998), after a muchpublicised twenty-year hiatus since the release ofDays of Heaven(1978), could lay claim to being one of the most keenly anticipated comebacks in modern cinema history. Although acclaimed as an esoteric visual poet rather than a crafter of popular entertainments, the coverage of Malick’s return in the press, in specialist film magazines and in broadcast and online media testified to a substantial amount of public interest in the director whose reputation had been made byBadlands(1973). WhenThe Thin Red Lineachieved wide release in early 1999,...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Greatest Generation Steps Over The Thin Red Line
      (pp. 141-151)
      John Streamas

      On a tropical battlefield on Guadalcanal an American soldier holds gold teeth he has extracted from the mouths of dead Japanese soldiers. Our glimpse of this, in Terrence Malick’s filmThe Thin Red Line(1998), is significant not because it adheres to its literary source – in James Jones’s novel a sadistic Charlie Dale uses his new pliers toward ‘one whole quart mason jar full of gold teeth as the beginning of his collection’ (1998: 491) – but because it adheres to history. Memoirs and histories of the war recall scenes of a sadism that is peculiar to its Pacific combatants. Reporter...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Other World of War: Terrence Malick’s Adaptation of The Thin Red Line
      (pp. 152-163)
      Stacy Peebles

      When Terrence Malick’sThe Thin Red Linewas released in the USA on 23 December 1998, it had already been foreshadowed by Stephen Spielberg’sSaving Private Ryan, which came out almost five months earlier on 24 July 1998. Malick’s film never acheivedSaving Private Ryan’s popularity; at the 1999 Academy Awards, Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Sound all went to the earlier film. Both are World War Two films, but other than their shared subject matter and their coincidentally similar release dates, the stories that Spielberg and Malick chose to tell are very different....

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Terrence Malick, Landscape and ‘What is this war in the heart of nature?’
      (pp. 164-178)
      Robert Silberman

      The appearance of Terrence Malick’sThe Thin Red Linein 1998 after a hiatus of more than two decades left no doubt about one aspect of the director’s achievement and personal style in the cinema: the central importance of landscape and the natural world.

      The film begins with a shot of a crocodile and a voice asking, ‘What is this war in the heart of nature?’ That war obviously extends to human society as well. For Malick, humanity balances on the edge between reason and irrationality, comedy and tragedy, fairytale adventure and deadly conflict, faith in moral values and nihilism....

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Terrence Malick’s Heideggerian Cinema: War and the Question of Being in The Thin Red Line
      (pp. 179-191)
      Marc Furstenau and Leslie MacAvoy

      In 1998, almost twenty years after the appearance of Terrence Malick’sDays of Heaven,The Thin Red Linewas released. During that time his reputation as a mysterious and enigmatic figure, the reclusive and inscrutable artist, grew to almost mythical proportions. While he had long maintained a distance, both geographically and professionally, from Hollywood, when it was announced that he would direct a new film, an adaptation of James Jones’s 1961 war novel, he was able to acquire major studio financing and attract the interest of some of the most powerful and popular actors. Such influence, based on a relatively...


    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Praising The New World
      (pp. 192-198)
      Mark Cousins

      We cannot separate our reading of a film, our sense of where it fits in culture and aesthetics, from the raw circumstances in which we saw it. I watchedThe New World, a film that flopped around the world despite headlining one of America’s most famous movie stars, on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in the Vue cinema in Edinburgh. Usually a Colin Farrell movie would be booked into all the multiplexes simultaneously but this one was hard to find. It played in one suburb in Glasgow and on just a handful of other screens in Scotland, as if it had...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Making Worlds, Making Pictures: Terrence Malick’s The New World
      (pp. 199-211)
      James Morrison

      The critical reaction to Terrence Malick’s fourth film illustrates an entrenched critical habituation. According to most reviewers ofThe New World(2005), Malick – the cinematic ‘nature’ poet – is at it again in his rendering of the Pocahontas legend, compensating for narrative amorphousness with a lush array of pretty pictures. Whether in laudatory or censorious tones, critics treated the film as a ‘transcendentalist visual symphony’ (Jones 2006: 28) in which ‘beauty transcends history’ (Taubin 2006: 45), or as a ‘heavily aestheticized’ (Hoberman 2005) tone-poem that shows how ‘to the innocent eye … every world is new’ (Lane 2005: 151). If Malick...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Approaching The New World
      (pp. 212-221)
      Adrian Martin

      Two immediately striking details about Terrence Malick’sThe New World(2005): firstly, the character played by Q’Orianka Kilcher is named Pocahontas, for the first and only time, in the final credits. Before that, 79 minutes in, there is an explicit barring of the utterance of this indigenous name, when Mary (Janine Duvitski), who is about to speak the name (‘My name’s Mary, and yours, I believe, is…’), is interrupted: ‘She says it’s not her name anymore. She hasn’t got a name’ – to which the kindly woman replies: ‘How unfortunate. Well, we shall have to give you one!’ What defines this...

      (pp. 222-223)
      (pp. 224-229)
    • INDEX
      (pp. 230-234)