Jump to content


Photo

The Stillness of Terrence Malick

style unique still quiet imagery visual poetic

  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 John W. King

John W. King
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 34 posts
  • Student
  • Texas

Posted 03 January 2016 - 07:12 PM

I have just begun to study Terrence Malick's style, and how he creates a sense of "stillness" in his images. However, there aren't many analysis over this style online, so I've resorted mostly to watching his films on my own and seeing how this style plays out; this is what I've taken from it thus far:

 

For me his films are deeply personal, especially The Tree of Life (2011) and To the Wonder (2013). I was able to connect to these films because of personal experiences and how they are reflected in said films (according to Malick, they are his most personal films as well). Nonetheless, from a philosophical standpoint, I find them to be his most difficult films to understand. With that being said, I think these are his two greatest pieces of works, with the former being, perhaps, his masterpiece.

 

But to go back to the discussion of Malick's style, I discovered a quote through mere accident which I think correlates to Malick's visual style. The quote comes from a screenplay of my own in which a character tells another that "We are ants among giants." My character spoke this while in a church, and the purpose of the line was to show how the heightened forces of nature (and from whatever nature is controlled by: whether that be a God, or some force of its own) constantly prevails over man. In this case, man is the "ant" and nature is the "giant".

With that being said, notice how in each of Malick's films, nature plays a significant part on a visual perspective. He juxtaposes images of nature to complement the character's feelings, to explore the questions they ask. For instance, in the opening of The Tree of Life, Sean Penn's character (Jack) is troubled and searches for reason upon the death of his brother. He looks to the creation, or rather the creator (Malick leaves it ambiguous) in a 25 minute lapse of pure visuals of space, nebulas, the forming of earth, etc., accompanied by narration. It begins with wonder, Jack is looking for answers. Then, sequences of fire/volcanic explosions - anger - are presented, accompanied with Jack's continuing wonder. And throughout the montage, Jack's mother (played by Jessica Chastain) offers grace & beauty to a world that appears so destructive, with visual presentation of water, and the starkingly beautiful land that is being formed. In a way, she is the voice of balance/reason(?) that Malick uses to close Jack's wonder. What I took from this scene in TToL was that even though there is hate/unsoundness, there is also beauty/grace that forms over, to create "new lands" (I know that isn't the best way to word such, but bear with me).

 

To wrap this up with my line of "ants among giants", Malick shows how dominating nature is to us. In The Tree of Life, it's almost like we are guests invited by our dominant host, nature, to live in her world. In some of his other films, especially The Thin Red Line (1998), nature is presented as a force which is a question in itself, for the film opens up with the question "Why does nature vie with itself?".

 

Does anybody else find an interest in this style so as to add to this discussion? I'm just a high school student with a meager amount of knowledge in philosophy who has only recently begun to analyze his style, and I find him to be an incredibly powerful visionary. Any thoughts are appreciated!


Edited by John W. King, 03 January 2016 - 07:13 PM.

  • 0

#2 Bill DiPietra

Bill DiPietra
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2339 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • New York City

Posted 03 January 2016 - 07:26 PM

 

I'm just a high school student with a meager amount of knowledge in philosophy who has only recently begun to analyze his style, and I find him to be an incredibly powerful visionary. Any thoughts are appreciated!

 

 

I wasn't nearly that philosophical when I was in high-school.  Very nice analysis.  I too am a fan of Malick's work.  You may find this thread of interest as we recently discussed him (and his upcoming film, Knight of Cups.)


  • 0

#3 Miguel Roman

Miguel Roman
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 23 posts
  • Student
  • Amsterdam

Posted 29 December 2017 - 01:06 PM

Malick was a philosophy student and even taught philosophy at the MIT for a short period of time; as a student, he was interested in the work of Martin Heidegger, from who he translated (from German) The Essence of Reasons (1969). I believe in the work of Heidegger there are several ideas similar to the ones you described when you talk about the role of Nature in Malick's films.

 

Also, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder are supposed to be autobiographic in a certain way; The Tree of Life: Malick was raised in Texas (and Oklahoma), lost a brother (like Jack), his father was (among other professions) Chief of Aviation Technologist...

 

About To the Wonder, some similitudes as well: Malick was supposed to have been living in Paris for certain periods of time, where he had a french girlfriend who came to United States later on...

 

So I also believe that those two films are the most personal (from what I know about him). I find his five first films really interesting and beautiful, with a really upcoming and defining style. Of course, like with a lot of great directors, Malick knew how important collaborators are in film making; just to name a few, he has worked with Nestor Almendros (D.P.), Jack Fisk (Art Director), John Toll (D.P.), Billy Weber (Editor), etc. 

 

I believe that one of Malick's greatest strength is to regard film making as art, instead of just a product; in that sense, he will treat each and every department/collaborator as an artist, and as such they will probably behave.


  • 0

#4 Jon O'Brien

Jon O'Brien
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 453 posts
  • Other
  • Brisbane

Posted 29 December 2017 - 10:17 PM

I believe that one of Malick's greatest strength is to regard film making as art, instead of just a product; in that sense, he will treat each and every department/collaborator as an artist, and as such they will probably behave.

 

That was what David Lean was most remembered for. I heard a few people who worked with him a lot make similar comments, on a series of three documentaries on Lean. David Lean was an artist. As were Freddie Young, cinematographer ( or lighting cameraman, as I think he described himself), and Robert Bolt, writer, with whom Lean collaborated.


  • 0

#5 Robin R Probyn

Robin R Probyn
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2353 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Tokyo

Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:01 AM

Seems they also had schedules were you could wander off into the dunes for a couple of hours to figure out how to shoot some scenes too.. I doubt that would happen these days ..


  • 0

#6 Jon O'Brien

Jon O'Brien
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 453 posts
  • Other
  • Brisbane

Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:10 AM

Yep, they took a year to shoot Ryan's Daughter, with Lean taking days off waiting for the right weather. The money that must have cost to have all that crew playing cards for days.


  • 0

#7 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 12284 posts
  • Other

Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:56 AM

I remember seeing The Thin Red Line when it was on general release. I remember feeling that it was very long, lacking in significant plot and character development, extremely boring, and made only very straightforward points ("war is hell") that had been made much more succinctly many times before. It felt like a high-minded film student's attempt at profundity which only worked if approached with the preordained sophistry that Malick is some sort of genius. Absent his name, I fear the film would have been written off as what it is - a bit confused, lacking focus, and far, far too long for the meagre amount of narrative. And the released version was considered cruelly cut down, to the point where notable members of the principal cast are on record complaining about having had their involvement almost entirely cut.

 

Clearly I'm at risk of the same sort of reaction I got when I complained about Barry Lyndon, which everyone is also required to like, but I make no apology - I saw one Malick movie and have not felt the need to see another.


  • 0

#8 Robin R Probyn

Robin R Probyn
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2353 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Tokyo

Posted 30 December 2017 - 06:35 AM

Go and see his first one then..  none of what you speak of.. and some of the best music you will ever hear in a film..


  • 0

#9 John Holland

John Holland
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2286 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • London England

Posted 30 December 2017 - 07:33 AM

Yes Badlands co-photographed by your Father .


  • 0

#10 Robin R Probyn

Robin R Probyn
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2353 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Tokyo

Posted 30 December 2017 - 08:13 AM

Yes but I wouldn't say the camera work is the highlight of this film..its very competent by the 3 DoP,s who shot it.. or should the camera work  ever be the highlight  .. its just a good film.. the music is the one of the great things for me.. really sets the mood.. and before the sort of Emperors new clothes thing happened.. I think its his best film personally..


  • 0

#11 Stuart Brereton

Stuart Brereton
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 3395 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:55 PM

I remember seeing The Thin Red Line when it was on general release. I remember feeling that it was very long, lacking in significant plot and character development, extremely boring, and made only very straightforward points ("war is hell") that had been made much more succinctly many times before. It felt like a high-minded film student's attempt at profundity which only worked if approached with the preordained sophistry that Malick is some sort of genius. Absent his name, I fear the film would have been written off as what it is - a bit confused, lacking focus, and far, far too long for the meagre amount of narrative. And the released version was considered cruelly cut down, to the point where notable members of the principal cast are on record complaining about having had their involvement almost entirely cut.

 

Clearly I'm at risk of the same sort of reaction I got when I complained about Barry Lyndon, which everyone is also required to like, but I make no apology - I saw one Malick movie and have not felt the need to see another.

I'm inclined to agree. I saw Badlands years ago and loved it, as did just about everyone. Tarantino liked it so much he borrowed the music and the opening monologue for True Romance. Martin Sheen's son Emilio Estevez borrowed his father's entire performance for his role as Billy the Kid in 'Young Guns'. It was great little movie. When Malick came back from his self imposed exile after 20 years though, it felt like he was given free rein to do what he wanted, and such was his cult status that no-one was going to criticize his work, no matter how self indulgent it became.


  • 0

#12 Jon O'Brien

Jon O'Brien
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 453 posts
  • Other
  • Brisbane

Posted 31 December 2017 - 07:37 PM

Badlands was an artistic creation but a film that took a grim view of life. A study in the banality of evil. The girl was truly evil too because she passively went along with it. Perhaps that is this film's power, its depiction of people who've lost humanity. It's raw depiction of gun violence was probably pretty ground breaking too. Without the use of squibs it wouldn't have had as much of an impact. Unfortunately the depiction of violence was a feature that gave the movie some of its raw power. In my opinion. It's not really a film I'd want to see again. There just doesn't seem to be any redemption in it at all, it's a depiction of hopelessness far worse than James Dean's most negative and narcissistic performances.


  • 0

#13 Samuel Berger

Samuel Berger
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1201 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Seattle

Posted 31 December 2017 - 07:45 PM

Badlands was an artistic creation but a film that took a grim view of life. A study in the banality of evil. The girl was truly evil too because she passively went along with it. Perhaps that is this film's power, its depiction of people who've lost humanity. It's raw depiction of gun violence was probably pretty ground breaking too. Without the use of squibs it wouldn't have had as much of an impact. Unfortunately the depiction of violence was a feature that gave the movie some of its raw power. In my opinion. It's not really a film I'd want to see again. There just doesn't seem to be any redemption in it at all, it's a depiction of hopelessness far worse than James Dean's most negative and narcissistic performances.

 

I'd have to re-watch it, but after 35 years since seeing it, the only two things I remember are how underwhelmed and disappointed Spacek's character was with the reality of sex, and that Sheen's character needlessly shot  into a closed cellar door behind which he had locked in a family. These two pieces separate the film from being in the list of movies that I've watched and forgotten 100%, in my life.

 

Movies nowadays adhere to their "Save the cat" trajectories so diligently that they've all become the same movie, presented over and over again. Mostly, they lack memorable moments.


  • 0



Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: style, unique, still, quiet, imagery, visual, poetic

Visual Products

Rig Wheels Passport

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

Glidecam

Wooden Camera

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Tai Audio

FJS International, LLC

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineTape

Abel Cine

The Slider

Aerial Filmworks

Metropolis Post

Technodolly

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

rebotnix Technologies

Willys Widgets

CineLab

Ritter Battery

Paralinx LLC

Abel Cine

Visual Products

CineTape

Tai Audio

FJS International, LLC

Technodolly

Aerial Filmworks

Rig Wheels Passport

Wooden Camera

Willys Widgets

Metropolis Post

Ritter Battery

Paralinx LLC

CineLab

rebotnix Technologies

Broadcast Solutions Inc

The Slider

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Glidecam

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment