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The Stillness of Terrence Malick

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#1 John W. King

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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.

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#2 Bill DiPietra

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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.)


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