Tag: terrence malick

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A stylized shot of Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) and her father in Terrence Malick's "The New World".

Inner Terrains: Reviewing Terrence Malick’s “The New World”

Sometimes it occurs to me that many idioms are quite evocative when you consider their literal meaning, however dulled by usage they’ve become. How many times have you heard the New/Old World dichotomy being used to describe the Americas vs Europe? And how many times have you really felt the sentiment underpinning that phrase?

In Terrence Malick’s 2005 film, the title accrues resonances beyond being merely a stock phrase to describe America. We watch a ship glide towards land to the grandiose strains of Wagner’s Das Rheingold– we see the joy that alights on a chained man belowdecks as he glimpses the terrain through a porthole. All of this utterly evokes the dreamlike novelty that will lead the colonists to speak of this World as a place laden with promise. And yet, for all that the watcher is momentarily caught up in that rich sense of potential- this film is no sentimental paean to Manifest Destiny. You are not left to forget the immense subjectivity of the term “new” here, as the natives observe the approaching intruders. […]

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A shot from Terrence Malick's "Badlands", as Martin Sheen smokes a cigarette in a white t-shirt.

Some Stuff to Say: Reviewing Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (1973)

A moment that stays with me in Terrence Malick’s Badlands occurs near the end of Kit and Holly’s flight from authorities through South Dakota up into the US-Canada border. There is a lull both in their pursuit and in their relationship, which so far has been one of passive submission by Holly to Kit’s cold-blooded murder spree.

Holly has concluded that she is done with Kit, for their destination in the far north, even if arrived at, would be fruitless. He knows seemingly nothing except to charm and kill. Her future thus vouchsafed by refusal of him, she tells Kit this on their night drive (or so she tells us, in her narration) and he responds as the audience has been primed to expect him to respond: with almost nonchalant indifference. His protests, in another man’s voice, might be strained by discordant rage; another man’s eyes might gleam with thoughts of loss. His, however, betray no such passions. He catalogs his prospects, but Holly isn’t really listening (although a part of her is). Kit’s acknowledgment of her inattention is blithe. […]

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A screenshot from Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups"

Crisis of Success: On Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” (2015)

After watching Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, I couldn’t help but think that, sometimes, the worst thing that can happen to an artist is success. Monetary success, I mean, since there are other metrics to the word than mere financial gain. Well, I suppose I also mean more than monetary success – acclaim, something most artists, in some way, want; perhaps more than just bags of cash (if you’re worth anything, at least). For with acclaim comes validation, and confirmation that the artist’s work means something more than what he or she can prove only to themselves. Even all this, however, comes with baggage: for if you have proved to yourself and others that your work is what it set out to be, and you’ve won your laurels (and your mansions), where else does one go?

One could, of course, retread familiar ground. You see this with Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, two of America’s greatest filmmakers reduced to feeding off their own reputations, creating movies that certainly look and feel like their golden ages, but with none of the greatness. Their most recent productions (2019’s The Irishman and A Rainy Day in New York, respectively) amount to nothing more than self-mimicry – and why not? Scorsese and Allen, once young and hungry and eager to prove something, have regressed into luxurious waste, canonized as they are in most cineastes’ estimation. When you have nothing to prove, I guess all that’s left is pelf, and the desire for it. This late into their careers, anything Scorsese puts out will get praise solely on the basis of his reputation, and Allen, although his own reputation is mired in scandal, will seemingly continue to pump out trifles until he keels over.

In the case of Terrence Malick, you get some of this, but you also get something more curious. Yes, there’s the self-cannibalization of technique, but – contrary to the prior artists’ approach – along with that comes an opening-up of artistry, rather than mere imitation. For no other American filmmaker has developed their own visual language to the extent that Malick has, for better or worse. His pivotal collaboration with Emmanuel Lubezki has been fruitful, no doubt, and has spawned legions of imitators, both of good-faith and parodistic. You know what I mean: the camera’s whirligig motions, swaying and swooping from arid landscapes into closeups while enigmatic lines are mumbled in voice-over. The impeccable lighting struck through with ruminations on time, death, self and God, or whatever Malick chooses from his grab-bag of philosophies. […]