Showing posts tagged terrence malick

To The Wonder

For anyone who has a hard time figuring out just what exactly the dinosaurs are doing in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

"So, when we were done with our 10-minute presentations and it was time for the panelists to ask questions amongst themselves before turning the Q&A over to the audience, you knowwhat I had to ask him, after the discussions we’ve had here: Since, as he acknowledged, the CGI dinosaurs are painstakingly created from 0s and 1s, what was the intent of the pivotal scene in which the one dinosaur stomped on, and then seemed to stroke, a smaller dino who was lying in a riverbed.

Turns out, Michael was in charge of that very sequence, and discussed it thoroughly, on many occasions, with Malick himself. The premise of the four-shot scene was to depict the birth of consciousness (what some have called the “birth of compassion”) — the first moment in which a living creature made a conscious decision to choose what Michael described as “right from wrong, good from evil.” Or, perhaps, a form of altruism over predatoryct

Here’s the relevant passage from a 2007 draft of Malick’s screenplay:

Reptiles emerge from the amphibians, and dinosaurs in turn from the reptiles. Among the dinosaurs we discover the first signs of maternal love, as the creatures learn to care for each other.

Is not love, too, a work of the creation? What should we have been without it? How had things been then?

Silent as a shadow, consciousness has slipped into the world.

Leaving aside the question of whether the science behind this depiction of dinosaur life is sound (or, at least, generally accepted), that is the intention of the scene. Michael said Malick uses CGI footage almost the way he uses photographic footage. He wants a LOT of it to choose from. They gave him about 50 versions of the scene altogether (out of maybe a hundred that they put together). Michael’s initial inclination was to assemble the shots the same way you would if you were shooting it with actors, with the pivotal moment focusing on a close-up of the actor’s face, but Malick did not want close-ups of the dinosaurs’ eyes — he wanted it done with the paw (OK, I called it a “paw,” but Michael corrected me: it’s a foot).

They went back and forth, back and forth, trying to find just the right gestures, and the right timings, for the shots and the movements — and Michael said he wanted the moment at the end when the larger creature pauses and looks back for a moment, just before running off. He was glad it made it into the picture.

Michael said he thought the moment was severely “overacted,” but it got the point across, and most viewers seem to understand Malick’s intent in the context of the film.


So, there you have it, from the horse’s mouth — er, the dinosaur’s director.”


Source: (Jim Emerson, “Tree of Life: The Missing Link Discovered”) 

patrickdicesare: BadlandsI love this.

patrickdicesare: Badlands

I love this.

(Reblogged from patrickdicesare)

Watched Badlands tonight at the Brattle. I’d been too long.

(Reblogged from illbehappywhenimdead)
83 minus 1The Thin Red Line (1998)
I’ll admit it; the first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I wasn’t that big of a fan. I loved Terrence Malick and was terribly excited about his first feature in twenty years, but something about the massive cast, the bizarre use of voice over (even for Malick) and the relentless mixture of war imagery and nature just kind of felt forced and labored from a filmmaker who seemed to direct effortlessly beautiful movies. What can I say? I was wrong. Several years and additional viewings later, this movie ranks among my favorites and a film I often turn to when I’m in the mood to be completely awed by the power of cinema. The things that initially bothered me eventually became reasons to fall in love with this thing and everything just kind of makes sense. Yes, the voice over can be confusing and yank you out of some scenes. Yes, the massive cast can make it difficult to latch onto any one or two important characters to guide you through the story. Yes, the nature and war juxtaposition seems obvious on the surface. But the reality is, Malick is giving us a very different perspective on the brotherhood of war and it’s connection to man. If war is necessary, then it’s a part of both our nature and the world’s, so the shots of burning trees and exploding earth feel like some kind of man-made apocalypse; the massive cast and disconnected narrative emphasizes both the brotherhood of war and the chaos and confusion all warriors must face. While most war movies address the connection fighters have, Malick is more interested in connecting the soul of a soldier with that of the earth one fights on. Both are beautiful, both are scarred. Photo courtesy of yam-mag.com 

83 minus 1

The Thin Red Line
 (1998)


I’ll admit it; the first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I wasn’t that big of a fan. I loved Terrence Malick and was terribly excited about his first feature in twenty years, but something about the massive cast, the bizarre use of voice over (even for Malick) and the relentless mixture of war imagery and nature just kind of felt forced and labored from a filmmaker who seemed to direct effortlessly beautiful movies. What can I say? I was wrong. Several years and additional viewings later, this movie ranks among my favorites and a film I often turn to when I’m in the mood to be completely awed by the power of cinema. The things that initially bothered me eventually became reasons to fall in love with this thing and everything just kind of makes sense. Yes, the voice over can be confusing and yank you out of some scenes. Yes, the massive cast can make it difficult to latch onto any one or two important characters to guide you through the story. Yes, the nature and war juxtaposition seems obvious on the surface. But the reality is, Malick is giving us a very different perspective on the brotherhood of war and it’s connection to man. If war is necessary, then it’s a part of both our nature and the world’s, so the shots of burning trees and exploding earth feel like some kind of man-made apocalypse; the massive cast and disconnected narrative emphasizes both the brotherhood of war and the chaos and confusion all warriors must face. While most war movies address the connection fighters have, Malick is more interested in connecting the soul of a soldier with that of the earth one fights on. Both are beautiful, both are scarred. 

Photo courtesy of yam-mag.com 

213 minus 1

The Tree of Life (2011)

Mother, brother, it was they that lead me to your door.

Early in Terrence Malick’s magnum opus, a mother ( Jessica Chastain)  receives a telegram containing news that one of her three sons is dead.  It’s a jarring sequence because we don’t know which son died, or how he died (indeed, neither question ever gets officially answered in the film, although there are visual clues that allow us to guess his identity) .  In fact, at this point, we don’t really know anyone in the movie and have a hard time connecting with her grief as a character, forcing us to consider our own lives and our own moments of grief and despair.  Malick uses voiceover like a paintbrush and like many of his films, Tree of Life contains plenty of examples of naive whispered truths and stabs at philosophical platitudes that some viewers often mistake for attempts at depth.  The feeling Malick’s movies typically leave you with is one that is deeper than words and therefore harder to express using them, so it’s a given that his characters thoughts don’t always align with the magisterial images Malick chooses to combine them with.  In one later scene, the mother is working at a jigsaw puzzle, which seems like a fitting example of Malick’s type of film-making and Tree of Life especially.  He gives you many little pieces, but allows you to put them together to get the big picture.  He never draws the connections for you and some aspects are left intentionally vague.  Obviously this movie has the feeling of autobiography (minus the dinosaurs), but the puzzle picture makes a little more sense when we apply what we know about Malick already (which is difficult to do given that he’s notoriously private).  What we do know is that he grew up in Waco, Texas.  He studied philosophy at Harvard and taught the subject for many years at MIT, and one of his three brothers committed suicide when he was nineteen years old while studying music abroad.  It’s easy to assume that the telegram the mother receives is meant to be pulled from Malick’s memory, as is much of the film.  But the film never states specifically how the brother died and I’m guessing many would assume that it was in some kind of war.  After we watch the mother taking in her grief in shots that include a funeral, tear-strewn hugs and empty-eyed walks down deserted suburban streets, her husband (Brad Pitt) pries her from a relatives arms and tells everyone; his wife, the woman comforting her, himself, that they’ll be okay.  And not long after, one of the brothers (my guess the oldest one, Jack, (played by Hunter McCracken as a child and Sean Penn as an adult) whispers the voiceover I quoted above.  We can guess that the brother he’s referencing in this line is the one who later kills himself, the one he’s been vaguely jealous of since his birth, mostly for how close he always was to his mother and the philosophy she represents (grace).  But since Jack seems more like his father (against his wishes, in some respects) why has his brother and mother brought him to some kind of door?  And whose door is he even referring to?  What’s the “your” of this question?

When we first see Penn, he’s sitting up in bed, living in a very modern looking apartment, white and sterile.  It appears as if he’s just woken up from a troubling dream and he sits with his back to the woman he shares the space with.  He later gets up and lights a blue candle and she adds a bit of decorative tree leaves to their sparse décor.  Malick leaves everything open to interpretation, and I suppose it’s possible that Jack is just moody and out of sorts because he’s that kind of man.  But I got the distinct feeling that he’s just been informed of some rather bad news.  What else would allow him to indulge in fleeting gestures (like the candle, the plant life decoration she adds, the phone call he makes to his father at the office) that act as small, fleeting connections with his memories growing up in Waco?  Could the reason he specifically calls out his mother and brother in that voice over be because they have both died, that he’s now just been given news of her death (which naturally allows him to think of his brother) and that through their deaths he has learned to deal with his own and put his own life into perspective?  After all, it’s not death that seems to truly trouble Jack.  As mentioned above, Malick’s philosophy is that there are two ways to move through life; the path of nature and the path of grace.  Jack’s mother is quiet, carefree, fun loving and ethereal.  In one memorable surreal shot, she’s seen spinning through the air in front of a tree in Jack’s front yard after telling her sons a story about how she once flew in a biplane.  She spins one of her infant sons around in her arms on the front yard, and then points to the sky.  “That’s where god lives,” she tells the boy, and it’s that kind of loving, nurturing philosophy she attempts to give them through their entire upbringing.  Jack is attracted to her philosophy (and in an oedipal way, he’s attracted to her sexually as well) but his budding curiosity leads him to choose the way of nature, or as Malick puts it, he does things simply because he’s bored and wants to be satisfied.  Like his father, nothing is ever enough for Jack and it’s fitting that he ends up working a similar type of profession, surrounded by machines and steel, even if his office building is a thousand years away from the type of work Pitt can be seen doing (which not surprisingly is left somewhat vague).  Malick films the modern scenes franticly, with fishbowl lens close-ups on office phones and blueprints, and we can guess that Jack is an architect and that he helps construct the new natural beauty of the world.  In a lengthy, absolutely stunning early sequence, the film shows us how planet earth itself came to be and how life came to be on it.  Then, through most of the films middle section, we get glimpses of memory from Jack’s family.  This section rang so true, so honestly, so purely, because when considering your own early childhood, you only really remember fragments and from those puzzle pieces you assemble your own identity.  What’s truly amazing about this section of the film is that it feels incredibly personal, sometimes even invasive, which is truly remarkable for someone as private as Malick.  But it’s also stunningly universal, and therefore in many ways some of the most accessible film-making he’s done to date.  I don’t care what kind of childhood you had, there will be things that you’ll be able to connect to as a viewer, watching these sons grow up. 

In the final section of the film, Penn wanders through a deserted, barren apocalyptic wasteland, populated by many of the characters in the film, including himself at a younger age, and his brother as a young child; the same brother he once shot in the finger with his BB gun to see what would happen, the same brother who will later (or, already has) killed himself.  Many people seem disappointed with this section of the film because they think it represents Penn’s death and is painted in rather lackluster terms, especially compared to the creation myth-opening.    If the final after-life images don’t seem to wield the same power as the rest of the film, it’s because the afterlife is thoroughly unknown and Malick dare not try to answer what comes after life.  This is Jack’s imagination, not Malick’s.  This is his vision to deal with his place in the world.  Besides, it’s not as if Penn is literally dying, and it’s not as if we’re literally watching his death, not even in metaphorical terms.  The very last shots feature him breaking out of some kind of trance, touching a tree outside of the skyscraper he works in.  I think those last shots are intentionally last.  Jack is an architect and he has spent his life building things.  It’s important to note that his vision contains no man made structures at all.  This is how the character reconnects with his family, both the living and the dead.  This is how the character deals with the guilt over the loss of his brother, over (possibly) the loss of his mother, over the loss of his innocence and the denial of his mother’s graceful philosophy.  The door he comes to by the end of the film is forgiveness and reconciliation, and through these thoughts he comes to his own kind of acceptance and grace.  It takes his mother and brother’s death to help him understand it and reach it.  Yes, Jack has turned out much like his father, a man that he despised growing up for being tough and brutally strict for many years.  But the tree of life in question isn’t about living and dying, it’s about how every moment of life is another moment that permanently goes away.  Those early memories are still with Jack, just like the early moments of all creation are still with our planet in some small way, but they’re distant memories and one day they will no longer case to be, such as it is with all things.  The final shot is a large city bridge (perhaps one Jack has helped design?) connecting traffic to one part of a city to the other.  It’s the first time one of Malick’s movies have ended with a shot of a man made structure (his last two features ended with shots devoid of people all together, focusing only on nature).  This has to be intentional.  Despite the absence of all natural grace, the image still has tremendous power and beauty and leaves us with the feeling that Jack’s vision of the afterlife has allowed him to see that his parents philosophy aren’t warring within him all the time (as he suggests via voiceover at one point in the film) but that if he forgives himself, if he forgives his father and understands his strict but loving lessons, if he accepts the nature of life and includes death, both can coexist peacefully within. The door that Jack has been led to is his own acceptance —- the acceptance of his own grace through the choices he’s made.  The bridge he takes to the afterlife might be one of his own design, for memories are like long, lost, loved relatives; important in making us who we are, but lost forever through times brutal march.  


Photo courtesy of ifc.com

re: Tree Of Life

etsukosasori replied to your quote: A tree grows in prehistoric times, in the yard of…

When I reed this review, I’m feeling SO SAD that the movie didn’t convinced me… And yet I wanted to loved it. But even if I was moved by some part of the film, there something that disturbed me… Anyway can’t wait to read your point of view !

I’m really jealous that you’ve seen it already!  I think Malick is a pretty divisive film maker, and each one of his movies is challenging in their own right.  I can totally understand how and why this didn’t/couldn’t speak to you…I’m just really hoping it speaks to me.  I’ve had varying degress of success myself when watching his films.  The first time I saw The Thin Red Line, for example, didn’t go well for me at all.  I was so disappointed because it was the first movie he’d made in over twenty years and it just felt like a dud.  But subsequent viewings later, I love it almost as much as the rest of his work. 

I understand some of the more spiritual aspects of the movie might turn people off, and who knows, it might turn me off as well.  I’m not really a spiritual person, but I respect other people’s sense of faith, especially when they express it as honestly and openly as Malick tends to do.  We’ll see this weekend!  I can’t wait to see it.  Writing about it will probably prove to be a much bigger challenge. 

A tree grows in prehistoric times, in the yard of Jack’s childhood past, in between the towering steel offices of his future (an image that, for me, evoked the progress of the new World Trade Center complex), even in the afterlife where everyone who ever touched his life, however significantly, gathers together for whatever stage comes next in our spiritual evolution. We never know the older Jack in the present in any sort of concrete sense, but as he’s led toward a desert purgatory and toward the sea by his younger self, on a journey his father, his mother, and at least one brother before him once followed, we understand he chose the path of his father, the same one that informed his anger long ago to tie a frog to a rocket and shoot it into the sky, and to the great disappointment of his mother. Throughout these scenes, you gather Malick is confessing to making movies so he won’t become the man who shoots a dog in Badlands, and you hope, pray even, that Jack has finally found the peace his mother’s path might have once afforded.
From Ed Gonzalez’s (slantmagazine.com) Tree of Life review.  I’m not sure I’ve read another review that connects Tree of Life so perfectly (and personally) to Malick’s filmography.  A typically brilliant review from Gonzalez, this has me even more excited for the movie than before. 

ArtsEmerson’s Paramount Center shows Terrence Malick All Week

This week, ArtsEmerson’s beautifully restored Paramount Center is playing most of Terrence Malick’s filmography.  If you’re in Boston, check out some beautiful films in a beautiful space. Because I didn’t say it enough: beautiful. 

Fantastic visual essay about Terrence Malick’s Badlands from Matt Zoller Seitz of Museum of the Moving Image. 

Edit: Now with the correct video!  Sorry…