If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the trailer for the most anticipated movie of 2011:
Terrance Malick’s fifth film, The Tree of LIfe, is tentatively scheduled for release at the end of May (don’t hold your breath, it has already been pushed back twice). Our man Brett McCracken will undoubtedly write a fascinating review when it comes out. He has already consolidated lots of interesting tidbits and preliminary analysis at The Search. Until then, I’d like to recommend this movie for those wondering why their normally apathetic arty friends are acting like preteen girls as at a Jonas Brothers’ concert.
First, let me explain the phrase “most anticipated movie of 2011.” By sheer number of tickets, the most anticipated movies are cashy sequels: Sherlock Holmes 2, Transformers 3, Scream 4, and Harry Potter 8 pt. 2. But what Malick fans lack in quantity they make up in devotion and influence. McCracken himself is a great example; it was only after trolling through his shrine to Malick/blog that I finally wised up and watched the The Thin Red Line. I had already seen The New World and enjoyed it, but McCracken was like a good museum docent: sober-minded and obviously much more informed than me, but downright zealous about where to invest mental and emotional energy. He’s not the only one. When Sean Penn heard that Malick was ending his 20 year film-making hiatus to direct The Thin Red Line, he told him, “Give me a dollar and tell me where to show up.”
The Thin Red Line is Malick at his best, at least so far. At first the casting is a little distracting, as the film features pretty much every Hollywood male of voting age. You really wouldn’t believe me if I wrote all the names. Even with the cast, the movie succeeds on Malick’s trademark use of sparse poetic narration over gorgeous frames of scenery and wildlife. And while the battle scenes are also fragmented and mysterious, I have never seen a more agonizing anti-war film. Malick’s intimate portrayal of nature’s fleeting glory softens the viewer to the sorrow and terror of characters we hardly know. The sentiment feels strangely universal and deeply personal at the same time, like holding your breath as you swim underwater with the whole world.
The most common complaint of Malick’s movies is that they are plotless and boring. Absent a readiness to revel in the rich images, these films can get boring. But classical music feels slow compared to pop; this doesn’t mean it’s worse. And of Malick’s films, only The Thin Red Line is thoroughly episodic and non-linear, although all the films rely less on dialogue than most America films.
I think the stronger criticism centers on Malick’s occasionally indulgent writing, especially noticeable in this trailer. It isn’t hard to imagine the early Malick as a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College, doing work on Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittegenstein that the famous analytic philosopher Gilbert Ryle didn’t consider academic. Sometimes his words perfectly capture our longing and grief; sometimes they sound like a blend of teenage poetry and vague Buddhism. “Father, mother, always you wrestle inside me, always you will.” A sharper film critic than me could probably unravel the various threads of Malick’s narration, but it feels just hit and miss. Sometimes the phrases are gimmicky, sometimes they are too forceful when paired with an already expressive image, sometimes they are pure gold. But whatever is being said, my eyes and ears are feasting the whole time on something unique, interesting, and beautiful. Even when he’s off, Malick is instructive to the modern moviegoer, as he is at least taking real artistic risks instead of shuffling the drivel.
So call your film buff friends and clear your calendar for May 27th. Or June 19th. Or August 4th. Whenever it comes, I think it will be worth the wait.