News of Terrence Malick’s secret documentary, Voyage of Time, landed earlier this year. Set to hit theaters in 2016, the film, narrated by Brad Pitt (among others), is being touted as “an examination of the birth and death of the known universe.”

As ambitious as Voyage of Time sounds, its synopsis isn’t too outside the norm for the groundbreaking filmmaker. Diving unashamedly into topics like theodicy, grace, and depravity, Malick unconventionally weaves a sense of awe and emotion both visually and thematically throughout his stories, encapsulating the essence of what it means to produce truly “spiritual” art — if such a term is allowable.

If you’re a Christian and love film, you can’t afford to miss Terrence Malick. If you haven’t yet been exposed to his work, here’s a brief introduction to get you started.

Malick studied philosophy at Harvard University in the 1960s, later graduating to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Eventually, Malick went on to earn his MFA from the AFI Conservatory before entering the film industry as a writer. His directorial debut came in 1973 with the critical success Badlands. His second feature, Days of Heaven (1978), garnered even more praise, solidifying his name in Hollywood and earning him the “Best Director” award at Cannes.

On the verge of an unprecedented career, Malick mysteriously vanished. It would be another twenty years before he directed his next film, The Thin Red Line (1998), followed by The New World (2005). Recently, he’s beefed up his production schedule with The Tree of Life (2011) and To the Wonder (2012) releasing back-to-back.

Because of his personal style and unique approach to plot structure, some have argued that Malick’s films are difficult to follow. In his review of To the Wonder, film critic Brett McCracken writes, “[P]art of some audience’s trouble with Malick’s films is that they sense them to be layered, complex, and heady (which they are) and thus approach them as intellectual puzzles to be assembled in logical fashion.”

So what’s the best advice for someone to get acquainted with Malick? McCracken quotes the filmmaker himself when he says: “Just get into it; let it roll over you.” This is advice I can agree with.

Let the awe-inspiring visuals, the deep performances, and the frailty of life so majestically mirrored by Malick sweep over you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly find in each film a raw, strong tie to biblical ideas of grace, divine sovereignty, and redemption.

Depending on your exposure to Malick, it might be a good idea to read a review or two before starting each particular film. McCracken recommends beginning with The Thin Red Line and then moving on to Days of Heaven. If you’re planning to learn more about Malick (and I hope you are), here are a few articles you might be interested in reading:


3 Comments

  1. Malick is my favorite director so I’m always glad to see people get the word out about his films. Word also came out yesterday that Knight of Cups should be coming out in theaters this year, which I can’t quite fathom. As usual, I won’t believe it until I’m in a theater seeing it for the first time with my own eyes.

  2. Good thoughts. Thank you for introducing your readers to Malik.

    As you noted, Malick studied philosophy at Harvard. It is also worthwhile to note he studied with Stanley Cavell who’s work with Wittgenstein and Heidegger manifests itself powerfully in Malick’s oeuvre. This training goes some way to explaining the frequent problem McCracken points out with audience’s attempts to engage Malick’s work as multi-layered and weighty intellectual puzzles to be unravelled. In philosophy, Cavell and Wittgenstein, and Malik in film, are misunderstood when their work is seen as a series of complicated intellectual puzzles, but come to life when we allow them to disorient our ordinary vision. They asks, “Can you see the world THIS way?” “Can our perplexities of our life actually be the everyday ones of loving a spouse, raising kids, finding community?” In order to achieve this aim they return over and over again to the same scene in its many different forms. For example, in Tree of Life the audience is presented with Malik’s two ways — Nature and Grace — (though Nature in Tree is better understood in the Johannine language of “World.” i.e. those portions of reality that resist their reconciliation with God.) under the guises of the mother and father, the two brothers, and even in the dinosaur who has its prey pinned but allows it to get up and live. Malik attempts to turn his audiences attention to the multifaceted nature of reality — and so, like a diamond turns our lives, creation, and history over and over allowing us to see its repeated plenitude. In the end, Malik’s challenge is can you see the world as saturated with this fragile, evanescent, put powerful love and love it in return or will you seek to analyze, manage, and control it to your own pain and suffering.

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