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: