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Watch: Terrence Malick’s Visual Motifs: A Video Homage

Watch: Terrence Malick's Visual Motifs: A Video Homage

For better or for ill, Terrence Malick is a poet’s filmmaker. It could be argued that to make a film requires that one force a compromise between the desire to tell a story and the need to immerse viewers in the experience they are having, to access their minds on a level that’s not quite describable, the way poems, and also music operate. There’s no “and what happened next” in the way a poem operates–or if there is, it’s a far cry from the same element in a well-told story. Malick is exemplary and distinctive in allowing both impulses to flourish, perhaps more the latter than the former. Malick has never been one to be overly concerned about plot construction. As this excellent and touching tribute by Rachel Glassman shows, great effort here goes into visual meditation: on fields of grain, on the ocean, on the play of light around human figures in a landscape as wide as the souls of the characters inhabiting it. Regardless of what story a film might be telling–whether it’s the story of Texas farmers in Days of Heaven, or desperate criminals in Badlands, or World War II travails in The Thin Red Line, or the story of John Smith in The New World–in Malick’s hands, the work always looks inwards by looking outwards. By showing us the physical world with such precision and also grandness, he also shows us the world within ourselves.

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