I’ve always looked to movies for inspiration. Something about the motion picture captures the wonder in all of us, in part, because it is the ultimate story telling medium. My own recent work uses a narrative structure and the challenges are vast…particularly with the still image. For guidance, as well as inspiration, I wanted to examine some works in cinema that don’t necessarily adhere to traditional narrative structure.
That need for direction and inspiration brought me, either by coincidence or something else, back to the work of Terrence Malick. I remember seeing “Badlands” and “The Thin Red Line” in high school. I wasn’t particularly drawn to either of those pictures at the time, but I was also a teenager so what did I know? I watched them again recently, along with “The Tree of Life” and “The New World.” I’ve had a large intake of art house cinema lately, so it probably wasn’t the best time to dive into Malick’s filmography so directly, but the experience has been beautifully rewarding.
Let me start by saying that Malick’s films are not for everyone. They are long and can be tedious at times, but his work is nothing short of extraordinary, even if one cannot always pinpoint exactly why. (See DeNiro’s response to why Tree of Life won the Palm d’Or. He essentially said it was a good fit). “Tree of Life” is his best known picture and it is an amazing piece of film making.
It is a film about the natural world and the struggle of man. It centers on a family in 1950’s Texas, but really the movie is seen through the eyes of a young boy…the son, Jack. I won’t go into the plot, as it is complex and lengthy, but essentially Brad Pitt plays a tough love father and Jack struggles to reconcile that relationship throughout his life. Love and hate, loss, anger and the birth of the universe are all examined. The film is largely conceptual and it requires the audience to work for their payoff.
So while I don’t have the space to examine the film’s themes, I’d really encourage everyone to see it, or give it another chance if it has been a while. I remember, explicitly, the hype around it and the scenery. However, the family struggle, the abusive father and the loving, sometimes naïve, mother is what really kept my attention this past viewing. It is a story within a story, within a….you get the idea. It really is exceptional and has inspired me greatly, as has Malick’s other films. In a way, Malick’s work challenges me, it makes me think, asks questions and doesn’t always provide answers, but it definitely inspires me to be a better artist.