WHO is he?

Reclusive yet celebrated American film writer, producer and director who has directed six feature films since his debut in 1973. Malick studied philosophy at Harvard before pursuing films, and its influence is evident in his body of work. His films The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Tree Of Life (2011) won the top prizes at Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals respectively.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

More than those of Bresson or Dreyer, it is Malick’s films that should be rightfully called transcendental, given their similarities to the ideas of 19th century American Transcendentalism. In his films, characters are more than Existential beings coming to terms with the randomness of life. They are crucial components in the story of the universe, of a larger collective consciousness spread over time and space. These films are also informed by themes from the Old Testament, especially the inexplicability of God’s actions and the effect it has on the minds of those down below.

Style

Malick’s highly recognisable filmmaking style includes multi-character narratives that seamlessly switch between multiple perspectives, voiceovers that are often characters’ thoughts spoken loud, impressionistic cinematography keenly attuned to the possibilities of natural light, shots underscoring the eternal presence of nature and its elements, use of natural sounds in conjunction with a magisterial, classical soundtrack and subtly associative editing that relies on emotional transference and inter-subjectivity rather than plot mechanics or spatial continuity.

WHY is he of interest?

Despite (and partly because of) his lean filmography and total withdrawal from limelight, Malick has remained one of the most acclaimed of American filmmakers. Though his work has been criticised rather justifiably for its self-styled thematic heft and self-precious filmmaking, it has generally been received favourably both by the Christian Right and the champions of “auteur cinema”, who consider Malick’s films to be intimate expressions of personal ideas and emotions.

WHERE to discover him?

The Tree Of Life, Malick’s fifth and most expansive film, examines the birth of consciousness, individual and collective. Consisting of two segments — one set in the cosmos at the time of Creation and the other in Waco, Texas during the 1950s — the film walks a thin line between subjectivity of experience and objectivity of existence, between emphasising the immediacy of living and suggesting the narrative continuity of the universe.

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