Transcending Heidegger – The Cinema Of Terrence Malick


Video from LSOO


Today there are several Directors that can be considered genius's in their field having styles and techniques that distinguish them from all others. Although somewhat subjective here are a few: Ridely Scott, Terrence Malick, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Alfonso Cauron, Martin Scorsese, Denis Villeneuve, Guellermo Del Torro.


Terrence Malick

Malick received a B.A. in philosophy from Harvard College. He started a BPhil in philosophy (a two-year master's degree) at Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. Malick had a disagreement with his advisor about his thesis on the concept of world ( Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein), Malick left Oxford without a degree. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick's translation of Heidegger's Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. So we see the influence of Heidegger on Malick.


Heidegger coined the phrase 'being-in-the-world' to explain his vision of the human being. To be human is to be absorbed in a world of practical action , a world that we understand intuitively, without needing to reflect on it. The 'world', in which we find ourselves, is not just a place full of people and things. Worlds and cultures are defined by a way of life or being, that reflect community traditions; therefore they are not private, but social and shared. We ‘know our way around’ our world by understanding the way that we are expected to engage or relate with other people in it.


Malick’s filmmaking style is instantly recognizable by dreamy, hand-held images that are photographed in natural light along with reflective music and narration. Actors in Malick films often complain about performances being modified, cut or re-arranged, and whole story arcs disappearing or being re-written in editing.


The Tree of Life

Stanley Cavell wrote in his book The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film: "Because by operating according to our default state, by going through life without really engaging with the question of the meaning of being, we do not just avoid our own mortality, we also separate ourselves from life itself, we blind ourselves from the beauty, from experiencing things as they are."


Jesus asks us to be present in our lives to make choices. He condemns us when we avoid making the choice or choices. God gives us free will, therefore we are responsible for what we do, what we fail to do and how we do it. When we choose to commit ourselves we of course run the risk of failure, the risk of sin, the risk of betrayal. But life is worth the risk.


Malick's works has spiritual gravitas including metaphysical and mystical elements. Malick is first and foremost a film maker before he is a philosopher or theologian. If you watch several of Malick's films you get the sense of a distinctly Christian worldview and we see this within his films as he portrays the good life within the Kingdom of God.


The Hidden Life

Malick's films embody a style, similar to music with rhythms and cadences that draw us further in. The theological and philosophical content of his films are decidedly Christian. In creating the ideal vehicle for his message, Malick invents a singular, lyrical style; it is a style that works less like entertainment and more like a sacrament or a liturgy.


Aesthetics are essential to liturgies, and require a “sense of time, timing, rhythm, pacing, and tempo. Movie aesthetics necessitate go even further in requiring “consideration of motion, rhythm, tempo, timing, repetition, flow, and careful use of sound and silence.


In each of Malick's movies, we get the sense that things in creation and in our lives simply being looked at, just being what they are: trees, water, birds, dogs, whatever. Things in creation are made by God for man but due to the progression of futility, of sin we can easily get run over by theses natural wonders.


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