A Very Malick Moment

Opening Day “The Tree of Life”

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” opens today in Chicago.  For big-time, mouth-breather Malick fans, like me, today is like a holiday, except even more precious because Terrence Malick releases a movie (on average) every 7 1/2 years.  Of course, that doesn’t count the 20-year gap between 1978’s “Days of Heaven” and 1998’s “The Thin Red Line”.

The point is that today is something of a Year of Jubilee celebration for cinephiles.  Malick is probably the film industry’s most elusive icon.  But the mystery that shrouds his career and personal life is actually, in an ethereal sense, is always injected into his films.  He may not give us specifics, but Terrence Malick shares a lot of himself with us through this movies.  They’re strange, contemplative, poetic; they also feel authentic.  Like a dream you had about something that really happened to you.

Even if you don’t like a Malick film through and through, it’s impossible to discount it on the whole.  Each of his movies are packed with some of the finest moments I care to remember in cinema.

A Real Life Malick Moment

I just read a fascinating oral history of the making of Malick’s first film “Badlands”, which is composed almost entirely of quotes from people who worked on the film or know the writer-director personally.

In one of the article’s highlights, Martin Sheen (the film’s star), described the morning after he heard he got the lead role.

Terry called one night and said, “I want you to play the part.” I had to get up very early the next morning to go to work, and I was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a little Mazda. I was listening to a Dylan album I was fond of, and the song “Desolation Row” was playing, an

d the sun was rising, and it hit me that I was going to play the role of my life. I had been a professional actor since I was eighteen. I was thirty-one, I had four children, I was struggling, doing a lot of television—a lot of bad, silly work just to make ends meet—and I wasn’t having any luck in features to speak of, and here was the part of my life. And I was overwhelmed, and I pulled off to the side of the road, and I wept uncontrollably (Badlands: An Oral History, p. 3).

I read this and pictured it in my mind vividly.  It belongs in a Terrence Malick film.


About Collin Damon Welch
Collin worked in the film/TV industry for a while. Now he's pursuing ministry. He and his incomparably beautiful wife Nicole live in Chicago.

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