Archive for July, 2011

I first saw The Thin Red Line when I had just left university.  I don’t remember why I wanted to see it, perhaps I’d read a good review.  It seems an odd choice for my 21 year old self.  The film was unlike any other film I’d seen before then, and perhaps set some sort of standard for me.  Four or five years ago was The New World, with the same tropes and style.  Pocohontas was wrestled out of Disney’s clutches and given a story that, whilst flawed and no doubt also romanticised and fictionalised, attempted to capture the terrible strangeness of Europeans’ first encounter with America and its native inhabitants.

I went to see The Tree of Life last night, alone.  I prefer to see alone films that I know will affect me deeply.  I prefer to leave the cinema in silence, walk home in silence, and remain in the world created by the filmmaker for a bit longer.  So it was last night.  It’s a masterpiece.  It walks the tightrope of pretension (all of Malick’s films do) and perhaps there are moments of portentousness.  I think he is allowed that, because of the emotional truth of his filmmaking, and because he has earned this.  Malick reminds the audience that cinema is above all an artform.  It has become a deeply conservative artform, both in outlook and in structure.  He doesn’t care about straightforward linear narratives, or about reality, or worrying that the audience won’t ‘get’ what’s going on.  His vision is clear, and his execution is unflinching.  The result was visually arresting, emotionally devastating and unlike anything in mainstream cinema at the moment.  I say mainstream, because I went to see the film in my local multiplex (I know, I should be supporting local independents, but on this occasion it was convenient and I could use my student discount).  And the fact that alongside Tree of Life were the usual Hollywood offerings, dull and brainless, made the experience all the more heartening.  This is a filmmaker who expects that his work will be widely available, and that people will want to go and see it.  It’s not niche.  It’s got Brad Pitt in it, and Sean Penn.

Not every film requires a directorial signature that is so unmistakeable.  Some films are fine to be told as a story, beginning, middle and end.  Some films are designed just to entertain, and that’s also important.  But some films are made to remind us that cinema is not the poor relation of other artforms.  It can change us.


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