Saturday, June 3, 2017
Brandon's #75: The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
There seems to be a great divide forged after the release of THE NEW WORLD where suddenly this great giant of cinema supposedly lost his way. I don't buy it. He takes risks. One of his biggest risks was divorcing himself from the pressures and constraints of narratives, not simply "traditional" narratives but narratives altogether. He seems to even reject the populist notions of time within narrative or even time itself.
THE THIN RED LINE follows a soldier (actually an entire unit, but the action often revolves around this guy) stolen from a similar freedom and condemned to the confines of military regiment. It's about a heretic, one who was freed by a group of local natives in the South Pacific. Having to resume duty is tantamount to hell itself sprinkled within. Nobody knows why they do what they do, nor if what they do has made anything beyond an insignificant difference.
Somehow the obligatory narrative/big budget obstructions form a perfect marriage between Malick's poetry and the war entertainment we've all grown so accustomed to. Here Malick discovered something as rare as any of his current balletic experimentations, the ideal balance, if you will. I still think it's a masterpiece.
I saw it first in '99, rented and viewed at Tara's mom's house, half of me hoping it'd offer the kind of thrills I'd seen in Spielberg's war film of the same year. Second viewing was in Ithaca, at my friend's girlfriend's parent's house, right after viewing THE NEW WORLD, still one of my favorite films of the young millennium.
War films recreate the end of human lives, lost needlessly and callously. Even the most wrenching deaths can't hide that. Why did we think that our love for goodness and truth would protect us from this torture? Taking a hill means tossing young existences carelessly into the unknown. Malick knows this. He isn't interested in the heroics that mask such antiquated atrocity. He also isn't interested in victories, large or small. At the same time, Malick doesn't revel in violence and destruction, soldiers lying wait are still amongst creation and can't help but be dwarfed by its complexity, perhaps their own place amongst the leaves.
I love the range of emotions in the "I blew my butt off" scene. It's hilarious or perhaps just ridiculous at first, followed by our enlightened soldier's lovely reminder that everything will be ok; even in death, something good can shine right through. THE THIN RED LINE is a perfect mixture of sadness, transcendence, horror, madness, and futility. Fuck rank and cloud. Anyone who questions Malick's genius need not look any further than this. It's a true gem and as close to a true anti-war film as anything ever made, not simply because it rubs our faces in destruction but because it reminds us of our humanity; like water merging together, it becomes hard to tell us apart.
It's a wonder this was made and I'm very thankful for it. The ending shows us a lovely instance of sacrifice from the film's most unabashed philosopher. All is grace as the glory shines through.