Cheat Sheet: Terrence Malick


Terrence Frederick Malick

Date of Birth:

30 November 1943

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Illinois, USA

Special Moves:

Philosophical, visually stunning films

Films include:

Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, Tree of Life

What you already know:

Not the type of director you would call prolific, Malick’s films take an age to reach the silver screen and then take an age to watch them. This is not meant as a criticism: Malick’s films are a rarity in that they’re oddly entrancing, lyrical dramas that play out against a sumptuous backdrop. After the success of Badlands (1973)and Days of Heaven (1978) Malick retreated from directing and did not emerge until The Thin Red Line twenty years later. Regarded as a true American Auteur he rarely engages in publicity due to his shy and reserved nature. Interviews with Malick are hard to come by and he refuses to be acknowledged in the marketing of his films leaving his portrait above as one of very few promotional pictures in circulation.

His languid, unhurried style has often caused parts of his films to end up on the cutting room floor. In the case of The Thin Red Line Malick edited out Martin Sheen, Viggo Mortensen, Mickey Rourke, Lukas Haas, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman and Billy Bob Thornton and still managed to find space for Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, John Travolta, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, George Clooney, John Cusack and Elias Koteas.

What you might not know:

Before his film career took off Malick studied Philosophy and Literature at Harvard University in 1965. He went to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar but left before completing his degree. He managed to find time to translate  Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons (from German to English, natch) before tenuring as a teacher of Philosophy at MIT. He also found work as a freelance journalist with his work appearing in publications such as Life and Newsweek.

Malick’s nascent film career began when he was accepted into AFI’s Centre for Advanced Film Studies and graduated in the inaugural class along with Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, 1976). He financed his studies by rewriting scripts for Deadhead Miles (1972), Pocket Money(1972), Dirty Harry (1971) and Drive, He Said (1971). While on his film-making ‘convalescence’ he also contributed to the script of Great Balls of Fire! (1989).

What to say at a dinner party:

To me The Thin Red Line is a philosophical rumination on the effects of war, a study about how a group of soldiers under severe duress come together to a form a bond that’s familial, safeguarding each other from the evils of war.

What not to say at a dinner party:

So how he come he hasn’t thrown his hat in for a comic book film yet? Surely he’ll be able to make one that’s good? If Chris Nolan can do it why can’t he?

Final Thought:

Malick is about to become positively prolific, with his next film (starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams) due out some time next year. That’s two films in two years compared four in twenty-five years. You might even say he’s in a bit of a rush…

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