Jason, I’m glad you finally saw TTOL. Your nutritional facts for our debate were pretty spot on haha. It sounds like you had the same reaction to the film that I did. I think you and I are the only two in our club so far who love the film without reservations. I can’t wait to see it again too. I’m with you on everything you wrote.
“But there is no pretension in Tree of Life, no guile, no double entendre”
Absolutely. I think its one of the most sincere films you’ll ever see (and I’ll stick by this). It’s almost a miracle how little pretension is involved in Malick’s style. Maybe on first glance someone could mistake this, but after seeing all of this films I think you’ve got to realize that he really means everything he does. If you can’t see this, I really think you aren’t looking hard enough.
I hear you about not caring if you get everything in the film. While I was watching it, I just thought it was so beautiful that I didn’t care whether I was always following it. It’s like my favorite novel of all time, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. I don’t always get it, but it’s so beautifully written and told that I don’t care. (sorry that I keep bringing up Faulkner everyone, but I really think there are similarities between him and Malick and I’ve always thought so).
I am an atheist and not even remotely spiritual, but I do love nature and poetry. Also, I’m a huge romantic (and lover of Romanticism). Malick appeals to all of these sensibilities. He tries to do visually what guys like Wordsworth tried to do with words.
Interestingly, Days of Heaven is my favorite Terry Malick film. It might be just because of my preference for the look of older cameras, but I really do think it’s a perfect film. Nick Schager at Slant calls it the greatest film ever made. While I woudn’t say that about any film, I do think he hits upon every reason why I think the film is perfect because he emphasizes the word "film. " Days of Heaven is a simply told (though highly symbolic and profound), unbelievably beautiful combination of sight and sound. Malick’s films are basically all like this, but perhaps I just prefer the look of this film to any of his others, and I just love the Ennio Morricone score with the Carnival of Animals: Aquarium thrown in (There’s a similarity between Kubrick and Malick–they know how to use music wonderfully in their films).
Also, I’d just like to ask because this has come up (through I believe Brandon and John), what’s your take on whispering in this film and whispering in Malick films in general? With The Thin Red Line, Malick films have moved away from using direct first-person narration (a la Badlands and Days of Heaven) to a series of seemingly disconnected whispers and ruminations. He’s kept this style up with his last two films. Brandon questioned the use of whispering in his films and I think John questioned its use in TTOL specifically because he felt the voices should have expressed more anguish. Now, I gave John my take on why I think whispering works for TTOL. Here’s my thoughts on the importance of whispering in Malick’s films in general. Chime in anyone if you'd like.
I can’t remember if The Thin Red Line has a lot of whispering but I do know that it has the same poetically musing style of TNW and TTOL. Certainly, the latter two films are composed of whispers.
I think whispering is used for two main reasons and I think it is effective for both reasons:
First, intimacy. Is there anything more intimate in a film than someone whispering through voice-over? Voice-over narration already has a note of intimacy through suggesting a direct relaiton between you and the film itself. But with whispering, it becomes so intimate that you are almost eavesdropping. It’s like you are hearing private thoughts. I think that Malick likes to balance the intimacy of the narration with the intimacy of the shots. A lot of the times, the shots look like they are whispering to you too. I think the voice-over and shots compliment one another. They are both intimate, tender, poetic, and most of all quiet. I think Malick’s love of nature has influenced his love for quiet things. I’m right there with him. I wish more people could watch his films and appreciate being quiet.
(also, I think whispering alongside shots of nature suggests smallness or humility. You aren’t overpowering nature; you are blending in with it. You are just one animal amidst a vast world of natural life. If its a symphony, you are just playing your part, not taking over the music for yourself.)
Second, I think it’s important to keep in mind Malick’s background. He’s a Heideggerian scholar, so his philosophical grounding is in phenomenology. He’s certainly gotta be interested in the relationship between consciousness and phenomena, and I think his films stress this. You definitely get a sense of the connection between the two in his films. To him, perhaps whispering is more evocative of conscious experience. I'm guessing he does a lot of philosophical whispering in his head in real life. Just a hunch.