Terrence Malick breaks a twenty year hiatus by presenting audiences with The Thin Red Line, a poem set during WWII beautifully detailing the humanity of the soldiers from C Company and their trial amidst the Battle of Mount Austen. Where The Thin Red Line becomes a truly special film to experience arises from how it is no ordinary Hollywood war film, but in some manner, a universal tale that in the end creates a beautiful resonance within one’s mind. At near three hours, Terrence Malick takes his audiences on a journey amidst the lunacy that would be present within the war and in the end, an easy contender for the best WWII film of all time. It may not be my favourite of the sort, but when talking about such, it certainly is not a film that I would leave out.
Adapted from James Jones’s novel of the same name, Terrence Malick is not merely telling the audience of a story of WWII, but instead creates a collection of memories from soldiers from C Company who fought during the war – ranging from the courageous to the weaker. What’s weaved altogether by The Thin Red Line in some way resembles a tapestry of what the soldiers are thinking while they are within battle, and therein lies the humanity that defines the film. It carries many perspectives of the war and the willingness to delve into the psychology of these soldiers is where such beautiful emotion arises from The Thin Red Line. Its understanding of the human condition within several perspectives as opposed to just one is where an experience so unique from many other war films comes in, as it forms a beautiful matting.
It comes from this very aspect that makes The Thin Red Line a beautifully thoughtful piece when you look at it in comparison to other contemporary war films. It is never a film that is focused on a single soldier, but it pits different sorts of human beings within a situation much like the war, and what would flow through their mind while out at battle. What would be left for them at home when the war is over? The collection of opinions from these soldiers weaves together in order to form a deeper picture of the flawed human soul. For how simple their own ideas of what is happening during the war may be, it could be that Terrence Malick weaves some sense into what pressure would come from trying to make sense of the environment around oneself.
John Toll’s cinematography is all so stunning, in the manner that sitting through sequences almost gives a feeling of walking through an art gallery. Whether you’re watching a scene take place on the mountains, within the sea, or within the forest, there’s so much beauty within the imagery that is presented that creates an absorbing experience altogether. Terrence Malick so perfectly mixes together the nature shots together with the battleground imagery in order to create an experience that in itself feels so distinctive from other WWII films. While there is no denying the trademarks that arise from the cinematography to Terrence Malick’s films, it always feels as if they seem to add more food for thought, which is something comes to my own appreciation as I sit through a film much like The Thin Red Line.
Looking at the manner to which The Thin Red Line chooses to move through many images of nature before finally heading out to showing the war that is being fought, it seems as if a more interesting analogy is being presented in regards to how the human behavior does not differ by very much especially when compared to the natural surroundings that overwhelm them. It is clear from the opening shot, which is an image of a crocodile symbolizing the danger that would be found amidst nature the moment intruders come in. It gives an idea that there is evil residing within nature, and as humans are indeed part of nature itself, is that form of evil within the soul?
It is within Terrence Malick’s ability to capture universality that makes The Thin Red Line as powerful a war film as it stands. There is never a focus on a single character, but instead a collected gathering of both sides of the war, beautifully weaved together in order to give an idea of humanity’s nature to destroy itself. To get the very obvious out of the way, it is indeed beautifully shot, as one would already recognize from the films of Terrence Malick. Yet philosophically, there is much more to dig into, for The Thin Red Line presents a tale of humanity in its attempt to make sense of the horrors that overwhelm the soul. From there on, it becomes clear that The Thin Red Line is not only a war film, but a film willing to explore and question what is humanity’s place within war, living amidst nature witnessing its destruction.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by Terrence Malick
Screenplay by Terrence Malick, from the novel by James Jones
Produced by Robert Michael Geisler, John Roberdeau, Grant Hill
Starring Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, John Travolta, Jared Leto, Dash Mihok, Miranda Otto, Nick Stahl
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 171 minutes
One of my favorite films. You do it justice in your review. The Thin Red Line is loosely based on a novel by James Jones. I’ve read it and it’s excellent as well. Malick makes major changes, but it works magnificently. If you recall Adrien Brody in the film, seen only briefly, his character is the main one in the novel. I think the film, really unlike the novel, puts forth the them of duality. Duality in Nature (“what is this war at the heart of nature?”) and in man as well. Contradictions, oppositions, that are just there, part of us. War is one of the most powerful examples: waged perhaps for a good cause, but bringing death and suffering to so many. You call this film a poem, and I would agree. A magnificent visual poem about man, nature and war.
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