I am not a big fan of Terrence Malick’s. I watched Tree of Life until the end only so that I could say that I had hated it, the whole of it. After that, I was very careful not to walk on that path again. Not that I find he is not talented or that he has nothing to say. Simply, what he says just sounds flat to my ears. What doesn’t, however, sound flat to my ears, is this:
Music is the only reason why I decided to watch The Thin Red Line, released in 1998, the second adaptation of James Jones’ novel about the Battle of Guantalcanal where the Allies (mostly American troops) fought the Japanese soldiers to gain control of the island of Guantalcanal during WW2. For Malick’s third movie, Hans Zimmer and his collaborators (amongst whom John Powell and Gavin Greenaway) created several hours of music before the production even started. Terrence Malick wanted to play the music to the crew before shooting so that they knew the mood they should be in. And that’s exactly what music is in The Thin Red Line: the tense, doubtful, hopeful, resigned mood of a scared soldier. Scared but alive. Alive but doomed.
The mind, here, is the scenario and the directing. It sees. It attends. It takes part. Vividly awake and aware of death and desolation, the mind sometimes wanders and focuses on what is beautiful and on what will remain: nights and days, seas and trees, kindness and humiliation, love and despair. It knows there is no beginning and no end.
The soul is the soldiers. All of them. Witt, Fife, Stanos, Welsh, Train, Tall, Bell, Doll, Keck, Storm. The soul is everything. It is idealist and cynical. It is lost and serene. It is afraid and peaceful. It is young and experienced. It is blindly disciplined and wisely rebellious. It has many fears, many prayers, many wishes. It has many faces (Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Woody Harrelson, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, George Clooney, John Travolta…) and many voices, all of which are true, sincere and intense. It is dying and when it’s dead, it will be born again. Because the soul knows too: there is no beginning and no end.