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Unanswered questions: vision and experience in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line.

In the chapter "Participant Observers" in his 1972 Film as Film V.F. Perkins writes the following:
 [F]ilms are unlikely to replace speech or writing as the medium
 for examining and conveying ideas. Moral, political,
 philosophical and other concepts can attain in words an (at
 least apparent) clarity and precision which no other medium
 can rival. The movie's claim to significance lies in its embodiment
 of tensions, complexities and ambiguities. It has a
 built-in tendency to favour the communication of vision and
 experience as against programme. (1)

Perkins' claim about the significance of movies applies to the achievements of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line; it also anticipates Simon Critchley's advice on how to avoid slipping up on any "hermeneutic banana skins" when interpreting The Thin Red Line:
 Malick's movies seem to make philosophical statements
 and present philosophical positions. Nonetheless, to read
 through the cinematic image to some identifiable philosophical
 master text would be a mistake, for it would be not to
 read at all.... To read from cinematic language to some
 philosophical metalanguage is both to miss what is specific
 to the medium of film and usually to engage in some sort of
 cod-philosophy deliberately designed to intimidate the
 uninitiated. (2)

Critchley's informative article brings valuable contexts for The Thin Red Line to my attention and I agree with most of his observations; yet, though he warns against reading from "cinematic language" to "philosophical metalanguage", Critchley nevertheless overlooks some significant elements of Malick's style.

Critchley notes that "It]he narrative of The Thin Red Line is organized around three relationships, each composed of a conflict between two characters." While I might not argue that Malick "organises" The Thin Red Line around these three relationships, I agree that the film assigns distinction to them, although these relationships do not exhaust all the material of the film. As Critchley observes, one relationship is between Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) and Captain Staros (Elias Koteas)--Malick uses this to dramatise the conflict between an ambitious senior officer, although the film qualifies that ambition, and his more caring subordinate; Tall's relationship with his senior officers, represented at the start by John Travolta's General Quintard, provides a context for Tall and Staros' relationship, while Captain Staros has a significant relationship with his men. The relationship between Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) and First Sergeant Welsh (Sean Penn) yields a philosophical debate between idealist and materialist prompted by and focussed upon war and death. In turn, the relationship between Witt and his dead mother, established in the prologue, provides one context for the staging of Witt's idealism against Welsh's materialism. Disagreements over perception put pressure on these two relationships; and this is the case with the relationship between Bell (Ben Chaplin) and his wife (Miranda Otto), his visualised memories of her alluding to Witt's memories of his mother. Witt and Bell participate in the assault on the Japanese bunker and their comrades in that group play important parts: they include Private First Class Doll (Dash Mihok), who steals a pistol and later shouts to Corporal Queen (David Harrod), another member of that group, after killing a retreating Japanese soldier; Captain John Gaff (John Cusack), who compares importantly with Captain Staros; and Private First Class Charlie Dale (Arie Verveen), whose collecting of teeth from dead Japanese soldiers in the village produces one of the film's prominent moments.

Critchley concentrates on the relationship between Witt and Welsh and in this article I do the same. As he writes, "[t]he conflict is established in the first dialogue between the two soldiers, after Witt has been incarcerated for going AWOL in a Melanesian village (the scenes of somewhat cloying communal harmony that open the film)." Here, I shift sharply away from Critchley's judgements and his methods--he describes the importance of Malick's use of music and images of tropical plants, trees, birds and animals, but he rests after the mention of Hans Zimmer, composer of the film's original score, failing to interpret the dense complexity of Malick's patterning, pointing only to the "cloying communal harmony" of the opening scenes. He proceeds to outline some parts of these, but he draws his conclusions largely from the dialogue, quoting, for instance, Witt's dialogue and voice-over about his mother dying but not developing his reading further than "the recollected image of his mother's death-bed." This "image", or sequence, forms the focus of my close reading.

The prologue on the island establishes the concerns of one character only; these do not comprise all the film's themes and ideas: the three subsequent scenes--in the brig, on deck with the officers and down below with the company --all introduce other perspectives. Writing of Malick's adaptation of James Jones' novel, which begins with the company, some on deck and some in the hold, Jimmie E. Cain, Jr demonstrates authoritatively that the filmmaker closely adapted the novelist's words for the scenes of Witt's reflections on his mother's death, extracting dialogue and voice-overs from Jones' earlier novel, From Here to Eternity. (3) Cain reports that Jones had originally planned to have the same character appear in all three of his war novels: From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line and Whistle. However, in his writing of the end of From Here to Eternity, Jones killed off Prewitt, played by Montgomery Cliff in Fred Zinnemann's 1953 film. Wanting to illustrate his theory of the "evolution of a soldier", the process by which a soldier comes to accept the inevitability of his own death, Jones reincarnated Prewitt as Witt. Cain shows how Malick modelled his Witt not on the Witt of Jones' The Thin Red Line but on the Prewitt of >From Here to Eternity, illustrating how, for example, Witt's reflections on death repeat Prewitt's reflections on death, also prompted by memories of his mother's death. Similarly, he reveals how Malick paraphrased passages between Warden and Prewitt for the scene between Welsh and Witt in the brig, and between Dynamite Holmes, his wife Karen and General Slater for the scene between Tall and Quintard on deck. Following this, Cain verifies that Jones' conception of nature, as a presence which confronts the soldiers, lays the foundations for the views of nature that Malick's film presents; observing that, "[n]ature obviously repels and attracts in Jones's narrative, strikes man as beatific and horrific at the same time", Cain concludes that in his allegiance to Jones' vision, Malick successfully "fret[s] out the 'unsevered thread' that binds From Here to Eternity to The Thin Red Line." (4)

Malick's The Thin Red Line begins with a shot that follows a crocodile entering the water. A fade-in to this shot from a black screen brings us into the film's world; just before the fade-in, we hear birds softly chirping, a sound soon overwhelmed by the introduction to the Estonian composer Arvo Part's 1980 composition Annum per Annum. Part's piece is a solo organ work, which he composed to celebrate the nine-hundredth anniversary of a cathedral in southwest Germany. It takes its title from the idea of mass being celebrated daily through the years. Malick only uses the introduction, about a minute long, which consists of a single open chord sustained in the right hand and pulsated rhythmically in the left and on the pedals until the dynamic fades away to nothing. Part is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and he is committed to setting sacred texts to music, composing music that approximates to and appropriates that church's traditions of spiritual chant. Part scholar, singer and conductor Paul Hillier notes the link between the Orthodox Church's use of repetitive rhythms in traditional chanting and Minimalism's use of non-narrative process structures and harmonic stasis. While acknowledging that the "the topic of spirituality in music is like quicksand", Hillier nonetheless summarises:
 The powerful dynamic of this opening chord transforms the
 disappearance of the crocodile under water, volume and
 scale launching a level and tone that the film will resume during
 the battles.

The crocodile's mouth seems to grin slyly as it slips without splash into the stagnant green water: it moves slowly although its threat comes from its ability to move quickly. The opening shot offers a range of meanings: ancient, pre-historic, hiding beneath the water, the crocodile represents a predatory threat--prompting thoughts of the law of the jungle, perhaps to be contrasted with the laws of civilisation. The sustained chord on a huge organ intensifies the threat and beckons us to consider the jungle as a monument, a natural cathedral, to the scale of creation. As Part's chord fades out, a series of shots presents trees assailed by vines and roots, while an unspecified voice-over asks the film's first questions: "What's this war at the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself, the land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature, not one power but two?"

Gabriel Faure's "In Paradisum", the seventh and final part of his Requiem (first composed in 1888, revised and published in 1900) begins. It accompanies images of two Melanesian children opening nuts with a stone, a group of women and children on the beach at sunset, a smaller group of children playing a rhythmic game with stones, and then children swimming under water, filmed from below. We dissolve to a shot above the sea, which pans right and finds Witt looking into the water as he paddles his canoe like Huckleberry Finn on his raft. Witt's look to his left prompts a cut to a boy walking through the surf holding a fishing rod. We return to Witt paddling the canoe and he smiles a greeting at two Melanesian men, passing on his left in another canoe. From there, the film dissolves slowly to a medium long shot of women bathing their children in shallow water. Faure's chorus fades out and Hans Zimmer's "The Coral Atoll" fades in, more sombre, although still sustaining chords

While Part's Annum per Annum evokes an epic though ominous grandeur, Faure's "In Paradisum', coupled with the images of the boys swimming, emphasises a tranquil weightlessness. The traditional Requiem Mass, or mass for the dead, takes its name from the first word of its first part, the Introitus: "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine" or "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord." Faure's Requiem is apparently unusual, for example in comparison with Verdi's, Mozart's or Beethoven's Requiems, in the high number of times it repeats the word "requiem" or "rest." (6) The Latin words heard during this part of the film, sung alternately by sopranos and full chorus, translate as follows:
 May the angels receive them in Paradise, at their coming may
 the martyrs receive thee and bring thee into the holy city


 There may the chorus of angels receive thee, and with
 Lazarus, once a beggar, may thou have eternal rest.
 May thou have eternal rest.

Faure later wrote, near the end of his life: "[e]very scrap of religious illusion I may have possessed has gone into my Requiem; moreover, it is dominated from one end to the other by a really human sentiment: confidence in eternal rest." (7) Hans Zimmer composed most of the score for The Thin Red Line, incorporating into parts of it adaptations of "Christian Race", an American folk hymn. Besides the Part introduction, Faure's "In Paradisum" and an extract from a song by Francesco Lupica during the closing shots, Malick also uses the introduction to Charles Ives' 1906 composition The Unanswered Question. In addition, we hear three Melanesian choral pieces, "God U Tekem Laef Blong Mi", "Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi" and "Soon My Lord", the first two of which occur during the prologue, sung by the Choir of All Saints, Honiara. These add to the evocation of a place and contribute to the celebratory and elegiac tone of the opening.

The introduction of Witt on his canoe, accompanied by Faure's "In Paradisum", initiates the film's depiction of a major character's consciousness: the two shot/reverse-shot pairs, of Witt on the canoe and the boy then the two men, begin a series of shot/reverse-shot pairs which guide us through the ensuing sequence. The extract from Faure's Requiem and the images that accompany it mark Witt with that "confidence in eternal rest" of which the composer speaks. The overlapping of Witt's voice-over with his dialogue and the intense performance of looking by Jim Caviezel link the shots taken from times and spaces. After dissolving to the medium long shot of the women bathing their children, the film cuts to a long shot of Witt standing on the beach, then a medium shot of a mother and child in the water--at which point, Witt's voice-over begins. Prompted by the mothers with their children and by thoughts of the possibility of his own death during battle, his voice-over recollects: "I remember my mother when she was dying; she looked all shrunk up and grey. I asked her if she was afraid; she just shook her head. I was afraid to touch the death I seen in her. I couldn't find nothing beautiful or uplifting about her going back to God." While Witt says this, Malick uses a medium shot of Witt on the beach, watching the mother, then a long shot of the woman leaving the water with her child and passing Witt, then a dissolve to Witt sitting talking in close-up, at which point his voice-over becomes dialogue and he concludes: "I heard people talk about immortality, but I ain't seen it." He then turns to look to his left, and we cut to a long shot of children playing in the trees.

The dissolves, between the children swimming and Witt on the canoe, between Witt on the canoe and the mothers bathing and between the woman walking past Witt and Witt sitting in a close-up, bridge times and places. Far from being an unstructured collation of impressions of life on an idyllic pacific island, the prologue rigorously uses a classical convention to close in on one character's perception. After the long shot of the children playing comes a close up of Witt's comrade sitting with a parrot on his hand, then a return to Witt, who has his head bowed and the back of his fingers of his right hand raised to his mouth. Witt's head is centre frame with the point where his knuckles touch his lips just below the middle. Malick slowly dissolves to a close shot of Witt's mother's hand holding and stroking Witt's left hand, placed in the centre of the frame, exactly where his hand was in the previous shot.

This bridge belongs to one of the most extraordinarily rich sequences in the film. The move between voice-over and dialogue fluidly compresses the transition between times and places, so that the images of Witt watching the mothers bathe their children, of Witt talking to his friend and of his dying mother mutually pervade each other. The dissolve, bringing Witt's right hand to his lips at the point where his mother's left hand holds his left hand, signals a change in time; Witt's pose indicates a shift to a sequence that represents his memory; but the overlapping of these two shots gives prominence to the physical sensation that provokes Witt's remembrance: we see what he remembers and how he remembers it. Malick's film is preoccupied with the relationship between the physical and metaphysical: this dissolve connects Witt touching his hand to his lips, absorbed with the sensation of his fingers, with his remembrance of his dying mother lightly stroking his hand.

>From there, the film cuts to a shot of his mother sitting up in bed, stretching towards a girl in a white dress, while between them and the camera a man in a waistcoat, who I take to be Witt, sits with his back to us. The mother and the girl move slowly, as if dancing their parts in Witt's memory of them--we cannot point to anything that indicates we should read this sequence as a record of events independent of Witt's consciousness. Throughout the sequence birds chirp; in the background of one shot, Malick makes visible two small birds in a roughly made wooden cage, home made not shop bought; a close shot of them jumping around in the cage imparts significance to their presence. Images of birds, startled by the soldiers, flying freely in the jungle or dying on the ground, occur at points during the rest of the film; we should not leap to the conclusion though that these caged birds form part of a diagrammatic illustration of the relationship between freedom and captivity.

A shot of the girl's shoulders and chest follows, during which we hear a heartbeat accompanying Zimmer's music; then a shot of the girl pressing her ear to what may be Witt's chest--almost as if she's listening to, and the film is representing, Witt's heartbeat. Their clothes are faded and well worn, as is the patterned quilt on the mother's bed, suggesting the country not the city; Witt remembers his own pastoral family life while seeing what he perceives to be a harmonious familial and communal life on the island. From the shot of the girl hugging Witt, we move to a shot in which the camera pans and tilts from the bed, along the wall and past a clock, to the ceiling of the room, although there is no ceiling. The corner of the room creates a V-shape and the sky dissolves into a shot of the beach, the sea, Witt's canoe and then Witt sitting on the beach alone. Meanwhile the soundtrack interlaces Zimmer's serenely repetitive music with a heart beating and a clock ticking, the former alluding to biological cyclical movement and the other to manmade time. The interleaving of heart, clock and music coalesces as an intensely compelling moment that swells and expands into the depth of Witt's feeling and apprehension. The intertwining of images, music and sounds touches on memory, perception and time; allusions to death, Witt's remembering of his mother's death and his anticipation if not, in Jones' evolutionary terms, acceptance of his death, join with the film's presentation of the unusual natural environment which confronts the soldier. Paul Hillier, describing the "fixed-state, non-narrative content" of Arvo Part's music as serving our need for rituals, writes:
 The use of repetitive patterns and harmonic stasis suggests
 an awareness of time quite different from the materiality of
 Western "clock" time, though just as real to the person who
 experiences it.... The ritual aspect of his [Part's] music
 derives both aesthetically and spiritually from its function as
 a sounding icon. The music ushers us into the presence of a
 recurring process: for ritual is not simply the repetition or
 re-enactment of structured events, but rather a return to a
 perennial condition. (8)

Malick merges the materiality of "clock" time with Witt's apprehension of his place in a process of recurring cycles: the details of the sequence--hands meeting, birds chirping, heart beating, clock ticking--create an apprehended rather than a represented scene; the swelling of Zimmer's music and the eloquent tilt of the camera combine with the dissolve from room to sky to implicate remembered past with experienced present and anticipated future. Appropriately, this interlacing of images and sounds precedes a change in tense in Witt's voice-over, from the current wondering of "I heard people talk about immortality" to his recollection of how he had wondered, in the past: "I wondered how it would be when I died. What it would be like to know that this breath now was the last one you was ever gonna draw. I just hope I can meet it the same way she did, with the same calm. 'Cause that's where it's hidden, the immortality I hadn't seen." And while the dialogue with his comrade becomes a ruminating interior monologue, the film presents Witt in a different time and place.

During Witt's voice-over about how he will meet his own death, the film cuts to a closer shot of the canoe, presumably from Witt's point of view, then to a shot of him standing, in a medium close-up, looking towards, although not at, the camera. Witt thinks about how he will meet his own death, yet when he turns towards the camera, his face and shoulders are relaxed and his eyes, although squinting at the glare, express no anxiety; his forehead is not creased and a trace of a smile hovers on his face. Throughout the film, Caviezel never allows Witt to show panic in his eyes, even up river towards the end; avoiding dullness or blankness, the actor keeps his eye movements steady, deliberate and assured. Typically, Caviezel walks as if he is out for a leisurely stroll on a farm at sunset, saying hello to a comrade who has been shot in the knee as if greeting a neighbour. The actor never produces an impression of fear, although neither does he allow us to imagine that Witt consciously suppresses a fear. He hopes to meet his own death with the same calm that his mother met hers, and he believes that the immortality that he has not seen is hidden in that calm.

>From the shot of Witt looking calmly towards the camera, we cut to a shot of an islander holding some shells, as the sea washes over his hand. Singing begins, a Melanesian chorus, and Malick shows us three children picking up stones on the beach. The singers clap a rhythm and we cut back to Witt as before with the three children in the background. The preceding shots are not point-of-view shots, but they are rooted in his perception. As the singing gets louder and more celebratory, Witt looks for its source and Malick cuts to a shot of two islanders holding hands, filmed from behind. A new shot reveals Witt moving into the village, the music fading out slightly as he walks. We then cut to the shot/reverse-shot sequence of his conversation with the Melanesian mother holding her son. "Kids around here never fight", he observes; "Sometimes, sometimes when you see them playing, they always fight", she says, contradicting his idealistic perception. Caviezel is a handsome man and as Witt he smiles easily with relaxed warmth; unforced flirtatiousness colours their conversation about her baby and his appearance. Witt's comment about the lack of fighting points to a thematic contrast between the warring nations and the harmonious islanders, but the mother's contradictory words allow us to read the contrast as coming from Witt instead of Malick. A series of shots of Witt and his comrade observing and interacting with the parents and children of the village follows: a man shows Witt how" to mend a roof; Witt's friend laughs with a group of women; both soldiers play with the children; Witt bathes in the sea; a woman and her daughter cook over a fire; Witt watches a father and child through a doorway; finally, Witt watches a group of Melanesians walking and singing together. The last shot in this sequence, before his comrade notices the arrival of the American patrol boat, shows Witt standing on the beach watching the singers. Throughout these portrayals of domestic and familial life amongst the villagers, Witt maintains a sleepy smile on his face, calmly embracing what he sees. The shot of Witt on the beach watching the singers reproduces the framing from the earlier shot when his voice-over talks about remembering his mother dying; and, like that one, it supports the epistemic structure of the prologue, a sequence which ends with a shot of Witt looking over his shoulder. The next sequence, of First Sergeant Welsh talking to Witt in the Brig, begins with a long shot of the patrol boat at sunset Malick is uninterested in conventional plot questions about bow Witt and his friend were arrested.

The patterning of shots in the opening sequence becomes an analogue of Witt's own vision and experience: the matching of Witt's voice-over about his mother's death and his own death with his watching of families on the island is transformed into the connections that Witt feels: we view the experiences of this character with a powerful immediacy. The prologue does not offer us a single point from which we can begin to follow one story; it places together some of the story's themes, setting up Witt as one of its central focuses, opening with him and establishing his consciousness, yet providing no further information about Witt's feelings about his mother. The prologue presents the Pacific islanders' lives from Witt's viewpoint, signalled by the shot/reverse-shot pairs and by the integration of him thinking about his mother with shots of him observing and talking to Melanesian villagers, specifically a mother and her child. Gilberto Perez reminds us that, "movies are a representation both of the world and of an apprehension of the world;" (9) and Malick embeds Witt's apprehension of the island in the film's representation of it, but he deprives us of opportunities to state definitively where apprehension and representation separate. Folding and splicing together layers of time and space, Malick lets relationships and continuity emerge through patterning. Christopher Ricks, in discussing Austin's play on words with "the cats on the table", refers to "interesting filaments". (10) In The Thin Red Line, Malick uses filaments to draw together elements that may seem disparate: at times, causal logic propels the story, creating local suspense (for example, the authoritative, Hitchcockian cut to the Japanese bunker with the machine guns after Staros says: "I'm sure the Japs got something there to protect the approaches"); but the film's significance derives from its global strategies of using small pieces of linking matter to illuminate its themes.

Witt, AWOL on the island, retreats from the society of American civilisation represented by the army. Thematically, Witt's retreat from his daily environment into the natural beauty of the Pacific island develops as a search for a spirituality that Western civilisation lacks or has lost; it parallels the relationship between civilisation and wilderness that constitutes a vital theme of much American fiction. Yet, statements made or views shown are integrated into the overall film; for example, when Witt returns to the village after his experiences of battle he sees not the ideal familial community but only strife. Richard Poirier, in A World Elsewhere, observes:
 Figures communing with nature abound in that [American]
 literature but they are essentially the same whether they seek
 purification from nature or try to impose their wills upon it.
 In either case they are enacting the same conviction, so pronounced
 in Coverdale [the central character in Hawthorne's
 The Blithedale Romance] that participation in society can only
 thwart the exercise of feelings that are most God-like. (11)

Poirier notes that American literature--we might say American fiction--is full of images equivalent to the frontier. War films, like Westerns, with their images of a front line contested by competing forces, allude to America's frontiers, often affiliating the creation of an ideal self with the creation of an ideal nation. Malick's The Thin Red Line dramatises the Americans' fight against the Japanese on Guadalcanal, but it extends to more metaphorical borders and frontiers. The trailer for the film declares with a subtitle that the film is set on "Guadalcanal Island, 1942"; but Malick prefers to be more casual about the precise history of the battle of Guadalcanal, foregoing the possibilities for securing our relationship to the times and places represented and apprehended. We discover that the island is Guadalcanal only when Brigadier General Quintard briefs the officers on the ship and the film mentions no dates. Malick is an improvisational and intuitive filmmaker who often changes things on set and during post-production. Elias Koteas, who plays Staros, comments that Malick improvises a lot: when Malick discovered that Koteas had a Greek background, he incorporated this into the character and changed the Captain from an American Jew (Stein in Jones' novel) to a Greek-American Christian. Colin MacCabe criticises Malick for this change, arguing that it deprives the film of a potential to expose anti-Semitism in the American forces; but Malick is more interested in filming experiences that might be universal to soldiers in battle. (12)

Witt's participation in the attack on Guadalcanal is not a return to the wilderness, but his first visit to the Melanesian village constitutes for him a retreat from Western civilisation and warfare. Throughout the prologue, he wears only his shorts or trousers and his literal removal of his uniform functions as a figurative escape from society and its clothes, that is, its strictures about what one should wear and do, things that are often held in tension in American fiction with wearing nothing and doing what one wants. The social ordering from which Americans want to escape is represented in the nineteenth century novels of Henry James by Europe and England; civilisation and its strictures prove lethal for Daisy Miller and devastatingly restrictive for Isabel Archer. The twentieth century finds that social ordering in American society itself, as do James' own twentieth-century novels. The Thin Red Line allows us to perceive Witt's comparison of the island's natural beauty and its inhabitants' life with the battle between two nations taking place on the island; but Witt's two experiences in the village imply that he sees only what he looks for: first, harmony amongst the villagers, and between the villagers and their environment; then, disharmony. When Witt returns to the village, during the week off the frontline, children run away from him, a group of men fight and he sees skulls piled in a hut, before he walks away in long shot, centre-frame, down a path into the jungle. Witt's varying experiences of the village connect with the doubts that Bell's "Dear John" letter retrospectively establish about his memory of his love for his wife, and with Tall and Staros' disagreement over how to attack the Japanese bunker, which derives from positions based on who sees better--Tan's decision to see the world from Staros' point of view is prompted by his realisation that a General is watching him.

The Thin Red Line evokes questions as basic and profound as whether human actions can affect the world, whether there is an external force that exists beyond our apprehension of the physical world, whether civilisation exists apart from the natural environment. Witt first voices his faith during his dialogue with Sergeant Welsh in the brig. Malick stages the scene so that it unfolds as an unusual impression of a Sergeant berating a Private. Throughout the scene, Sean Penn lowers the pitch of his voice at the end of each line, speaking as if sighing with resignation. He sits, speaks and walks slowly and deliberately, occasionally raising his eyebrows as he looks at Witt, softly asking rhetorical questions. He believes that he is in control, and he attempts to remain detached from Witt; but the intrigue of the scene emerges from the way in which Penn and Caviezel allow the emotional balance of power between the two men to bristle against the military hierarchy that ostensibly places Sergeant Welsh in the position of power. Welsh finds Witt bemusing and intriguing:

Welsh: You haven't changed at all have you Witt, you haven't learned a thing? All a man has to do is leave it to you, you put your head in a noose for him. How many times you been AWOL? You been in the army, what, about six years now? Ain't it about time you smartened up, stop being such a punk recruit? I mean, if you ever gonna.

Witt: We can't all be smart.

Welsh: No we can't. And that's a shame. Look at you. The truth is, you can't take straight duty in my company, you'll never be a real soldier, not in God's world. This is C Company, of which I'm First Sergeant, I run this outfit. Now, Captain Staros, he's the CO, but I'm the guy who runs it. Nobody's gonna foul that up. You're just another mouth for me to feed. Normally you'd be court-martialled, but I worked a deal for you. Oughta consider yourself lucky. I'm sending you to a disciplinary outfit. You'll be a stretcher bearer. You'll be taking care of the wounded.

Witt: I can take anything you dish out. And I'm twice the man you are.

Welsh: In this world, a man, himself, is nothing. And there ain't no world but this one.

Witt: You're wrong there Top. I seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.

Caviezel's performance provides Witt with a sombre assurance that prompts Welsh, who looks surprised, to wonder where his assurance comes from, if it comes from his vision of "another world." The dialogue between them contrasts idealist and materialist, and Welsh concludes: "Well, then you've seen things I never will. We're living in a world that's blowing itself to hell as fast as everybody can arrange it. Situation like that, all a man can do is shut his eyes and let nothing touch him, look out for himself. I might be the best friend you ever had. You don't even know it." After Welsh leaves the cell, Witt's comrade observes "He hates you worse than poison"; but Witt disagrees: "I never felt he hated me, 'cause 1 don't hate him." Malick introduces an image of a man and a boy near a haystack; he then ends the scene with Witt's "I love Charlie Company; they're my people."

Richard Poirier argues that Emerson's idealism insists that "to lack of faith or belief is to be the reverse of worldly and practical." (13) Pointing to the examples of Isabel Archer and Huck Finn, Poirier continues:
 The illusion that society might someday, somehow be transformed
 by the vision and sacrifice of an Isabel Archer or the
 needs of a Huck Finn is necessarily among the things that
 their creators try to make the reader believe even when they
 themselves are sceptical.

Malick's presentation of Witt's vision and experience similarly challenges us. Suspended throughout The Thin Red Line is Witt's belief; yet, while indicating the transformative affect his idealism has on his comrades, the film's evaluation of that idealism remains purposefully undetermined. Poirier notes the scepticism of James and Twain in The Portrait of a Lady and Huckleberry Finn, but he also demonstrates their producing of "styles meant to sustain us past the glowerings of our own knowledge about probable failure." Malick never determines what Witt believes in, yet he convinces us of its importance; effectively, the film's style sustains us past our scepticism about Witt's belief.

The anticipation of battle prompts Witt's vision of his mother's death and his vision of "another world." The camera's tilt upwards towards the sky, out of his mother's bedroom, the dissolve from home to sea and the clock ticking produce a powerful reconciling of Witt's consciousness and the external fictional world in which the character sits. The film is concerned to communicate what belief might feel like in our world now; it is set in 1942 but the questions it provokes relate strongly to our ordinary experiences of the world. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge the depth of The Thin Red Line's questioning means allowing ourselves to acknowledge our own scepticism and question its foundations. Scorn for the questions that The Thin Red Line provokes, amongst them deep-rooted, universal questions about being and non-being, is in part a defence against or a refusal to acknowledge the relevance these questions can have for us. The film uses the experiences of soldiers during battle to ask questions that reach deeply into us: Why am I here? When and how will I die? What is my relationship to other people, other minds? If scepticism has dominated late twentieth-century thought then The Thin Red Line challenges that scepticism, not to deny it or to disavow it, but to encourage us to acknowledge unanswered questions.

One theme of The Thin Red Line is the close relationship between soldiers which can apparently develop during battle, the feeling that they would die for their "brothers"; through this, the film dramatises both redemption in debasement and the transcending of the self. Nick Nolte says of this element of the film:
 James Jones wrote a story about his own experiences in war,
 that men go into war not knowing why--they're usually
 indoctrinated to go in for idealistic reasons. Then they realise
 they're going to die or they're going to have to kill somebody
 and they become tremendously horrified. And in that
 moment of fright and horror, they literally lose their self.
 Something is replaced once that self is gone and that's this
 unbearable compassion of love. He said, after you feel that,
 and have lost your self, then you know you will die for your
 buddy. And he said, it's one of the strange ironies that come
 out of this terrible diseased idea, of war. (14)

Nolte's comments embrace the film's depiction of the complex relationship of a soldier to his comrades and of a soldier to the larger project of war. On the deck of the troop ship, after pressuring his subordinate to "crush them without mercy", warning that the Admiral will be watching "like a hawk", John Travolta's General Quintard comments to Nolte's Colonel Tall: "I guess we don't know the bigger picture though do we, if there is such a thing--what do you think?" Tall answers "I never ask myself that question"; but on the frontline, waiting to attack the hill, he asks Staros "how many men do you think it's worth, how many lives?" Awaiting sunrise, Tall quotes Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn" in Greek to Staros; and the film shows him to feel a strong connection to several "bigger pictures": his understanding of his place in a mythical tradition, learnt "at the Point"; his awareness, expressed to Lieutenant Gaff (John Cusack) and in voice-over, of having "brown-nosed the generals", degraded himself for family, home and career; and his recognition of the importance of Guadalcanal's military objective.

When Tall asks Staros how many lives it is worth sacrificing for "the bigger picture" he expresses the way in which the military benefits from the loss of self of which the actor speaks; but Nolte's description of the loss of self experienced by soldiers during battle also picks up on Emerson's idea of an "Over-Soul", a felt spiritual and transcendent link between us. Richard Poirier, demonstrating bow Emerson influences so many American writers' work, writes:
 Once the heroes in their novels discover that they are diminished
 rather than enlarged by efforts to participate in the
 massed power around them, they also find that they belong
 to a mysterious brotherhood of souls, a sort of Over-Soul of
 the lowly in which personal identities are lost and where all
 share a common destiny. (15)

Witt's period of absence without leave on the island figures within this American tradition of being outside society, yet Poirier argues that transcendentalism and romanticism are only two parts of this tradition. He notes that in Emerson's "Over-Soul" and Thoreau's "Nature",
 "Individuality" becomes indistinguishable, from a social point
 of view--the point of view of most novelists, let us say--from
 anonymity. What happens to a man's body or his voice in the
 Over-Soul or within the movements of Thoreau's Nature is
 scarcely distinguishable from what happens to him when, in
 Dreiser, he is "being lived by something which needs not
 only him but billions like him in order to express itself. (16)

Malick's Witt exemplifies Jones' conception of the "evolution" of a soldier, the man who comes to accept the inevitability of his own death through sharing a common destiny and losing his self. Although The Thin Red Line is set during the Second World War, in 1942/43, one of its themes is consciousness and our connections to each other in the late twentieth century, the time Malick made it. I am helped to describe the film's presentation of Witt's belief by Paul Hillier's comments about Arvo Part's work and its bond with ideas about the transcendent in the cyclical, in particular the idea that we can achieve spiritual peace by immersing ourselves in nature, an idea that underlines Orthodox spirituality's distinction between God's "essence", which is unknowable and transcendent, and the "energies" by which in the world of phenomena we encounter God. Hillier hesitantly proposes:
 The explanation, if there is one, is less important than the
 experience. A sense of individual insignificance is humbling,
 but also cleansing. Many writers have sought to express the
 view that if existence is understood to be linear in form, if
 every life and action is merely unique, then indeed our
 insignificance is bitter and tragic; but if the pattern of being
 is understood to be cyclic, then our moment of life becomes
 meaningful in all its brevity and aloneness. (17)

It may need re-stating that Witt's idealism is not the film's idealism; the film explores the relationship between spiritual and material values, focussing on a group while presenting the visions and experiences of individuals, some of whom are in conflict.

As I mention above, a key musical element of this exploration is Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question. Ives takes his title from a poem by Emerson called "The Sphinx", in which a poet, in dialogue with the mythical beast, declares:
 Thou art the unanswered question;
 Couldst see thy proper eye,
 Always it asketh, asketh;
 And each answer is a lie
 So take thy quest through nature,
 It through thousand natures ply;
 Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
 Time is the false reply.

Devoted to Emerson and Thoreau, Ives composed The Unanswered Question for two orchestras, one that would represent the external material world, the other the transcendental spiritual realm. Wilfrid Mellers describes the piece as follows:
 [M]uted strings, distantly playing immensely slow diatonic
 concords with virtually no temporal pulse, represent eternity
 and the unknowable mysteries. A solo trumpet becomes Man
 asking the "Perennial Question" in an angular, jagged,
 upward thrusting phrase: to which what Ives calls the
 "Fighting Answerers" (flutes and other people) heroically
 attempt to give answers. The string concords proceed
 implacably on their way, however; so the Fighting Answerers
 get increasingly distraught, bumping into one another in
 polytonal, polyrhythmic chaos until they end in despairful
 mockery of the trumpet's phrases.... Though the unknown
 seers will not reply and the silence of eternity remains unruffled,
 Man's trumpet is undismayed. At the end it calls in its
 original form. (18)

As Mellers observes, Ives did not believe that man could ever reconcile the real and the transcendental realms, but he believed that it was our duty to attempt such reconciliation. In the piece, the strings provide a calm, stillness, while the solo trumpet introduces its dissonant questioning; Malick uses approximately the first two minutes of the piece, including only the first two reiterative trumpet calls, those which, to composer Ingram Marshall's ear, "allude to a bugle call: Taps". (19) The director cuts Ives' music before the flutes add their more strident answering to the trumpets' questions; he then repeats the first minute, of strings only. The piece itself and its use are central to the themes of the film.

After Charlie Company take the bunkers and then the hill, they launch an attack on a Japanese base, overrunning it in a sequence that demonstrates the chaotic but efficient killing of modern weaponry; it shocks many of the American and Japanese soldiers into either open-mouthed bewilderment at their own actions or grief-ridden horror at the defeat and their comrades' deaths. As the attack on the Japanese encampment ends, a voice-over begins:
 This great evil. Where's it come from? How'd it steal into the
 world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing
 this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us
 with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin
 benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to

At this point, Zimmer's score segues into Ives' The Unanswered Question. As the voice speaks, the Americans organise the prisoners; Witt helps a prisoner sit up, putting down his rifle and clasping his enemy's shoulder. From there, we cut to a shot of a kneeling Japanese soldier being shot in the back at almost point-blank range by Private Dale, played by Arie Verveen. We have already seen Dale attack the bunkers and put a broken cigarette in his nostrils to block out the stench of death. Malick emphasises the contrast between Witt and Dale by having the amplified gunshot intrude on the soundtrack, while a man's screams nearby are unheard.

In the same shot, Dale walks towards the camera before it pans sharply down to a Japanese soldier brandishing a tiny pocket knife. The prisoner stands and waves it at Dale's face; the latter brushes him off then steps over the man he has just killed. In the next shot, Dale walks to a pile of dead and wounded Japanese near a muddy patch of ground. As he sits next to a wounded soldier, pulling him onto his back, the camera close in on them and the voice-over ends: "Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this light?" Dale threatens the wounded man: "I'm gonna sink my teeth into your liver." Throughout these three shots, Ives' sustained swelling of the strings builds in power. A closer shot presents Dale saying: "See them birds up there, they're gonna eat you raw", the second phrase of his line heard during an overhead shot of vultures swirling round the sky. As we return to Dale, he says: "Where you're going, you're not coming back from." He slowly waves his left index finger at the Japanese soldier, the rest of his hand holding a pair of pliers. The wounded man looks imploringly at Dale, saying something to him in Japanese. At this moment, the first trumpet calls out its lamenting question.

Collecting teeth from dead Japanese soldiers, Dale has been degraded by the war; as a voice-over states later, just before Dale, sitting in the rain, throws the teeth away: "War don't enable men, it turns them into dogs, poisons the soul." Modern warfare has indeed poisoned Dale's soul: with the dying Japanese soldier, Dale again puts cigarette halves into his nostrils, before counting his teeth. Behind him, the Japanese soldier kneels; the camera tilts away from Dale until the wounded man's face is centre-frame, turned towards the sky. A second shot of vultures circling overhead accompanies Ives' second trumpet call. When the film returns to Dale and the Japanese soldier, the latter has rediscovered anger and dignity--leaning over the American, he shouts at Dale. The American's response is to look away and turn over a body, pliers in hand, while a voice-over, presumably Dale's, asks: "What are you to me? Nothing." We then cut to a shot in a trench where one Japanese soldier grieves loudly over his dead comrade, cradling his body and rocking it back and forth; behind them, Bell looks down. A medium close shot of Bell watching them impassively accompanies the fade-out of Ives' music.

When Dale throws away the teeth, the film repeats a brief shot of the wounded Japanese soldier shouting "samamo" at Dale. (20) He then cries violently and hugs himself, as if in despair and remorse. Pointing to the humans as meat for the vultures, Dale compares himself with them when he threatens to eat the man's liver. Neither man understands each other's language and Ives' two orchestras echo their confrontation. Dale threatens to become as predatory as the vultures, wild dogs or crocodile that we see, though he eventually regrets his debasement and rids himself of his ugly mementoes. The contrast with Witt is instructive: war seems to "poison" Dale but to "enoble" Witt. The voice-over that precedes Dale's gruesome threat to the wounded Japanese soldier asks, "Is this darkness in you too?" In contrast, Sergeant Welsh asks Witt "You still believing in the beautiful light, are you?" The meticulousness with which Malick places this question rewards close attention. It comes during the series of scenes which leads to Witt's death: thus after Bell receives his wife's letter, we see Witt returning to the Melanesian village; Witt meeting his wounded comrade; Witt returning to base and talking to Welsh in an abandoned house; Welsh walking amongst his men at night; then, the scene of Witt's sacrifice and death.

Welsh is sceptical about Witt's belief in the "beautiful light", although to John C. Reilly's Sergeant Storm, he hesitates to confirm that scepticism as "numbness"; nonetheless, for the experienced First Sergeant, the war is about "property" and he will eventually, in a voice-over as George Clooney's Captain Bosche addresses the company, declare that "the only thing a man can do, find something that's his, make an island for himself." Despite this, Witt's assurance tests Welsh's scepticism, especially so in their last talk together before Witt dies. Witt returns from the village to the army camp, greeting several men warmly and then pausing to look at them with a tear in his eye, before mounting the steps to the old wooden house on stilts. As Witt reaches the raised veranda of the house, the camera pans left with him to reveal a drowsy Welsh reclining back on a chair, feet on a small table, pistol loosely in hand. Witt walks along the veranda and Welsh, taking his feet down, greets the private, asking: "Who you making trouble for today?" Throughout this shot, an empty birdcage, hanging from the ceiling, appears in the top right of the frame. In the same first shot of the scene, Witt circles round the empty house, talking to Welsh, the camera passing the cage on the extreme right. As Welsh asks "Why are you such a troublemaker, Witt?" the film cuts to a medium shot behind Witt as he doubles back past Welsh, the birdcage now on his left. A medium shot reveals Welsh leaning back on the wooden surround; a cut to a shot behind Witt follows him re-approaching Welsh, the birdcage again on his right. Witt's casual ambling around the veranda leads him into an empty room; the camera follows him in and as he looks up it leaves Witt and, in the direction of his gaze, tilts upwards to find a V-shaped hole in the roof that reveals the sky, criss-crossed with wooden beams. Zimmer's soothing repetitive music has been playing gently throughout this scene, but it swells slightly as the camera tilts; in addition, Malick adds the sound of waves breaking to the soundtrack as the camera looks up at the ceiling. When Witt comes out of the room he muses, "Lonely house, now." The camera's sharp upward tilt and the shape of the missing ceiling reprise the camera movement and V-shaped graphic from the remembered death-bed scene of the prologue; the allusion is slight but strong.

The reprisal of the camera movement and the missing ceiling accompany a reprisal of the motif of the birdcage. As Witt leaves the room, Malick cuts to Welsh, cigarette in mouth, still standing against the wooden surround. A shot then follows Witt down the veranda, moving away from Welsh for the third time, with the birdcage again on Witt's left. Underlining its connection to the ceiling shot, the camera, instead of following Witt and passing the cage, as it has done before, pans left and frames the empty birdcage in a close-up, its door hanging open. Off-screen during this shot, Welsh asks if Witt is still "believing in the beautiful light"; and when Welsh finishes his question, Witt's fingers touch the base of the birdcage and his head enters the frame. Three shots follow this in a pattern of Welsh/Witt/Welsh, as Welsh leans against the surround and Witt walks towards him; the last contains enough forward tracking to consolidate it as representative of Witt's spatial point of view. During these, their conversation ends with Welsh asking, "How do you do that? You're a magician to me;" and Witt concluding: "I still see a spark in you." That the camera passes the birdcage four times before alighting on it independently and that Welsh asks Witt about the "beautiful light" at that precise moment emphasises its importance as a motif linking his thoughts of his mother's death with his acceptance of his inevitable death; the subtlety and slightness of this allusion strengthens the conviction that Witt's strength comes from this. Although Malick does not establish definitively that the birdcage and the ceiling mean for Witt what they mean for us, the placing of them, in a scene which dramatises the irresolvable differences between Witt and Welsh, between idealist and materialist, signals the approach of Witt's death.

Immediately after the "lonely house" scene, Welsh walks amongst his men at night; as he looks down at the sleeping Witt, a voice-over re-states his questions: "One man looks at a dying bird and sees nothing but unanswered pain, that death's got the final word, it's laughing at him; another man sees that same bird and feels the glory, feels something smiling through it". (This links to the shot of a dying bird that we see during the first assault on the hill, immediately after Tall shouts at Staros on the field telephone "come to life.") After looking at Witt, Welsh looks towards two men stamping out a small fire; a closer overhead shot concentrates on their dusty boots and the sparks flying; a slow dissolve, between the fire being extinguished and a river flowing, prepares us for Witt's imminent death. Witt is killed after he volunteers to accompany Fife (Adrien Brody) and Coombs (Matt Doran) upriver; sacrificing himself, he leads the Japanese away from the company. When trapped in a clearing, he invites death by starting to lift his rifle; that movement is accompanied by the sound of a wave breaking, its cresting and crashing climaxed with the noise of the rifle shot that kills Witt. As Witt falls, the film cuts to a shot of sunlight streaming through trees then a repetition of the underwater shots that accompanied Faur6's Requiem earlier; unlike before, Witt swims with the boys; the shot ends as Witt surfaces for air: Zimmer's music continues as the camera moves across a tree assailed by roots.

Simon Critchley writes well about Witt's death, contextualising it interestingly; he too emphasises Witt's discovery of calm and its connection to his awareness of the cyclical repetitions of nature, observing that, "central to Malick, I think, is this 'neverthelessness' of nature, of the fact that human death is absorbed into the relentlessness of nature, the eternal war in nature in which the death of a soldier is indifferently ingested. That's where Witt's spark lies." Witt's belief lies in his apprehension of his place in nature's cycles, but "indifferently ingested" summarises Welsh's position, not that of Witt or the film. Malick's film refuses such certainties; for instance, soon after Witt's death and burial, the film ends with words that echo Wordsworth. The poet, in The Prelude, confronted by the contrast of "the black drizzling crags" of the Alps and "the unfettered clouds and region of the heavens" affirms that:
 Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light--
 Were all like workings of one mind, the features
 Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;
 Characters of the great Apocalypse,
 The types and symbols of Eternity,
 Of first, and last, and midst, and without end. (21)

As the camera passes amongst the exhausted men on the troop ship and as Doll looks back at Guadalcanal, a voiceover asks: "Where is it that we were together? Who were you that I lived with, walked with? The brother, the friend." It continues: "Darkness and light, strife and love, are they the workings of one mind, the features of the same face?" Characteristically, Malick adapts the poet's certainties into a question that recalls the film's opening uncertainties about "this war at the heart of nature". Although, the film begins with Witt and ends soon after his death, it answers none of our questions--or Sergeant Welsh's--about how he feels what he feels, about the relationship between the real and the transcendental.

The birdcage forms part of a motif which, like the glass underwater in Days of Heaven, as Richard Gere and Brooke Adams drink wine in the river at night, stealing away from Sam Shepard, feels substantial yet fleeting. It exemplifies a key stylistic element in The Thin Red Line, though one that risks confusion. Malick edits together images and sounds so that a character's memory, experience and anticipation are woven into the depiction of a fictional world. Illuminating strands form larger expressive patterns, but viewpoint and meaning can appear unstable or obscure: one danger is that scenes appear as a jumbled montage; one reward is that a character's viewpoint can overlay a scene that we initially think we apprehend directly. Ruth Bernard Yeazell, in describing James' late style, notes the potential for bewilderment:
 For like the characters, we too are continually forced to hover
 somewhere between ignorance and full knowledge, to struggle
 with intimations and possibilities which make themselves
 obliquely felt. The late style demands that at every point we
 sense more than we are yet able to articulate; only gradually
 do we grow fully conscious of our own subliminal guesses. (22)

Malick's style ensures that the "tensions, complexities and ambiguities" of which Perkins speaks are fully embodied; we move fluidly from the film's account of Witt's experiences to Witt's experiences themselves; again to quote Yeazell on late James, "responsibility for the creation of meaning rarely seems so clearly fixed." (23) Malick films the visions and experiences of a group of men who may be losing their selves, he achieves involvement with the film and its characters while avoiding the traditional focus on individuals and he presents the unusual thoughts and feelings of the soldiers without establishing a consistent moral viewpoint on them. Ives' The Unanswered Question figures as an emblem thematically and stylistically for Malick's approach: the film presents perspectives without resolving the relationship between them in favour of one or the other, whether it be Tall and Staros, Witt and Welsh or Dale and Witt. Authorial voice is felt; but there is an "absence of authority" in the film as to which viewpoint it privileges. (24)


Robin Wood's suggestions improved this article and I appreciate his input. Colleagues in the Department of Media Arts responded helpfully to a draft presentation of some of this material at our Graduate Research Seminar. Steven Marchant gave valued feedback and Tico Romao drew my attention to Jimmie E. Cain, Jr's work. I am also grateful to Michael Birdwell for sending me a copy of his conference paper on the film.


(1) V.F. Perkins, Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, 1978, first published 1972, p.155.

(2) Simon Critchley "Calm--On Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line" Film-Philosophy 6:38, December 2002,

(3) Jimmie E. Cain, Jr, "'Writing in his musical key': Terrence Malick's Vision of The Thin Red Line" Film Criticism 25:1, fall 2000, pp.2-24.

(4) Cain, Jr, pp.22, 23.

(5) Paul Hillier, Arvo Part, Oxford and New York: OUP, 1987, p.1.

(6) See Program note by D. Kern Holoman

(7) Gabriel Faure in a letter to R. Fauchois, Jean-Michel Nectoux, translated by John Sidgwick, Liner Notes to CD by Erato.

(8) Hillier, pp.17-18.

(9) Gilberto Perez, The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998, p.225.

(10) Christopher Ricks, Essays in Appreciation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, first published 1996, p.267.

(11) Richard Poirier, A World Elsewhere: The Place of Style in American Literature, London: Chatto and Windus, 1967, p.121.

(12) Colin MacCabe, "Bayonets in Paradise" Sight and Sound 9:2, February 1999, p.13.

(13) Poirier, p.150.

(14) Nick Nolte speaking in "The Making of The Thin Red Line" on the Fox VHS.

(15) Poirier, p.214.

(16) Poirier, p.248.

(17) Hillier, p.11.

(18) Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music, London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987, first published 1964, p.46.

(19) Ingram Marshal, Liner Notes for American Elegies CD by Elektra Nonesuch.

(20) I have not yet discovered what is said here or what it means.

(21) William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850, (eds) Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams and Stephen Gill, New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979, Book Sixth, lines 635-640, p.219. The editors also point out that Wordsworth's affirmation of nature's unity itself alludes to Milton's description of God in Paradise Lost, V, 165.

(22) Ruth Bernard Yeazell, Language and Knowledge in the Late Novels of Henry James, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1976, p.35.

(23) Yeazell, p.13.

(24) V.F. Perkins, in a lecture on Days of Heaven (at the University of Warwick, 14 January 1991), spoke of the "absence of authority" in Malick's two earlier films: in Badlands, Holly's (Sissy Spacek's) voice-over is authoritative about events but not their significance; in Days of Heaven, Linda's (Linda Manz's) voice-over is not authoritative about events, their significance or people's motives.

Jacob Leigh is the author of The Cinema of Ken Loach: Art in the Service of the People, London: Wallflower Press, 2002. He is currently researching a book on Eric Rohmer. He teaches film criticism and film history in the Department of Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London.
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Date:Jun 22, 2003
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