Exposing myself to a wide array of films certainly has changed the way I think about things and helped me come to some personal revelations, but it’s hard for me to call many of my favorite films life-changing, if only because I wouldn’t know what to say they changed about my like. However, with the films of Terrence Malick, it’s easy for me to claim his films changed my life because his films changed how I looked at the work.
My introduction to Malick was The New World. Watching the film for the first time introduced me to a more deliberate and reflective way of film-making. The film often lingered upon images and scenes that didn’t necessarily convey significant narrative purpose. A lot of these shots take in the beauty of the world, and when I mean take in, I mean take the time to experience the sensory experience of the beauty of the natural world. These films ask us to be still, and, after becoming infatuated with The New World, I begin to find myself doing just that.
I can vividly remember a number of instances where I took the time just to stop and take it in. I don’t live in the most naturally lush environment, but if I stop and look close enough I’m able to see and feel what Malick is trying to show us in his films, that sense of tranquility that we can’t find by endlessly searching for it, but only by stopping and taking the time to see what is before us.
This sort of mindset has helped me become a bit more of a patient person. I can still be a bit antsy sometimes, especially when I feel I’m stuck in a time sink, but I find myself a lot more prone to take a moment for what it is, to not worry, to embrace an inner stillness.
Another way in which Malick films ask us to look is by gazing upward. There are certainly some films that play with verticality, but even in the early days, cinema existing more along a horizontal plane. But, for Malick, there’s a constant desire to look upward. For me, this achieves two things; it reminds me how easy it is to miss something by simply looking at eye level at the world. We can get so caught up in the realm of human affairs and interactions that we’re lost to that beyond us.
Second, it gives me sense of grandeur of the world and my relative small and insignificant role within the universe. Malick could achieve this directly by cutting to shots looking down on his characters and showing their cosmic tininess. Instead, he opts to have them look at a world that is much larger than them, and also often isolates them as a smaller part of a wider shot taking in a large world.
This has literally changed how I look at things, I’m more prone to glance at areas and let my eyes wander to places I wouldn’t have years ago. On my college campus, I’m just as likely to gaze at the boughs of trees as I am at the people walking by me.
I can’t think of another filmmaker who changed the way I looked at the world as sharply and effectively as Malick has. Certain filmmakers have challenged my ideas, assumptions and the way I might have seen something before, but Malick changed how I see and that’s made me grow into sensibilities that I’m not sure I’d have developed otherwise.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing