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The Philosophy of Terrence Malick

Here’s a video essay that explains what Terrence Malick’s filmography can teach us about the work of Martin Heidegger.
A Hidden Life Mountain
By  · Published on June 18th, 2020

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Before he became a filmmaker, Terrence Malick wanted to be a philosopher. That’s an understatement: the man has a B.A. from Harvard and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (he wound up dropping out because of a disagreement with his supervisor).

He may have abandoned academia but when you watch Malick’s films, his attraction to philosophical thought is obvious. It’s also arguably the determining factor in whether or not you, as an audience, find his work to be pretentious or contemplative. Malick’s filmography has a wandering quality to it. There are reoccurring moments in Malick films where the camera spontaneously chases after butterflies or lingers lovingly on crickets in tall grass. In his later work, Malick deviated from structure to the point that even his most devoted fans began to question what he was trying to achieve.

The video essay below argues the answer lies in Malick’s study of the continental philosopher Martin Heidegger. Instead of trying to understand Malick’s filmography through the lens of Heidegger, the essay takes the opposite approach and charts the ways in which Malick’s work captures and clarifies the Heidegger’s work. From the dangers of unconsciousness to the ways in which artifice distances us from the occasional glimpses of a world, shimmering with meaning: this is why Malick chases butterflies.

You can watch “Transcending Heidegger – The Cinema of Terrence Malick” here:

Who made this?

This video essay was created by Like Stories of Old, a video essay channel run by Tom van der Linden. You can follow van der Linden on Twitter, here. And you can subscribe to his YouTube account, here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.