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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.
More Videos Like This
- Here’s van der Linden unpacking Interstellar‘s message about how love transcends time
- And another, on how The Office‘s Michael Scott makes a sale
- Here’s the first of a two-part introduction to Heidegger’s Being and Time (spoiler alert: being is time)
- Indie Film Hustle with a video on Terrence Malick, a part of filmmaker Cameron Beyl’s essay series exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors
- Thomas Flight on Malick’s recurring visual motifs
- Here’s an essay from Matt Zoller Seitz (via the Museum of the Moving Image) on Malick’s Days of Heaven (fun fact, dear reader: After filming wrapped in Alberta, my grandmother purchased a Persian rug from the set of Days of Heaven and it now resides in my family’s living room)
- And one more from Like Stories of Old: The Philosophy of Blade Runner 2049