Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Life in Movement: A French Impressionist Critical Approach to Terrence Malick's Films

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posted on 2021-05-11, 23:11 authored by Johnson, Matthew

Terrence Malick’s films from Badlands (1973) to The Tree of Life (2011) have generally received critical praise, as well as being the focus of detailed scholarly work. By contrast, his more recent films, what Robert Sinnerbrink refers to as the “Weightless trilogy” with To the Wonder (2012), Knight of Cups (2015) and Song to Song (2017), have been widely criticised and have been largely neglected academically. This thesis endeavours to situate the aesthetic features of these three films within a conceptual framework based in French Impressionist film theory and criticism. I will argue the ways in which these three films use natural light, gestures, close-ups, kinetic images and complex editing in relation to Germaine Dulac’s notions of pure cinema and Jean Epstein’s concept of photogénie. Moreover, these ideas can also be applied to films such as Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Tree of Life. Thus, it is my contention that despite the significant changes to his filmmaking style evident in the Weightless trilogy, he remains a highly poetic director interested in the interior lives of his characters and the rhythms of life.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

University Library

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History


Groves, Tim