Life in Movement: A French Impressionist Critical Approach to Terrence Malick's Films
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.