The roots of the 'Tree of Life': A Terrence Malick retrospective

badlands
Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick's "Badlands."

Some moviemakers tell stories with a begininning, middle and end -- in that order. Other filmmakers, like Terrence Malick, compose visual odes that suggest physical and mental states. His allusive films provoke vigorous debate.

Let cinephiles argue whether Terrence Malick's  controversial "Tree of Life" (opening here June 10) is poignant or pretentious. Make up your own mind by sampling this week's retrospective of the filmmaker's work at Drexel University's Mandell Theater.

Wednesday's double-header is Days of Heaven (1978), a World War I-era allegory about vigorous sharecroppers (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams) locked in a love triangle with frail landowner Sam Shepherd; and Badlands (1974), a '50s-era portrait of young lovers (Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek) on a killing spree.  Days of Heaven screens at 7 pm and Badlands at 9 pm. On Thursday, The Thin Red Line (1999), Malick's impressionistic look at American soldiers and sailors (Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel) fighting the World War II battle of Guadalcanal screens at 7 pm.

 It will introduce Malick's work to those new to it while allowing his fans and foes alike to revisit three of his four prior films. (The New World, Malick's 2005 retelling of Pocahontas' encounter with European explorers, is not included in the retrospective sponsored by Drexel and The Philadelphia Film Society. (Though admission is free, the PFS suggests a voluntary contribution of $5 to support the Philadelphia Film Festival.)

I very much admire Badlands, The New World and Tree of Life which are, for me, primal and primordial experiences. Not a huge fan of Days of Heaven or The Thin Red Line, but admit they are two of the most physically beautiful films I've ever seen. Malick has a keen eye for the geography of human faces and understanding for the psychology of landscapes. It is likely that without Malick, Sheen, Spacek and Gere would not be the film presences they are.

Your thoughts on Malick? Do you have a favorite film?

 

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