This is not a movie for everyone. In fact, this is a film that a lot of you will hate with every fibre of your being. And still, for others they will appreciate the films beauty, but tire of the poetic narrations. And then for more of y’all... well, you’ll embrace it and love it and look towards Hollywood and say, “About time.”
My review isn’t what YOU are going to think about this film, so just turn off the ‘what YOU thought of the film’ button, and listen about my thoughts on Malick’s latest film.
First, I want to let all of ya know I love this movie completely. But I sat in a theater and watched an exodus of movie patrons that couldn’t stand to watch just one more frame of film. Most of the audience stayed with it. As I sat in the darkness of the end credits I heard people exclaim about what a piece of shit it was. How the film had no value whatsoever. How it was beautiful. How it was brilliant. Like all good works of art, it divides the audience and provokes conversation.
Here’s my side of that conversation....
If I lost 150 pounds, lived in World War II and was on Guadacanal.... this was my story.
I love the jungle. When I was a kid, some may still call me that, but they are old farts. As I was saying, when I was a kid, my parents would take me to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala. Instead of going to the tourist spots, we seeked out the areas that we wouldn’t find Americans. We wanted to go AWOL from our culture and the thoughts of our culture.
We would sleep in grass huts. I remember one time waking up to find a Havelina Boar licking at my face as I rolled laughing to get away from it. I called her Petunia, in the village... well we were eating Porky.
I remember walking through the jungle looking up at the undercarriage of the jungle canopy. Layers upon layers of leaves, some eaten away, but it was like a kaleidoscope. The sky between the parts seemed to always be overexposed, probably from my eyes being so used to the darkness the jungle provided.
The jungle teemed with life. Toucans, parrots, monkeys, alligators and on and on. I was always lagging behind my parents as they swung their machete in search of a waterfall that was in this general direction. We would hear the Howler monkeys in the shadows our eyes couldn’t pierce. I remember the sounds of a boar being ripped to pieces by a jaguar. It’s quite a vivid memory.
I remember the people that lived there. They ground grain on these stone grinders that they made or their great grand parents made. I remember it all. And I’ve always wanted more films in that setting, because for me it is a cherished memory. Pushing the undergrowth away from my face, climbing on vines, scaling the face of a waterfall. I love these pictures I carry with me. John Boorman’s THE EMERALD FOREST did a pretty good job of laying those images out for me, but Malick and his team completely captured it.
I remember when we found the savage carcass of the boar in the jungle. It’s reds a stark contrast to the lush greens. The abnormally large flies (or so I thought at the time, I was much shorter then) buzzing and laying eggs in it’s drying blood.
Add to that setting, that idyllic natural setting, the instruments for war. The fear that in those shadows more than Howler Monkeys lie in wait. In constant anticipation for the flash of a gun blast. This is the sort of thing I just don’t want to even contemplate. This was war in the Pacific. Hours of walking with out anything, then from above in a banana tree, gunfire. The person you talked with about how you hate boats drops with his guts on the ground.... what do you do?
You try to survive.
THE FILM’S INTERPRETATION OF WAR
War, for me is never something you win, but rather something you try to survive as humane as possible. And it’s not my natural state to be in war. In fact my natural state is horizontal on this here bed typing to you the tickings of my brain. So in war, I would imagine my inner thoughts would stay intensely focused during the actual battles and gunfire. You have to be. It’s the only way to survive. Watching the exit wounds of your allies to determine enemy positions, so you can eliminate them and survive for the next day. You try to put out of your mind that it’s Wally, that he has a brother back home that draws cartoons of Captain America kicking ass for the good ol U.S. of A. Instead, he’s like a licked finger to determine the breeze. Of course, the moment you’re safe your thoughts would wander to Wally, Chip and Johansen.
But do they? Do your thoughts fall upon your fallen comrades as you sit watching the bodies being hauled off on stretchers, or do you think about that girl on the diving board that in mid-leap locked eyes on you before disappearing into the pool. Or do you think about the last time your lips parted from your lover the last day you saw her, or perhaps it’s the first meeting of those lips, or the waving of your mother’s hand to bid you farewell and a safe journey.
This is what is going on in Malick’s narration. Now I know, a lot of people hate narration. They don’t like to be told what to think, well here... it’s not like being told what to think, it isn’t a Sam Spade style narration where all the pieces are being put together. Instead it’s the internalized thoughts of someone soul searching.
What do we think of when the world doesn’t make sense and things aren’t going the way we want? Do we dwell on the problem? Sure... for a bit, but then for me, and I don’t presume to tell you what your internalized thoughts are, but for me it’s often times questions about how I found myself in the situation I’m in. I think about when things were better, where I turned wrong, how do I get back, can I get back, remember that film party out back when folks were roasting marshmallows as lightning bugs lit up, the smell of my father’s brisket on the fire and Pam Grier blowing the head off that drug dealing bastard, while Annette Kellerman exclaimed “Yes” and I took a swig of Guinness and thought about how cool she and Betty Boop are.
That’s how my internalized thoughts work. The above paragraph was exactly what I was thinking about, the images that formed. And in the order you see them. Sure I didn’t go into the reflection of Pam Grier kicking ass in Annette’s eyes as she mouthed the words, “this is sooo cool”, but it’s there... unspoken written before my mind’s eye.
This movie is deeply introspective for the characters we see. We see images they think of, we hear thoughts they hear, the sounds they focus on around them, their point of view through it all and the context it is all in. For me, it’s brilliant. It’s refreshing to see, not that all films need to be like this, oh dear God no, but from time to time I would like a movie that hits these type of notes and chords.
There are themes all through this film. In fact each soldier has his own (no not the Zimmer score which was fantastic) and often times it has something to do with ‘where all this evil comes from?’
A pretty apparent and easy thought to conjure when the dead and dying surround you. When in the trees you see the most amazing colored bird you’ve ever seen. And you don’t know what type of bird it is, you don’t know what that snake can do, but you know it’s not planning a flanking maneuver around that python over there. Or so you think.
I’ve often felt I would be useless in a war, why? Well, not because I’m a coward and wouldn’t stand up and fight for my country, but rather... I have a firm belief that there is no difference between you... and me.
It’s the fundamental belief that my site is formed on. My opinion is not better or more right than yours or anybody else’s. It is merely my opinion, AND I want to hear yours. Why? Because I like to know what it’s like to be different people. To be... not me. In this film a couple of the characters see this. When they look at the indigenous people they see a father teaching a son, a mother grooming a daughter. When he looks at the Japanese prisoners of war he sees fear and uncertainty, he sees prayers and he sees a hope to live for another day. He’s seen those images before from his own father and mother, from his fellow soldiers when they were pinned down. We are the same, but each wonderfully unique with our own masterful images dancing in our heads.
Just a bit ago I typed that I’d be useless in war because I believe that fundamentally we are all the same. You and me. The problem is, because of the Internet, I know that YOU could be above the Mason-Dixon line (so there go them Southern Loyalties), YOU could be in New Zealand or Russia or South Africa or Japan or Germany. You could be a movie exec or a janitor, but YOU are here to read about film and to celebrate it with me. Why now or anytime should I kill you?
That’s the toughy question. It isn’t asked in so many words in this film. But this film isn’t about answering and asking questions. This is art. You take what you will with you.
If you look at this film and see shit. That’s what you saw. And that is the perfect opinion from you. For me, I saw so many things and had so many thoughts while I watched that canvas for 3 hours that... I could type for days...
...and That’s my review for THE THIN RED LINE.