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Metaphysical Malick: The Thin Red Line (1998)

By Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 01, 2024 | In Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast

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Continuing our trek through the filmography of Terrence Malick, the world’s greatest living Christian filmmaker, we arrive at The Thin Red Line (featuring Jim Caviezel in his breakthrough role). This film came in 1998 after Malick’s twenty-year hiatus from directing movies, after which he never took such a long break again.

Focused on the experiences of U.S. soldiers during the battle for Guadalcanal during World War II, The Thin Red Line is remarkable in that it features all the poetry, interiority, and dreamy aesthetics we have come to expect from Malick, while still being, in Nathan Douglas’s words, “a fully functioning war movie”, conveying the physical chaos as well as the psychological sufferings and moral challenges of war: challenges of leadership, sacrifice, compassion for one’s enemies, and how to meet one’s death with calm and dignity.

The Thin Red Line is arguably Malick’s first masterpiece—and his first film focused on metaphysical themes, or as James Majewski says, a “preamble” to the more explicit Christian faith found in his later work, using voiceover extensively to ask questions about the origins of good and evil, the unity of human experience, and most of all, how one can maintain faith in the transcendent in the midst of evil, ugliness and disorder.

Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com

Criteria is hosted by Thomas V. Mirus and James T. Majewski.

Thomas is Director of Podcasts for CatholicCulture.org and hosts the Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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