The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line ★★★★★

Decades Project: 1/9 of the 90's

"Maybe all men got one big soul everybody's a part of, all faces are the same man."

Downright audiovisual poetry. Tranquil yet chaotic; meditative yet brutish. Violence kept beneath the surface, assaulting the hearts of men. Staring straight into the abyss of absolute evil.

It's hard to imagine that this came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, as the two are the exact opposite movies about the exact same thing. Malick prioritizes atmosphere over narrative, so instead of the immersive immediacy of Spielberg's opening sequence we get the romantic detachment of Malick's voiceover.

Every single moment, every frame, every angle, every gesture, every word, every musical cue; all of it is saturated with meaning. It plays slowly, but is so dense you can't look away. I can't even begin to do justice to this incredible masterpiece, but here's one of the many highlights I noticed.

The film begins almost exclusively with objective shots. It resists the temptation of eyeline matches and other framing devices which would align the audience's gaze with a single character or perspective. Then, as we progressively become immersed within the characters' unit, there are more shots from the viewpoint of the soldiers. We begin to see through their eyes. But then something much more sinister happens: as they finally confront the enemy, the battle becomes shot from the opposite perspective. We see inside the Japanese bunker, and through the gaze of their gunners. We see both sides of the battle, and are faced with the horror of humanity's self-destruction.

I don't even like war movies. I've lived a very sheltered lifestyle, and I don't have the proper psychological coordinates to confront the unspeakable tragedy it entails. But this is pure cinematic perfection.

"This great evil. Where does it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?"

"Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was, too. Do you imagine your sufferings will be less because you loved goodness? Truth?"

"Where is it that we were together? Who were you that I lived with? The brother. The friend. Darkness and light. Strife and love. Are they the workings of one mind? The features of the same face? Oh, my soul, let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining."

Top 10 War Films | Top 10 1990's
Decades Project | List of Shame | Rewatch List
Best Picture Losers | Hans Zimmer
2014: New Discoveries | All Together

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