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General discussion of THE NEW WORLD

Reflecting on Terrence Malick's films

Reviewing your notes and reactions to the films in our first group, what makes Terrence Malick's films visually distinct? In other words, what are the signature features of mise-en-scene in his films? What other "authors" do you think contribute to these signatures - directors of photography? costume designers? production designers? actors?


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Josh Noble

I think one of the most recognizable aspect of Malik's style is the shots of nature. Seen in all his films are wide angle shots of the horizon and close ups of animals or plants. I think the cinematographer (director of photography) has alot to do with these shots. Emmanuel Lubezki was the cinematographer for The New World. The New World had many shots of nature, including the extreme low angle shots looks up towards the tree tops and sky as well as close ups such as the germination of a seed. Lubezki has a striking style which is also seen in the film Children of Men. A good cinematographer can be the key to a good film.

Anna Markee

I really like Malick's films, mainly because of his focus on nature. I was easy to pick out common themes in all his movies. These included but were not limited to; nature, woman voice overs, a sense of self discovery, and how nature was projected in human emotion. I liked Malick's films because they were unique and made me think. A lot of movies that come out now are for pure entertainment purposes. I think people like this because they can just sit back and relax while watching the movie and not have to think too much about it. However Malick's films did make me think and they kept us guessing about who the characters were and what was going on. I think this is the reason some people may not like the films, but I thought it was nice for a change.

Amy Elder

The most common theme in Malick's films was obviously nature. He was really able to use nature to tell the story more than his dialogue. He also uses music to create the mood for each scene. The music and visuals seem to take over the movie. It is very different from today's movies which tend to be all dialogue explaining everything around them.
He also likes to tell the story of a hero or heroine who dies young. In all of his films his central characters die before they have really had a chance to live and discover themselves and who they are. He also likes to use subjective narration that, in some situations, can convince us to think about a certain situation in a certain way. I think that the director of photography for these films definitely helped Malick because his shooting style seems to be the same in all of his movies with similar scenes of nature. The actors in all of his movies are also a signature. He typically chooses people who are lesser or unknown actors. This helps us to be less distracted with the actor and more concentrated on the story.

Josh Noble

Amy that's an interesting point. I hadn't really thought about how each of the films we saw had the death of a young main character. It's interesting that in Badlands and Days of Heaven it's the male lead and in The New World it's the female and the narrator. I think that Kit and Bill's deaths have more in common with each other than with Pocahontas.

Jose Arredondo

Malick's films aren't for everyone. At first i thought his style of film making was too slow and made me want more from the character department. As i soon found out Malick's films had more to them, and that they were more about the message he was trying to get across rather than the plot. Malick's critique of society and the kinds of people it produces does't pop out to the viewer so easy. Someone watching Malick's films should do their homework on them, since it is a good way to understand the man behind the films and his motives.

Lisa King

Visually, what Malick's films seem to have in common is the focus on nature, and what themes nature represents. Nature reflects the mood of the main characters and mirrors what stage in their life they are in.
It seems that voice overs are one of the main methods that Malick uses to drive a story. Because his characters seem underdeveloped in some ways, we rely on the voice overs coupled with what we are presented with visually to help us understand what is going on, and what the characters might be thinking/feeling.


By far the most visually distinct feature of Malick's films are his shots of nature. Many open, long/full shots to really show off nature's beauty. His most distinct audio features (which I do believe count towards m-e-s) are obviously his use of the naive/simple female narration. Although "The New World" does add in male narrations and take away a little naivete from the female character.


In response to Josh's comment about Amy's post, that is very interesting. Pocahontas's death though was a lot less "depressing" if you will. It was graceful and accepted much easier. Also, she was a lot less naive than the other women who narrated the movie. Maybe this puts her in the same category as Kit and Bill instead of with the other women?

Amy Elder

It seems to me that Pocahontas is the main character. The movie seems to revolve around her so I would say, yes, that puts her in the same category as Kit and Bill. She is looking for her identity in both the native and the English world, which is a common theme in Malick's movies with his "heroes". She also dies before she gets a chance to explore who she really is and what purpose she has in the world so I think that as well shows Malick's love of the tragic hero/heroine dying before their time.

Lauren Hiland

I think a really big and critical component of Malick's films was his use of Nature. I all three of the films we viewed there was always beautiful shots and great use of nature. Another thing that makes Malick's films different from other films is that he used a young female charcter for the voiceovers in all three films we viewed. That's not very common, men are much more commonly used for voice-overs, and the fact that Malick decided to use a young female voice definatly set him apart from other film makers. He also use's a wide variety of angles for his shots, and seems to in my opinion prefer long shots, over close ups. I think that the directors of photography definalty would have had some influence in his films design that contributed to Malick's signature on films.

Lily Miller

Malick's films, at least the ones we watched, all had a lot of nature in them. My first thought of what author would have added to this would be the visual teams, for example photography, and people that find locations. One group of 'authors' that may have an influence on how we, the viewer, are looking at nature, is the people that are involved with making the story convincing such as costume and dialect. Different time periods have different ways of looking at nature. In The New World nature was seen by the English settlers, as something that could be and needed to conquered, while the Native Americans were apart of nature. So the costuming plays in here on the frame of mind you have may be influenced on how the characters are dressed.

Anna Markee

I agree with RobElmer that Pocahontas was a lot less naïve than the other women in Malick's films. I felt that Pocahontas knew who she was and if she never had been introduced to the English, then she never would have had to "search" for herself. by knowing herself, Pocahontas was about to teach John a lot about himself. I felt that John was the naïve one and was in need of searching for self discovery.

Melissa Werner

I must say that in reading the above comments, I'm surprised that no one has talked about Malick's consistent, symbolic use of fire as the destruction of the characters' previous world/way of life. By having it devoured by the flames, Malick seems to say that it is a time and place that one can no longer return to. Imagine if Kit and Holly hadn't burned down her father's house, or if the fields hadn't gone up in flame in Days of Heaven, or if the village hadn't been attacked with fire in New World...To me, it signifies a past lost and abandoned, and serves to propel the characters and story forward.

Mason Brause

I liked all of Malick's films that I have seen so far. It was intresting seeing how he used the voice overs and emphasis on nature to show the audiecne what he wants them to take from the film. I found it intresting that his doctarate degree in Philosophy was put to good use directing films. his work would not be directed toward an audience that doesn't want "to think too much". Its interesting to see how he was able to make the films he how he wanted to and would not be distracted by Hollywood trends or famous actors.

Karl Amspacher

I enjoyed seeing these films in chronological order, as it imparts to me a sense of evolving style. Malick has put to good use technological advances in film making, and each one of the films that we screened changed and improved, while still being recognizable as a Malick film

Melissa Werner

By the way, I agree with the viewpoint that Pocahontas is set apart from Kit and Bill, because I really do feel that she has a far better grasp of who she is, prior to her death. The movie does document her, as she goes through life, discovering her identity, but I feel that the last scenes before her death really show that she understands who she is. In her village, when her father asks her to think of her people first, she replies that she knows herself. She may have felt that way at the time, but through her romance with John Smith and subsequent banishment from her people, her identity must undoubtedly change. Then, as she is adjusting to her new life, Smith leaves and later she is told that he is dead. Both of these events force her to further redefine herself - eventually becoming a person who can function without Smith. Enter John Rolfe. Kind, sturdy, sensitive of her loss, he helps lessen the pain that her loss has caused. Their son is born, and for the first time in a long time, her face seems lit up with joy. She seems to be actually living again. Then, she learns that John Smith is alive, which stirs up memories and brings him back to life in her heart. John Rolfe allows Pocahontas and John Smith to reunite, but although they are alone, you can sense the distance that has grown between them. Now, here comes the part that I feel is crucial...When she comes back to Rolfe and says, "My husband." you can tell that she understands that Rolfe is the one she actually loves, and by meeting with Smith, she was able to let go of her lingering attachment to him. As she plays in the garden with her son, she has a contented expression as her voice narrates, "Mother, now I know where You live." As we finally learn that she has died, Rolfe's narration seems to reinforce that she was content with her life at the end.
...Sorry for the long post! I just thought I'd explain why I felt that she really had discovered herself through the events of her life...

Lucas Ashland

In terms of mise-en-scene, one of the things that unite Malick's films are his frequent use of open form in outdoor, natural scenes. In Badlands, the scene where Kit and Holly were in the field with the windmill and the couple is a good example how Malick carefully arranges objects in the frame. In this particular scene, Objects are arranged by height and have an even amount space between them. I felt like artistic and careful arrangement played a central part in all three of the Malick films we watched.

It's difficult to tell if there were other authors that contributed to Malick's signature. Perhaps his camera crew and directors of photography had an impact on his work. I doubt that Malick personally decided on every single angle of every shot, so I think the director of photography helped decide on camera locations and and shot types.

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