The Thin Red Line is the film with Holly’s shortest presence. But it is probably that in which she is most disturbing.
“Come out. Come out where I am.” The sea, always the sea. A very phantasmatic shot preceding the episode of the violent confrontation in the hill. Where is she? From where is she is calling him? Where to? To the infinity of the sea. Malick created a remarcable image here, one full of spelling narcissist allure. It alludes to one of the most famous scenes ever filmed: “Marcello...Come Here...Hurry Up!” As you know, Sylvia’s bath takes place in the Fontana di Trevi, the fountain ruled by Oceanus... Malick, in a poetic gesture, transformed the Roman fountain into the ocean of the imagination, of fiction, of cinema. After all, “You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home.” (La dolce vita)
Through “grace”, we tend to consider Pvt. Bell’s visions of his wife a counterpoint to Malick’s Guadalcanal. Looking close through the eyes of “nature”, that doesn’t stand up. Holly is much more complex. Actually, it seems more probable that she is putting that island on fire. Noticed that Tall quotes the Iliad in that film? The war of Troy started because of a woman.
“Le balancement du rocking chair nous convie aux plaisirs de la chair” (Raymond Radiguet). Much more oscilates the swing… The famous shots of the swing are immediately followed by the airport on fire. Cause-effect? It is filmed in a way that she looks like a bomb to be launched over the airport.
Eroticism and violence. A classic. That is Sternberg’s swing – undoubtedly the one in the O’Briens’ yard.
The erotic aura of the swing is old. It is explicit in Fragonard, for example.
But Sternberg gave it an unprecedented perversity. To a great extent, The Scarlet Empress is the erotic delirium summarized in the swing sequence, where the imagination of the girl melts with the delight of the hangman and this last with Marlene’s excitement and laughter in the swing. And there is even a masochist undertone in the famous shot of the bell…
There are more (erotic) swings in cinema – think in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Renoir’s Partie de Campagne (Mrs. Bataille swing, I ask myself if Malick was not thinking on this too...) and even The River – but none like this.
Sternberg is probably one of the directors most obviously comparable to Malick. Most of the time, he didn’t give a damn about the historical context of his stories. It was just the pretext to build his baroque, fetishist scenarios and love affairs. Malick, most of the time apparently very preoccupied in assuring the historical – scientific – accuracy of his stories, only needs it for disguising what is really going on. The New World is as much about the historical Pocahontas as the The Scarlet Empress is about Catherine the Great – or even less. As The Thin Red Line has nothing to do with Word War II – or any humanist exercise.
“Trees, birds... I lived in shame.” To what extent it is or is not a film about Nature I would like to discuss in a future post.