Terry's Adventures in Rebecca's Undergarments: in the Realms of the Unreal

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

“Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?” (Vertigo)


Not in the proper mood for long, complicated posts. But why not a short walk in the lingerie section?

You see, a short film brought Rebecca’s nightgown to my mind. It is not “brillant”, although better than just a youtub joke. My Adventures in Ladies Undergarments, 4th Fl is the title.
What’s it about? A boy’s 5 minute adventure in the feminine underwear department of a big and lonely store.
We see him wandering around the place, looking at and touching that feminine paraphernalia. After walking through the vestiaries corridor, admiring the gostly shadows of the clients and being shuted the door by one of them, the child goes back to the middle of satins and underbraws.
Then, through a forest of underwear, he sees her. “Fatale beauté.” Our hero’s face does not lie. Love at the first sight. The cupid’s arrow trespassed his young heart.
Who is our knight’s charming princess?, you ask. A beautiful saleswomen? Some client? Maybe the daughter of one? No. “Love is strange.” She is a stunning blonde mannequin wearing a dark sophisticated nightgown. Disapointed? Not your kind of girl? Doesn’t matter, it is he who is in love.
With awe, the boy gets close. His eyes are so fascinated that he stumbles before the goddess. He dares. He actually touches her dress. Lifts it up a little. Strange: as she said something? Again, a little more. Well, fortunatly, when things were getting hot, his mother’s arm separates him from the object of his desire.
And precisely at that moment the plastic statue seems to move. As Venus felt mercy of this poor Pygmalion struck by his ready-made Galatea? The camera shows us his last passionate look. He goes, but he goes with his dream.
A reorchertration of Les 400 coups’s theme gives the rithym to the film. The music brings cinephilia to the middle of the ligerie. Doinel’s cinephilia, Truffaut’s. His irredimably sad and solitaire world. Truffaut, the director who asked the exact year Badlands was released: “Is cinema more important than life?”

Why this music? Better, why this music in a short film about the wakening of sexuality and the power of images? Doinel’s disenchantment with women? And why the insistence in the shadows, like in The Tree of Life? What adventure of Les 400 coups’s comes to your mind? In Truffaut’s film the relation between cinema and juvenile erotic phantasies is, of course, alluded in the famous steal of Monika’s photo. Bergman’s film, so important for the Nouvelle Vague, also has, I suspect, a rather special place in Terry’s heart. Malick and Doinel share some tastes... (Summer with Monika would inspire the famous final shot. Note that this sort of allusionism is costumary in Malick.)

Take Malick’s “naturalism”. How could he be a fetishist in the precise sugested sense(s)? He, who films that way trees, birds, the sky, the sea, people. You could say: This is not a papier-mâché world. This guy wants to capture life, breath, sensation. Wake up for the glory!!!
There are certain things we all forget sonner or latter. Sonner than latter. Death, for example:

“Vasari, finally, tried to forget that these indexical techniques of ‘trait-for-trait’ resemblance had been preeminently mortuary techniques.” (G. Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images)

Like I have told you, like I will probably repeat many times, through certain allusions Malick establishes an analogy between the love of images and necrophilia. This, again, is not new. Cinema – une expression vitale absolument adéquate à la vie elle-même” (Poe transl. by Baudelaire, Vivre sa vie; an absolute life-likeliness of expression” in the original) – is (or was) the visual art which took farther the imitation of life, of living things. It moves, it speaks, or so it seems: “Did you ever see anything so delicate?” (Danvers on Rebecca’s nightgown) But the most influential book ever written about cinema (Bazin’s) cultivates paralels between photography/cinema and the mortuary right from the beggining. Its shaddow hangs over every image, still or moving. That is also why the (bird) stuffer is a metaphor of the filmmaker in Malick and why to a certain point you can say his naturalism is the “stuffer’s mark” (in this respect, Badlands is maybe to be considered slightly diferent, more close to a traditional “artificial” aesthetics, so to speak; already Guattari remarked its at times “agonizing” colors).

But more than this, like I did in my previous post discussing the image of the bed, I want to stress that here “death is the symbol of all sensuality” (Bataille), mother of all erotic violence. This idea is the key to understand why Malick’s river is the River of Life, a rather strange designation otherwise: “Of eroticism it is possible to say that it is assenting to life up to the point of death” (“De l’erotisme, il est possible de dire qu’il est l’approbation de la vie jusque dans la mort”, L’erotisme). More. Life only starts the moment you embrace death, total violence and sacrifice. Certainly you remember Kit looking at himself at the car’s mirror while the police was after him, making sure his James Dean style was ok, preparing his look to confront the authorities. It might be a bit more than that. Because what he is seeing in that mirror is “The face of a man who’s driving towards a cliff at 100 km/h.” (Pierrot le fou)

Who is Rebecca? Malick’s girl, I mean. Hitchcock shows you that in a famous scene. Max (Olivier) is telling his wife how Rebecca died, his final conversation with her at the cottage. The camera follows her past path through the room, while we hear their dialogue by Max. The camera films nothing, yet that is Rebecca’s most admirable portrait. Because she is everything, she is in everything in that film. Making everyone mad with love, hate, both, until the flames consume it all. There is nothing that Joan Fontain (or the spectator) does or does not, no place she goes or keeps from going, that doesn’t end in Rebecca. Because, in a sense, Rebecca is the very film. And in that scene Hitchcock filmed just that, the cinema itself, that unpresent presence.

Jack looks again at a mirror in the Kimballs. One of Mother’s portraits. The format also sugests a kind of door, doesn’t it? “Mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes.” (Cocteau’s Orpheus) Yes, the architect followed her to the end of time. The mirror as the door: to the kingdom of the dead/death, to the kingdom of fiction. The character of Death (Maria Casares) is probably alluded by those feminine creatures dressed like spirits. The sudden way the dead bride arises from the bed is also reminescent of Orpheus. (And note that a powerful wind blows in the otherworld of Cocteau)

Jack opening the drawer, Jack opening mother...to see her soul? “The overriding desire of most little brats, on the other hand, is to get at and see the soul of their toys, either at the end of a certain period of use, or on occasion straightaway. On the more or less swift invasion of this desire depends the lifetime of the toy. I cannot find it in me to blame this infantile mania: it is the first metaphysical stirring. When this desire has planted itself in the child’s cerebral marrow, it fills his fingers and nails with an extraordinary agility and strength. He twists and turns the toy, scratches it, shakes it, bangs it against the wall, hurls it on the ground. From time to time he forces it to continue its mechanical motions, sometimes in the opposite direction. Its marvellous life comes to a stop. The child, like the populace besieging the Tuileries, makes a last supreme efort; finally he prises it open, for he is the stronger party. But where is its soul?” (Charles Baudelaire, Morale du joujou)


This statue/mannequin grants a promise to the boy but the nightgown –  admirable manifestation of death – anguished Jack. They live very diferent situations. Jack pressented that she was nothing more than mother, the dream he was dreaming eyes wide open. But the boy is at the beggining of something. The first question I asked myself was: if it had lasted a few seconds more, would this boy’s love afair end like Jack at the Kimballs (panic, run)?
But there was another interesting question. Would he try to find this first love in the future women of his life? Would he buy them black nightgowns and made them paint their hair blonde and that sort of thing?...
Now, serious. I think Malick had to put himself very practical questions. How could he love Holly? He is certainly not of the platonic kind. He wanted her. But how close he could get? His drama was even worst than Pygmalion’s. There was not even marble to embrace, to caress. That’s the tragic and ridiculous in the scene from Les carabiniers we have previously discussed. The answer was:

– to become an image himself, to disapear under the image, to cross the distance between the imagination and the image, to pull dow the mask until there was no more true face;
– Holly was one and many the same time, a nympha malickiana apearing and disapearing in film, and so her re-creation to the game of love would not look like any of her particular forms; she would be, like her lover, a kit made of many things; he was too Scottie following Madeleine, not through San Francisco but through the entire history of cinema; that was one of Vertigo’s revelations.

Do you know the famous letter written by A. Jolles to Warburg?

“Behind them, close to the open door, there runs – no, that is not the word, there flies, or rather there hovers – the object of my dreams, which slowly assumes the proportions of a charming nightmare. A fantastic figure – shall I call her a servant girl, or rather a classical nymph? – enters the room... [...] This lively, light-footed and rapid gait, this irresistible energy, this striding step, which contrasts with the aloof distance of all the other figures, what is the meaning of it all?... It sometimes looks to me as if the servant girl rushed with winged foot through the clear ether instead of running on the real ground... Enough, I lost my heart to her and in the days of preoccupation which followed I saw her everywhere… In many of the woks of art I have always liked, I discovered something of my Nymph. My condition varied between a bad dream and a fairy tale. […]
… I lost my reason. It was as she was brought life and mouvement into an otherwise calm scene. Indeed, she appeared to be the embodiment of movement… but it is very unpleasant to be her lover… Who is she? Where does she come from? Have I encountered her before? I mean one and a half millennia earlier? Does she come from a noble Greek lineage, and did her great-grandmother have an affair with people from Asia Minor, Egypt, or Mesoptamia?”
(André Jolles to Aby Warburg, 1900)

I thought it was nice to leave you a sugestion. Probably some of you will know Victor Stoichita’s The Pygmalion Effect: From Ovid to Hitchcock. It is a work by a solid scholar on a very vast and complex problem, one capital to the present discussion. I have been reluctant to mention precise studies about the films alluded and used by Malick because what here really matters are his uses of them, and those are understandable through some (cinephilic) common-places about its authors or cinema in general (critical common-places are essential to allusionism, see N. Carrol on this). To bring many names to this discussion would probably obscure more than reveal. (Even so, I confess some curiosity about what Malick reads and most of all read when he was young about cinema, the history of art and generally about images.) So, I am not interested to discuss interpretations of Hitchcock, Murnau, Godard, etc., in abstract. I am making an exception for Stoichita because he touches a very particular theme in Vertigo and places it historicaly among practices which are indeed illuminating of this “experiment”. If you have time and curiosity, you can watch his 1 hour conference on Vertigo and the production of simulacra here (a resume of that chapter of the book). His English is not extrodinary and he might not be a great speaker, but what matters is what he says on the Pygmalion effect. (If you want to read the book, I recommend you this review)
Three notes about the video.
It is particularly curious the connection Stoichita establishes between the film and the Barbie dool. He distinguishes the two however, namely because the doll is for the purpose of play. Through Linda, we have seen how the idea of the dool is important to Malick and, very obviouly, how this distinction does not work in his case.
Stoichita works extensivly the problem of the frame (and that of the shadow), one of his expertises. Notice how Malick reduced the door of the desert to a pure frame.
The conference ends with the afirmation that at the other side of Vertigo is virtual reality. Malick’s project has indeed similarities with it. It is about to enter in the space of the image by means of one (or several), to interact in this imaginary space through this(these) mask(s). There are diferences (there is no real time experience, for example) but the analogy is very striking.

Do not tell me this kind of love afair is strange (with statues, algamatophilia, with cinema...). It even sells perfumes... So let us say this is La Passione di Malick.


Past posts talked about Venus and her foam. Holly’s bare feet brought to my attention that particular theme again. I am talking about the shot where she is walking by the river like a Greek goddess.
She is playing the artist’s muse by the river – she is what inspires and makes that river possible – and so I don’t think the idea of Death in Venice is far from here (see The whole world is a joke to me). But Malick could have another thing in mind, a “real” Venus, at least somewhere over the rainbow. No actress was so lavishly wrapped in a metacinematic mixture of classical beauty, fatalism, necrophilia and the love of images than Ava Gardner, the classic goddess of classic cinema, the statue that becomes alive – One Touch of Venus (a joke, but a fine joke at times, even so) – and the woman who becomes a statue – The Barefoot Contessa (more complex than that, because it is from the statue that we, the spectators, know the woman in Mankiewicz’s film). In the middle there was Albert Lewin’s masterpiece, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.
As it was remarked, Mankiewicz’s film incorporated the previous in a trilogy (see, for example, S. Felleman, Art in the Cinematic Imagination), to create one of the most complex images of Hollywood’s cinema and its system. The process is not enterelly strange, even if far more radical, to what B. Wilder did in Sunset Boulevard. The way Mankiewicz uses Gardner clearly has a parallel in Wilder’s use of Swanson, Stroheim and De Mille (and Gardner use of herself, etc.). It is an exercise of that must not have been strange to the genesis of Malick’s cinematic project.

This could inspire lot of talk, but for now I just want to recomend you a scene that depicts Malick’s love story very well. Robert Walker is trying to explain his boss how the Greek statue became alive when he kissed her lips. And so he plays the two roles: on the pedestal Venus, on the ground her beloved. Know better image for Terry’s narcissism (and our position face to it)?
Just admire this image: the reflection contained in the shadow!!! In Cocteau, in Malick, the mirror is both a door (to the otherworld), Narcissus’s pool/river and a/the screen. Yes, I believe this is a personal and powerful recreation of Cocteau’s “narcissistic Orpheus” (dream scene of Orpheus). This director is indeed one of The Tree of Life’s essential references. I should have understood before. The orphic trilogy had everything to please Malick: reflexivity, narcissistic vertigo, reality vs illusion/dreams/fiction, game/play, suicide, voyeurism, algamatophilia, descent to hell as descent into himself, death and resurrection of the artist, etc.

Artists have always produced works with double meanings, understood. Two very old examples are the Sleeping Hermaphroditos (see this, this and read the inscriptions on this) and Fräu Welt (Lady World) and the Fürst die Welt (Prince of the World). In both cases, the double meaning, or the other meaning, is accessed by a phisical operation: you get close, pass by, look around. And in both cases the ends are perfectly aceptable. The efect on us may vary between the erotic provocation and the moralizing. They give us a lesson, anyway. There are oceans of diferences, but to a certain extent it is like in Welles’ F for Fake: the artist (or the comissioner, in the ancient examples) plays with you, with your innocence, for a “good” motive. Like to show us our vulnerability to Art, how it might be used to trick us, manipulate us. And, in the case of the film, why not to say it?, because it is entertaning and we search that too in a movie theater.
(In Welles’ film you just have to wait to the end to understand that he played with you in the final section. It is not exactly a film with two “ways”. It is one that examplifies with his own spectators the things they were told about art during it.)
There is a rather funny (?) example of a “two ways” situation with a director I have been writting about, one to whom we might have to go back in Malick’s next film (just a possibility; try to change the first letter of “Marina”; or just for Marina Vlady; again, just a possibility). I am not talking of a film but of a 1968 phone conversation between Godard and producer Pierre Braunberger during which, suposedly, the director called him “sale juif” (dirty Jew). You take it simply like this, and the director certainly does not get very well out of it. But a theory developed. For some, it was all a misunderstanding. Those aparently horrible words were nothing but an cinephilic allusion. Sale juif was an expression used with affection (ironized) by Gabin to Marcel Dalio in the French classic La grande illusion. So, it was like what I have been saying of Malick, but the oposite way: it seemed horrible, but the awareness of an allusionistical dimension transformed it into frendly.
We are talking of one of the most praised, near worshiped artists and so you might just say, like some did, that there are people who will elaborate the most absurd explanations to absolve him from pure antisemitism. During the years, Godard piled up a pretty good amount of tasteless comments and jokes about jews, so I am not exactly sure the La grande illusion thesis is correct. But let us suppose it is. Better, let us suppose that you would listen someone saying this to another person on the cell phone, walking in the street. It is curious how a  simple “cinephilic twist” can change so dramaticaly our idea of someone, no?
I have once read in a sign seen in a famous film, in the wall of a shop run by a blind woman: “if you are mean enough to steal from the blind, help yourself.” My readers, Malick is mean enough to steal from as many blinds there are and are going to be, so watch out. Just showing you things to consider, trying to base them in the concrete material of the films as much as possible so you have all you need to have an opinion about it. Pounder this strange lines. He is not just taking some nickels from you. I hope I was clear on this. If you are reading blogs like mine, I assume that you know Persona. Remember its famous image of the artist/actress as vampire, right? At least you cannot tell you have not been warned. Think that I am the crazy one? Considering the content of this place, it is comprehensible, but in that case, like Kit: “I want you to write me out a slip though, proving I came down here.”
What I have been trying to explain here, maybe not always the best way but as directly as possible (too directly?), is that Malick’s work, as it must, is extremely integrated with the trends of our time/his generation. Its peculiarity are not the themes, the aesthetic preferences, most of the processes, the poetic and theoretical references explicit or implicit. About that, he is just one more.
Damn, his favourite film, that one without which you cannot get a second of his work, has reached the top of the Sight & Sound list. (Any comment, Terry?) Nowadays, everybody seems to be, in a sense, mad about Madeleine. You never had more people writting on Hitchcock, filming (and not only filming) influenced by Hitchcock, blinking the eye at his films. And take that writer who gave Malick so many jokes since The Thin Red Line. You have more people writing about Bataille than ever. Even a Malick critic is translating his entire work, or some deal of the sort...

So, to a certain degree, what I have been writing is is not weird at all. It is business as usual.
The problem starts with the use Terry does of the lesson of that fatal film. And that can only be described as psycophatic. To write something else would be pure hypocrisy. Here, I suppose, starts the eventual problem because of that centuries old idea that Art is (always) generous, some kind of gift to us. Even, for example, when we classify an work or author as “nihilistic” or something of the sort we take “positive” meanings of it, one way or the other: renewal, etc. Certainly we might accept that objects with aesthetic value can reinforce opressive realities. But it is much more dificult to accept that someone would produce a work of art – something recognized by us as such – just in order to hurt other people, as some kind of existential revenge, absolutely strange to any material or political interest. Or just to be famous, to join the maniac’s pantheon. You know, Herostratic fame. If Malick joins these two things and more, I can understand how difficult it is to see what is at the door’s other side.


What a messy post!
I have not time for the blog, this was all I could arrange to signal the date.

What have I been studying about Malick? Almost nothing.
Unexpectedly, I was able to read a 2002 draft script (the fourth) of The English Speaker. One thing I can tell you, Malick must have worked hard on this project. It has all the distinctive ingredients, if you know what I mean...

My impression is that without the right actress (must be German speaking…) and director any film of this sort will end in unbearable corniness. But I don’t believe Malick would have written this version if he was not thinking to assume the direction.
If it wasn’t made until now, it probably never will. It won’t be easy to sell a film spoken most of the time in German, especially if Malick’s next “wonders” are unsuccessful. Maybe he will sell the script to someone else.
No more from me for the next months. Next year, the priority goes To the Wonder and a post called Home Sweet Home. I was amazed with The Tree of Life reviewers’s blindness to this last problem, even because it had been noticed in the director’s previous films, but a recent book, Terrence Malick and the Thought of Film, recognized its centrality in this last feature, even if through the eyes of grace. For latter, I am also thinking in a Terrence Malick Essential Glossary. It would be nice, no? Something that would give anyone in a few pages the most important themes and concepts to admire his work from the way of nature.


All Things Burning, All Things Shining

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

My long promised post about the heart of nature. Please read Come out. Come out where I am and Tabu before proceding.

“These practices should be considered above all as a means of opening a door.” (Georges Bataille, The Tears of Eros) 

Malick abandoned Qasida in 1979 and presented the first draft script for The Thin Red Line in 1989. So, 10 years. But during that time he seems to have worked a lot, and not only to support himself writing scripts for other people. He kept imagining films, working on ideas. The architect at the rich man’s door continued imagining his home:

“Worked my ass off. Brown-nosed the generals. Degraded myself. For them and my family. For my home.” (Tall)

Strange, strange thing, he wrote a play, Sansho the Bailiff. It was to be directed by Andrzej Wajda. The whole thing was aborted and seems to have been a horrible experience, as the making of The Thin Red Line, both to Malick and his producers, Geisler and Roberdeau. For what I have read, they are the people in the world with the worst idea about him – after me.
Sansho the Bailiff  on stage? Tell me: wasn’t this theatrical project something of a cheating on Holly? Wasn’t this a kind of extra-matrimonial affair? When you think about Bell’s conversation with Fife…

Fife: I read in your file that you were an officer before the war. How’d you end up a private?
Bell: Cos of my wife. I was in the corps of engineers. We’d never been separated before, not even for a night. I took it for four months and then I quit. Just resigned. They sent me back to the States. They told me I’d never get another commission. They said they’d see to it I got drafted and that I for damn sure’d be in the infantry.
Fife: Sons of bitches.
Bell: No, I don’t blame them.”

…you wonder if he wasn’t talking about this: cinema/architecture vs. theater/engeneering? Well, I suppose he wasn’t, as it comes in the novel, right? It must have been kept there for another reason. Or was it really that Malick found out a ready made joke in this dialogue and decided to include it? Right now, I am not in position to say.

The making of Malick’s films from Badlands to The Thin Red Line was progressively harder. In his debut his ideas were clear. The concept and the story were simple. Improvisation was occasional and controlled. He was happy with the actors. Even if he had some serious problems during the shooting, he is said to remember it with great joy. In the end, Malick was apparently very pleased with his “graduation present”.
With Days of Heaven things were harder from the beginning, although the concept is not substantially different from Badlands. Kit regretted not having shot the rich man and so he was back to Hitchcock. He needed more time there. But Malick apparently wanted other actors and had fights with Richard Gere and the producers. He spent much more time in the editing room, trying to compensate what he didn’t like. Furthermore, he made one important change from the draft script, transforming Ursula/Linda from one of Holly’s incarnations into one of his. This was really a great last-minute change. His enthusiasm with the final result is said to have been moderate. Funny, Abby disappeared in a train transporting soldiers to the war…
Writing and making The Thin Red Line was a battle of huge proportions. Just think what is to work on a film for almost 10 years. It was hard, but it was something much more ambitious too. Malick was using another man’s work, a very famous novel, and had to put there his own and very personal project, his Tree of Life, which makes its glorious appearance right in the beginning of the film. Unsatisfied, Malick did not attend the premier. It seems he had to cut the film much more than he wanted. Probably this is why some characters are rather dificult to identify.
This said, let’s have a close look to this third film. All Malick’s aborted projects must have been very interesting – especially The English Speaker and The Moviegoer –, but what really matters are those he made. The same way, to speculate about why he abandoned Qasida when he was getting so famous is of no importance. I really don’t know. But why he crossed the line, I do:

“Poured out like water on the ground. All I might have given for love’s sake. Too late. Died... slow as a tree.” (Tall)

If there was a chance that things could have been different, there was no more. “Too late.” The Thin Red Line was the beginning of the end. Malick’s voice-overs become heavily mystical from the beginning of The Thin Red Line. Never the duality of the “Vertigo project” deserved a more poetic interrogation than Train’s first musings about nature (cinema, Malick’s cinema):
What’s this war in the heart of nature?
Why does nature vie with itself?
The land contend with the sea?
Is there an avenging power in nature?
Not one power, but two?
The crocodile was back after 20 years, but to really hurt now. And, you know, after few minutes of visual poetry, Witt talking about the immortality he hadn’t seen and Murnauesque paradises, one way or another we were in Malick’s hands. Well, we were in Malick’s hands the whole time, weren’t we?

“In this world only play, play as artists and children engage in it, exhibits coming-to-be and passing away, structuring and destroying, without any moral additive, in forever equal innocence. And as children and artists play, so plays the ever-living fire. It constructs and destroys, all in innocence. Such is the game that the aeon plays with itself. Transforming itself into water and earth, it builds towers of sand like a child at the seashore, piles them up and tramples them down.” (Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks) If I was naif, I could suggest that Malick’s game had some afinities – or was even ilustrating – the concept of the Nietzschean/Heraclitus’ aeon. But I am not, and it would be just unforgivable to let you think this was at any level a “philosophical” film or a film about nature, whatever that is.

Permit me to reiterate an unnecessary advice: if you do not or cannot agree with my basic claim about this director (what I call his “Vertigo project”), it will be a waste of time to read this.
To his editors and sound mixers, Malick said: “It’s like moving down a river, and the picture should have the same kind of flow.” My readers, the river gets very fast in this film, so hold on. Although I could, I will not detain myself in identifying characters and allusions to particular films more than the necessary. I will leave it for future posts. This is a film complex like few are and I do not want to distract you from its heart.


The Birth of Venus-Aphrodite

I ask myself if the way of grace is not sometimes able to illuminate nature, even if modestly. I decided to revisit an impression from those long gone days and to think it through the light of Georges Bataille.
After the walk around the neighborhood the camera stops at Pitt’s face. Then we see the bedroom from the dark corridor for a second or two. The open door frames the bed. The room is tidy, the bed is made, the sun enters through the window.
This silent image stroke me. There is a deeply troubling obscenity in its confrontation of death. A death anguishing in the proportion of the absence of the body.
As you know, it is not unusual for Mary to be found suggestively near her bed at the moment of the arrival of the angel, neither to show the mystery of Incarnation as a luminous one. It is precisely to the body, to the flesh, that this image points, powerfully opens the door.
It is not only the confrontation with the origin and the site of origin of the now again absent body, the “back to nothingness” which is troubling. The point is that the bed is shown not used, but to be used. The power of the image is here, its essential obscenity. I ask myself if this is not the birthplace of the sinister eroticism that drives Malick’s work, the beach where his Venus is born, whose foam touches the shore of eternity.

“Indeed, to judge from appearances, eroticism is by all accounts linked to birth, to a reproduction that endlessly repairs the ravage of death.
It is nonetheless true that the animal, the ape, whose sensuality at times becomes exacerbated, knows nothing of eroticism. And this is precisely because it lacks all knowledge of death. To the contrary, it is because we are human and live in the somber perspective of death that we know this exacerbated, this desperate violence of eroticism.” (Georges Bataille, The Tears of Eros)

Rebeccas bed, Hitchcocks bed, Malicks parents’s bed. “These counter-spaces, these locally realized utopias, are well recognized by children. Certainly, it’s the bottom of the garden; it’s the  attic; or even better, it’s the Indian tent erected in the middle of the attic; or still, during Thursday afternoons, their parents’ bed. On this large bed we discover the ocean as we can swim between the covers, it is the sky as we can bounce on the springs, its a forest as we hide in it, the night as we become ghosts between the sheets, it is pleasure, or at least until the parents come home and we are to be punished.” (Foucault) Yes, this one will be punished, he even thinks he is going to the electric chair.” And he might be right.

It is in the realm of total erotic violence that Malick’s Aphrodite arises from the sea of his imagination to call him to the door. Remember that the goddess herself was born from extreme violence, as she is the result of Cronus’ castration of his father. From Uranus’ genitals threw to the sea came the liquid which produced her foam (aphro).

Foam… “What is foam? It is the sort of whitish scum that forms on the surface of too agitated, heated or fermented liquids. It is the visible hazardous matter of the ramifications of the depths. It raves at the surface of the sea. It drips or sweats from bodies, from epileptic or furious mouths, wild animals, exhausted horses.” (In the original: “Qu’est-ce que l’écume? C’est l’espèce de mousse blanchâtre qui se forme à la surface des liquids trop agités, réchauffés ou en fermentation. C’est la matière visible, hasardeuse, des ramous des profondeurs. Elle extravague aux surfaces de la mer. Elle transpire ou dégoutte des corps, des bouches épileptiques ou furieuses, des animaux sauvages, des chevaux exténués.” (Georges Didi-Huberman, “La couleur d’écume, ou le paradoxe d’Apelle”, in L’image ouverte, Paris, Gallimard, 2007 [article published in 1986])

“In practice the scrutinized [fixé] sun can be identified with a mental ejaculation, foam on the lips, and an epileptic crisis.” (Georges Bataille, Rotten Sun) What’s waiting you is not pretty, I can tell you: “In the same way that the preceding sun (the one not looked at [the way of grace’s sun]) is perfectly beautiful, the one that is scrutinized can be considered horribly ugly.” (Georges Bataille, Rotten Sun) But if you are willing to: “Regarde donc de tous tes yeux, regarde!” (Jules Verne, Michel Strogoff)
I take this occasion to revisit one of Malick’s most violent verbal images, Linda’s snakehouse:

The devil just sittin’ there laughing. He’s glad when people does bad. Then he sends them to the snakehouse. He just sits there and laughs and watch while you’re sitting there all tied up and snakes are eating your eyes up. The snakes go down your throat and eat all your systems up. I think the devil was on the farm.”

An article by Carole Zucker already had noted the equivalence between the assault of snakes and the assault of the moving images not only on Linda but on us too ("God Don’t Even Hear You, " or Paradise Lost: Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven”, Literature Film Quarterly, 2001, 29). In that previous post I presented it as a description of the “Vertigo project’s” effect on us. I think this is very much intended, although it does not exclude – it is even complemented by – another possibility of meaning that I choose to underline now: the snakehouse as self-devoration, autophagy:

“[the subject] alienates itself to the desire to devour itself – "to eat oneself" [se démanger], it was said in the sixteenth century; today, we say "this is eating me" [ça me démange] – as if to signify that the desire of the Other alienates and devours me.” (“Il s’aliène au désir de se dévorer lui-même – "se démanger", disait-on au XVIe siècle; aujourd’hui, on dit "ça me démange" –, comme pour signifier que le désir de l’Autre m’aliène et me dévore.”, Georges Didi-Huberman, “Le sang, le sens et la sentence. Une brève histoire du "corps-cliché"”, in L’image ouverte, Paris, Gallimard, 2007 [1987])

De l’Autre? Oui, du Mal.
Malick is voracious of his own self-consumption/combustion in the vertiginous experience of evil, in its fire. To the end, like the sharks. It is to this bestial hunger, will, lust, desire, autophagic orgy, fire that the shots of the dinosaur in formation (listen to his heart beat) and the one of Jack’s mouth point too.
As Bataille underlined in his already mentioned interview, there is a great danger in literature. “Un très grand, très grave danger”. Let’s extend this idea to all art and in particular to the cinema. Art’s value and danger is to expose human nature in all its violence, to open a door to a fire rarely perceived in our daily lives, in ourselves. In ourselves, I underline. A fascinating, a powerful fire.
Few take this danger seriously, if ever have the minimum consciousness of it. Books, films and paintings are supposed to be just books, films and paintings. This is the kind of (dangerous) innocence that one must not have in order to admire the way of nature. With Bataille, you and I will certainly agree that this danger should be confronted and lived. (The last significant discussion I can remember about the danger of a work of art was about Les Bienveillantes.) But if we truly accept that it is a real danger – do you? – we also must that sometimes things can go really wrong. Theoretically, even “totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct.” That’s what Malick tried from The Thin Red Line on.

Well, you see Willard... In this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, practical military necessity. But out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be god. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have one. Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane. (General Corman, Apocalypse Now)

Very obviously. If you look close, Tall is identified not only with Kurtz, like I mentioned in an earlier post, but with Duvall’s (like my reference to the beach hinted) and Sheen’s characters. When he is standing near Staros with bombs hitting the ground few feet away, he is playing pure Colonel Bill Kilgore. When he orders a bombing of the Japanese positions before attack, Malick films nature Coppola’s way, from total serenity to fire (the opening scene of Apocalypse Now). Sheen’s character is evoked too by those shots with Tall smoking a cigarette in the ship as the boat advances towards the island. And probably even in that composition with a dead Japanese’s face buried in the burned soil, while we hear (notice the soundtrack’s rhythm):

“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?”
See it this way: “It was more like beautiful flames of gold.” (Starkweather on his visions of hell) See it like Kit would.

What is the messy idea? Well it is his way of saying that all he “could think of was getting back into the jungle”; that his former home had totally disappeared; that he lived in visions of fire; that he was going to his own private Apocalypse; that he is both the sacrificed and the sacrifier; and that he would elevate himself to God’s position from this film on.

Inner experience
Terry: you could have sharpened the chiaroscuro, like Ribera...

“I myself am the war.” (“Je suis moi-même la guerre.”, Georges Bataille, Méditation héraclitéenne)

“To feel eroticism is to be fascinated like a child that wants to take part in a forbidden game. And a man fascinated by eroticism is like a child before his parents. He’s afraid of what might happen to him. And he never stops until he has a reason to be afraid. It’s not enough for him to only do what normal adults content themselves with. He has to become scared. He has to find himself in the same situation as when he was a child and constantly afraid of being scolded and even punished in an unbearable way.” (Georges Bataille on his book Literature and Evil)

Quintard: Do you feel it?
Gordon Tall: Yes, sir.”

The Thin Red Line is both an image of and an image for an “inner experience” that could be described as a voyage to the end of eroticism. What is to say to the end of evil. Or to the end of cinema, the cinema Malick loves, the paradise raped by his war. To the vertigo of his Tree of Life, whose glory is a symbol of the entire island, of the entire film, of all his films.
His Guadalcanal is the sensual body personified in Mrs. Bell, that deadly body waiting for the soldiers, fascinating them and conspiring their death. Could you feel their fear? Were you afraid too? Realized how the island let them penetrate in its interior, how the film gives us their feeling that death is waiting for them, insinuating in all that beauty? How the siren sounds at Bell’s first thoughts of his wife? This is nothing but the fear of the erotic transgression, the fear of its price, of its coin’s other side, destruction, death.
My reader, I want to believe you have sufficient experience of these things to know that in a work of art the meanings accumulate, sometimes very intentionally.

An image like the one of the mutilated bodies found by the soldiers with mute horror, the macabre secret that they could feel from the beach where they arrive without a single shot, might be more than an allusion to some film (Apocalypse Now, probably), always the first hypothesis to consider with Malick. Those brutalized body parts, that vision of horror, like it had to happen sooner than latter, reminded me of the author whose sun Malick took as the model of his, Georges Bataille. As you know, it was in a particular photograph of the lingchi, the death by a hundred pieces, that Bataille ended his famous voyage to the infernal lands of eroticism, that very particular history of art called The Tears of Eros:

The world linked to the open image [à l’image ouverte] of the tortured man photographed several times during the torture, in Peking, is, to my knowledge, the most anguishing of worlds accessible to us through images captured on film. The torture shown here is that of the Hundred Pieces, reserved for the gravest of crimes.
This photograph had a decisive role in my life. I have never stopped being obsessed by this image of pain, at once ecstatic(?) and intolerable. I wonder what the Marquis de Sade would have thought of this image, Sade who dreamed of torture, which was inaccessible to him, but who never witnessed an actual torture session. In one way or another, this image was incessantly before his eyes. But Sade would have wished to see it in solitude, at least in relative solitude, without which the ecstatic and voluptuous effect is inconceivable.
Much later, in 1938, a friend initiated me into the practice of Yoga. It was on this occasion that I discerned, in the violence of this image, an infinite capacity for reversal. Through this violence – even to this day I cannot imagine a more insane, more shocking form – I was so stunned that I reached the point of ecstasy. My purpose is to illustrate a fundamental connection between religious ecstasy and eroticism – in particular sadism. This book is not written from the limited experience of most men.
What I suddenly saw, and what imprisoned me in anguish – but which at the same time delivered me from it – was the identity of these perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror.
And this is my inevitable conclusion to a history of eroticism.


“One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there’s nothing but unanswered pain. But death’s got the final word. It’s laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory. Feels something smiling through him.” (Train ?) Of which bird, of which kind of bird is Malick, the bird stuffer, talking about? Welsh is looking at Witt, but I am pretty sure this is at some level a comment on Bataille’s glory. Be that the voodoo sacrifier’s – “What the voodoo sacrificer experienced was a kind of ecstasy. An ecstasy comparable in a way to drunkenness. An ecstasy brought about by the killing of birds.” – or of the Chinese himself.

The image of the dead soldiers under the sunlight is indeed programatic and explains why this world is “blowing itself to hell as fast as everybody can arrange it”. Bataille presented in these words his chapters on the photos of the voodoo sacrifice and the Chinese torture:

Le jeu que je me propose est de me représenter pour moi-meme, avec soin, ce qu’ils vivaient au moment où l’objectif fixa leur image sur le verre ou la pellicule.”
(Rather impossible to translate without loosing some of the possibilities of meaning of me représenter pour moi-meme: to picture, to represent to myself; to represent me to myself; to represent myself to myself: “The game I am setting up for myself is to me représenter pour moi-meme, carefully, what they were living at the moment the lens fixed their image on the glass or on the film.” )

G. Didi-Huberman ofered his comment on this:

“This expression, me représenter, is indeed curious. It means: to picture, to mentally dramatize. But it means as well: to represent oneself in the faced image, to make oneself in the image of that which face us. Then, spectator existence involutes itself in the Other, hysterically, body and soul, plays the game the Other, desires what the Other desires, and suffers the Other’s suffering. It is as if the subject could only constitute itself inside a movement of empathy, compassion.” (“Cette expression, me représenter, donne à réfléchir. Elle signifie : se faire une image, dramatiser mentalement. Mais elle signifie aussi bien : se représenter soi-même dans l’image qui fait face, se faire à l’image de ce qui fait face. Alors, l’existence spectatrice s’involue dans l’Autre, hystériquement, corps et âme, elle joue le jeu de l’Autre, désire ce que l’Autre desire, et soufre de la soufrance de l’Autre. C’est comme si le sujet ne se pouvait constituer qu’au creux d’un mouvement d’empathie, de compassion.”


Badlands contains an idea of self-crucifixion which is indeed interesting. Crucifixion with the very object the crucified uses to kill. Very much like his work. “To replay the sacrifice, the "constitutive" sacrifice, what is to say the Christic sacrifice, but deprived of that hereafter which, however, constitutes it. If this attempt is viable, then the word parody will assume its sense entirely.” (“rejouer le sacrifice, le sacrifice "constitutionnel", c’est-à-dire christique, mais privé de l’au-delà qui, pourtant, le constitue. Si cette tentative est viable, alors le mot parodie prendra bien tout son sens.”, Georges Didi-Huberman on Bataille, "L’image ouverte", in L’image ouverte, 2007 [article first published in 1986])
Probably here lies a fundamental key to understand how and why Malick lived and died with all those men from somewhere over the rainbow. And why is he indeed who is blowing to bits in that island, bleeding from the body of every soldier to the River of Life.

Some of the pièces de résistance of this film are those moments when light – formless constitution of the soldiers – pours through the leaves like the breath of life abandoning their bodies. All the shots of this sort have a metaphoric (and a mirror) dimension, as to say let there be cinema is to say let there be light (which is the name of a famous article written about the film, as you may know).

From the Genisis to the Apocalypse, Biblical themes are present in all his films, especially in Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life. That Cain and Abel story cooked between Jack and RL is quite something but I am particularly interested in Badlands’ Christic themes. One – Kit holding the riffle like James Dean – is obvious, the other – the ecce homo at the airport – is not at all, and so I pointed it to you in a previous post about will.
So, what you say: from Christianity to the religion of the cinema? From the love of Jesus Christ to the love of James Dean? From “in the name of the Father” to “rebelion with no cause”? The passion of Terrence Malick is imitatio James Dean.

One big self

“Maybe all men got one big soul who everybody’s a part of. All faces of the same man. One big self. Everyone looking for salvation by himself. Each like a coal drawn from the fire.” (Witt, The Thin Red Line)

“Maybe all men got one big soul and everybody’s a part of it.”
(Casey, The Grapes of Wrath [book])

“A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody”. (Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath [film])

There are many causalities in The Thin Red Line but nobody would dare to say that Witt’s death is not special. We will ask ourselves why John Ford dies in this particular film in another chapter. Let’s consider Witt’s words first.
These words have three basic functions: to identify Witt, John Ford’s Henry Fonda, what would be difficult without them, in spite of the physical similarities and of some Fordian shots of him; to precise an essential element of his [Witt’s] credo (carefully diverting our attentions to the book); to offer an image of the relation of all the characters in this movie to Malick.
Malick’s art is in letting Witt (Tom Joad) express his point of view while appropriating himself of his formulation to express something totally different.“Each like a coal drawn from the fire”: there you can feel whose soul is shining in that island, whose “one big self” (this expression his entirely Malick’s) is made to burning bits, “blowing itself to hell as fast as everybody can arrange it”.
The film is a compromise between Badlands’formula – to kill the parents, be they the “Japs” or not – and something different – the “one big self” concept. What is to say the “family” concept, the Malickian family, two times mentioned in the film. By Staros: “You are my sons. My dear sons. You live inside me now. I’ll carry you wherever I go.” By Cpt. Bosche, after the battle: “That makes you all the children in this family.”

“These are all his children, man! As far as you can see.” I supose he quotes the Iliad because “He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense.” Well, you might consider the Trojan horse factor too.

There is a third mention to the “family”, I can hear you. Witt’s (or is it Train’s voice?; does it matter?):

“How’d it break up and come apart? So that now we’re turned against each other. Each standing in the other’s light. How did we lose the good that was given us? Let it slip away? Scatter it careless? What’s keeping us from reaching out? Touching the glory?”

It is not intended to be a John Ford’s Henry Fonda musing about the destiny of the human family (even if the voice is not Witt’s, it is he who is seen). It would be plausible came from him and that is important to Malick, but this one is about the destiny of the family of cinema, the world raped by Malick’s war: losing all the good given to it, all the generosity it is capable, all hypothetic transcendental power, that chance of reaching, of showing the glory of life. Appearing to try just that, but “mocking us with the sight of what we might have known.” (It seems to be an allusion to the same line of Emerson on Plato alluded in The Tree of Life’s script: “The misery of man is to be baulked of the sight of essence”. Why the differences? Because Malick wants to make you much more miserable than Emerson’s man, as he wants to give you the sight of something that never was there in the first place.) It is funny how Malick permits us at times to share the position of some of his “sons”. After all, Jack is part of them:

“This great evil. Where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us? Robbing us of life and light. Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known. Does our ruin benefit the Earth? Does it help the grass to grow or the sun to shine? ls this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” (Train)

There is one John Ford film where the “glory” is indeed central. A paradise lost film, a film whose title could begin or end Witt’s words: How Green Was My Valley. It is the film of the Father, who in the end, liberated by death, tells his wife “of the glory he had seen.” This glory is – if this is with or without some abuse I leave it to you – also the glory of Hugh’s visions, memories, constituting the entire film: Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are still a glory in my ears? A film that is a peak of Ford’s pantheism (like The Grapes of Wrath of pantheism in cinema or pantheism tout court), a film in which everything is indeed sacred. It is to this Ford, to this father, that Malick says:

“Well, then you’ve seen things I never will.”

Witt would “never be a real soldier, not in God’s [i.e., Malick’s] world”. The Fort is the only world that Malick knows. There, only RL, his sick sun, enters. A very different glory, the rotten glory of a rotten sun.

First the candle, then the river and then “rosey fingered dawn”. The sun was going to rise.  

The boys playing in those paradisical waters are an image of Malick’s heterotopia, of his tree, the vision of glory of a world consecrated to “play – play as opposed to work, play whose essence is above all to obey seduction, to respond to passion.” (Bataille) But even the most beautiful images are hauted by Malick’s dark side, as I know that in those waters lives the lust of Welles’ sharks. In this vision Witt is incorporated, but only when he dies. “Where’s your spark now?” Ironically, burning in Malick’s fire. 
“On this large bed we discover the ocean”. (Foucault) It is not to much to say that this image is a mise en abyme of the film: “Sometimes when you see them playing they always fight!”

“Only around people.”

Witt: You ever get lonely?
Welsh: Only around people.
“It’s well before adolescence, it’s childhood, cinema. It’s not adolescence. (…) It’s a much more intense, much more care-free feeling, and much more serious, of not being part of the world. Or to only just be tolerated by the world as it is. (…) It means you know from the first time you go into the courtyard, on the first year of primary school, that there are people with whom you won’t be friends, and that there’ll be a group of three or four in a corner, the introverts, maybe later, as for me, the homosexuals. In any case the cinephiles, obviously, won’t share their treasures. They know they belong to another version of the world. Or of the human specie.” (Serge Daney)
“Stated motive: "general revenge upon the world and its human race"” (Starkweather trial)
How is the world to Malick? It is Daney’s courtyard without those “three or four in a corner.” And it is more than not being part of the world. It is to hate it with all your strength. So much that you would spend your entire life building your declaration of hate to everybody living in it through the only family and the only home you knew – that of cinema. What Malick buried in The Thin Red Line was all that this film was and is said to exalt, Witt. He incarnates that you mentioned by Welsh in the end: “If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours.” (echoing Matthew 8:8: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur puer meus) This you is the light, the grace of life . The possibility from escaping the Fort – or the love of Madeleine.

There is not a single Malick film without allusions to Hitchcock. Remember his small parrots, the so called lovebirds? I think I can hear Malick saying: “Can I bring the lovebirds? They haven’t harmed anyone.” Try to see Malick less as a birwatcher and more like a The Birds’ “watcher”.
Who are you?
Lisa: How’s your leg?
Jeff: Hurts a little.
Lisa: Your stomach?
Jeff: Empty as a football.
Lisa: And your love life?
Jeff: Not too active.
Lisa: Anything else bothering you?
Jeff: Yes, who are you?
(Rear Window)

“I’m many things. (…) The morning dew, dripping from the leaves of the tree. White clouds sailing where no one knows. (…) I’m the moon. I’m the sky.” (Gertrud)

In The Thin Red Line Malick begins something totally new. Tons of extravagant – but assumedly so – musings directed to his absolute love, cinema:

“Who are you to live in all these many forms? Your death that captures all. You, too, are the source of all that’s gonna be born. Your glory. Mercy. Peace. Truth. You give calm a spirit, understanding, courage. The contented heart.” (Train)

Bell is there so he could portrait himself as Holly’s husband and add a chapter to his love story with her. The whole things oscillates between the serious, vertiginously passionate “Why should I be afraid to die? I belong to you” and the comic, self-parodic “I haven’t touched another woman since I was called up. Or talked to one. I don’t wanna... I don’t wanna feel the desire.”
Well, I don’t want to unnecessarily enter their intimate life, but I doubt that Malick maintained that publicized abstinence. The point is, of course, that in The Thin Red Line HOLLY OMNIA (this is given in the confusion between voices, faces, bodies, bodies and nature) and that this kind of sex is very particular. It is fire. If you look to the three first films, you notice: after fire, the river, immediately or almost.

The river as a sexual/orgasmic metaphor is absolutely not unique to Malick. I think I won’t be lying to you if I said that the first time I saw The New World its final sequence brought Picnic on the Grass to my mind. As Rebecca dies we see her fusing with nature in great (glorious) joy. She caresses the tree, admiring it, as she finally understands that she is everything, that she lives in everything. Wagner. Crescendo. The bird flies, the boat leaves towards the sun. And then the river rushing through the rocks and the sun through the leafs. Finally, the tree.


This kind of erotic fusion of the characters in nature – although in Malick nature is fiction – sends us back to Renoir’s 1959 film. In its most remarkable sequence Alexis and the girl disappear into the vegetation under the flute’s spell. The love act is substituted by a poem made of reed touched by the wind, aquatic plants gently dancing, water touching the rocks, the river calmly flowing, an insect collecting pollen. All very calm and impressionist. Nonetheless, I believe it was an important source of inspiration to Malick. Both the exuberance of devastation and the exuberance of the natural motives in his films are to be seen as an erotic image of that evil agitating the “Vertigo’s project” spiral.

“Does our ruin benefit the Earth? Does it help the grass to grow or the sun to shine?” Yes, it does. Malick’s luminous epiphanie, one of his much praised glories. The newly born sun lights the hill like a wind, announcing the battle. Is there a more powerfully erotic image in this film?
The river – as you know, the title of one of Renoir’s masterpieces – has particular importance in Picnic on the Grass’ erotic poem. As Malick said to his crew that The Thin Red Line was like flowing down a river – as it is, even if he had not said it – let’s remember Renoir’s famous words:

“A thing that has unquestionably influenced my development as a creator of films is water. I cannot conceive of cinema without water. There is an unscapable quality in the movement of a film which relates it to the ripple of streams and the flow of rivers... The truth is that the affinity between the film and the river is the more strong and subtle because it cannot be explained.”

It is not hard to agree with Renoir. A river is really a good image for a film. But there are some pretty different types of rivers. Lilith’s river, for example, is much more dangerous than Renoir’s. In Rossen’s movie the lovers images melt themselves and melt with the river.

Lilith’s is truly Malick’s river. The river (of cinema) as madness, where he unites himself with his love:

“We. We together. One being. Flow together like water, till I can’t tell you from me. I drink you. Now. Now.” (Bell)
Through grace, S. Peebles (The Other World of War: Terrence Malick's Adaptation of The Thin Red Line) said that:
“The body is overwhelmingly present in the novel and somewhat of a focus in the first adaptation [Marton’s film]. Malick, however, effectively subtracts the body from this war story (…)”

Peebles contrasted Jones’ soldiers body centered, sexual experience of war with Malick’s suposedly soul centered, spiritual experience of it. The question is that we are talking about very diferent wars. And not only this. Malick’s film is not just about some war or war itself. It is one.
Malick could write as an epitaph to his oeuvre: “Experience, sole authority, sole value” (Bataille). If we want to decide ourselves about things like the place of sexuality (eroticism would be a better word) in his work, we cannot just search in the bodies of the soldiers and their words to decide ourselves.

“Malick’s Guadalcanal would be a Paradise Lost, an Eden, raped by the green poison, as Terry used to call it, of war.” (Geisler) The idea of rape goes back to Badlands, as Cape Fear is alluded in that film in a way Malick is identified with Max Cady (and, just for the record, green is the color of Madeleine). “Video [I see] from visu [sight], that is, from vis [force], since it is the strongest of the five senses. While no other sense is able to perceive something a thousand feet away, the force of the eyes’ perception reaches even to the stars. (…) [In the verse of Accius about Actaeon and Diana:] "He who saw [invidit] what should not be seen [invidendum] violated  that with his eyes [violavit]." From which they even say he "violated the virgin" [violavit] instead of "he ruined her" [vitiavit](…).” (De Lingua Latina)
We must have in acount what suposedely goes on in Malick’s own body and mind. What he suggests, certainly for his own amusement, is that the experience (of combat) is indeed a very phisical one. One of erotic ecstasy. A Sternbergian bell. So those images of the erotic games between the Bells come and go during the battle, in what is itself an erotic movement.
Lilith’s river, Malick’s river, is the vertiginous fall through the long corridor of madness.
Gloria: no wonder RL was not hurt in that lamp socket: he is energy itself.

“I always contradict myself.”
Malick brings together two excluding realms. The outmost solipsistic, egocentric, narcissist, fetishist (the fascination for artificiality itself), self-encloused, cynical – in one word, psycopathic; the hysteric, the self-delivery to the Other, sacrifice – the sacred. But the first is a fact and the second a wishful thinking. Those images of his internal convulsions are too reiterated not to suggest some kind of frustation (and Welsh says: Maybe I was just frozen up already).
This contradiction existes, at a diferent degree (i.e., non-psycopathic), in Bataille himself, doomed – and conscient of being so – to the fascination for the extremes exclusive of the religious experience and/but incapable of living them. In the end, like G. Didi-Huberman remarked, all he might get was a little acceleration of his heart beat. No matter what, his life still developed in the realm of the unessential. What it is to say that he went, that to see against all consolation took him, to the door’s limit, but not farther:

“But Bataille, refusing – understandably – any Proper Name of that by whom to suffer or empathize, Bataille, in the limit, could never open himself to the end to the image, to bleed interiorly, to access the stigmata. In a sense, then, the image would have remained closed up, intact, to him.” (“Mais Bataille, refusant – on le comprend – tout Nom propre de celui pour qui pâtir ou compatir, Bataille, en dernière limite n’aura pu, jamais, s’ouvrir jusqu’au bout à l’image, saigner intérioreument, acceder au stigmate. En un sens, dons, l’image lui sera restée close, intacte.”, G. Didi-Huberman, "L’image ouverte", in L’image ouverte, 2007 [article published in 1986])

“From the phenomenological point of view, the model of the Albertian window is insufficient, comfortable: a window can at the same time be closed (physically) and open (optically) in a way that to see beyond – the very economy of the gaze, its desire for the work – does not put our body in motion: you can just sit at the window to see what is happening outside. A door is much more dramatic: without even going into the paradoxes dear to Kafka, we can say it opposes a more violent enclosing to which can only oppose itself the sharp nature of the gesture which will open it up, in order that our body, moved through this opening, crosses the threshold. It is not a coincidence if Georges Bataille felt the image in relation to the idea of a shattered door” [: “Thus I repress an image of torture and, by means of this repression, I close myself; this image’s repression is one of the doors by which my particularity remains closed. If I once again place the image before me, it opens the door, or rather tears it out.”] (“Du point de vue phénoménologique, le modèle de la fenêtre albertienne est un modèle insuffisant, confortable : une fenêtre peut être à la fois fermée (physiquement) et ouverte (optiquement), en sorte que voir au-delà - l'enjeu même du regard, son désir à l’œuvre – ne met pas notre corps en mouvement : on peut se contenter de rester assis à sa fenêtre pour voir ce qui se passe au-dehors. Une porte est bien plus dramatique : sans même aller jusqu’aux paradoxes chers à Kafka, elle nous oppose une clôture bien plus violente à quoi ne peut s’opposer que le caractère tranchant du geste qui l’ouvrira, afin que notre corps, mû par cette ouverture, en franchisse le seuil. Ce n’est pas un hasard si Georges Bataille éprouvait l’image en relation avec l’idée d'une porte qui vole en éclats [: “Ainsi je refoule une image de supplice et, par le refoulement, je me ferme ; le refoulement de cette image est l’une des portes à l’aide desquelles ma particularité est close. Si je replace l’image devant moi elle ouvre la porte, ou plutôt elle l’arrache.” ( Le coupable, from a working manuscripte, refrased in the final version)]” (G. Didi-Huberman, "Introduction", in L’image ouverte, 2007)

Experience – history – shows that there is no open image without Name of the Father.” Just the sinthomatic routine. There is no to the end in the image for someone like Malick who, more than anyone, murdered all possible father.
But, really... a wishful thinking? Maybe not even that. “I can’t deny we’ve had fun, though. I mean, uhm, that’s more than I can say for some. Should Malick really be taken seriously? Would not that be an error from us? That vision of glory in which RL is ofered to him joins Bataille and Riefenstahl, the worlds of the closed form and the formless. Obviously, the whole world is a joke to him. After all, he is a saboteur ab initio. And a fucking Wagnerian jerker.
But this experiment is not over yet. It will when that plane where Dirty Harry, “Mr. law and order” of the cinema, is excourting Kit back to our world finally lands. Whatever happens next, it will be tragic and, to those who know Terrence Frederick Malick, frightning to the point of total and absolute terror, for what some sentiment of guilt is not strange to these lines. Malick will be face to face with people and with no protection left for the first time in his life; and those people will see in him for the first time too. Then the Real will finally make its advent in the life of a psycopath desperatly trying to feel something. Will it be absorved in the circus of media, fame and stardom of the rebels without a cause’s industrie or will it end in the death by the hundred pieces? No one knows, not even Malick. 

“Only one thing a man can do.”

To see, but really see, the films of Terrence Malick only one thing we can do: to try to see his island from his subjective point of view. This might involve violence upon our contemporary notion of work of art, but this one – and I include in this word our subjective point of views about it – was done exclusively for its creator: “Nature only wants to please itself”. Furthermore, this task is, of course, impossible and Malick himself remembers us of that: “Subjective point – you know the diference? Subjective means it comes from your mind, it can’t be proven by other people.” But it is this impossible task that opens our consciousness to the badlands of human nature, to Malick’s nature. The question is: are we willing to see or are we afraid to?
Here I stop me. It would be easy to continue writing this post until it became enormous, decoding the great allusionistic net of The Thin Red Line, identifying Malick’s sons. But that is not necessary to explain the heart of nature, to feel it. And if I had chosen to do so the result would probably be a great mess, like my first post… There is no hurry. We have got all the time in the world.
Probably, All Things Burning, All things Shining will sound too concise about some matters for those less acquainted with the work of Georges Bataille. I might develop some of its ideas in the future. Meanwhile, I just send you back to the mentioned works, especially to The Tears of Eros. Didi-Huberman’s beautiful book, on which I leaned more than once, seems to me an excellent idea too to understand what Malick is – and is not – in face of the image, a complement to my earlier suggestion, Freedberg’s The Power of Images (the translations above are mine and certainly not brillant; if you can, you are advised to read everything in French).
I think I will not post anything here until I have seen To the Wonder. The synopsis leaves me kind of curious. Anyone can tell me if his Father Quintana is somehow related to Rosita Quintana?
“Terrence Malick... un regista? È reduttivo dire che è un regista perché è un poeta, è un filosofo, è un uomo che ama profondamente la vita, un uomo attento al valore stesso della vita. È un uomo sempre in continua ricerca, per cercare di migliorare se stesso per gli altri.” (Romina Mondello to RAI)
I bet.

And they leave in the boat, and up the river they go. “He disappeared into the jungle with his people. He feels confortable with his people. He forgets himself with his people. He forgets himself.” (Apocalypse Now)