The whole world is a joke to me

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

“Terry was so exemplary – a high-school quarterback and later a Rhodes Scholar – but he was fascinated with the sort of character for whom morals didn’t even enter the picture. Long before he conceived of making a movie of Charlie Starkweather, he would talk in this voice. In the voice that he taught Marty [Sheen] to talk in.” (Jake Brackman, Harvard classmate; screenwriter and songwriter)


I am going to take a long vacation from this blog. I will leave you this to think about. And I will take a few things from my review that maybe never should been there, like the album, which was just a distraction from the essential.
Everything begins and ends in Badlands. We need to have our feet firm both in The Tree of Life and in Badlands to make sense of Malick’s work. The idea is not to describe the whole film, to find an interpretation for each of its thousand details. I chose some important aspects not yet sufficiently explored in previous posts.
Allow me to prevent you: this post is everything that a blogger should avoid. It is extremely long, with tons of images and quotations. But the particularity of Malick’s cinematic experiments asks for a special treatment. One more thing. I hate descriptive writing about films, but with this guy, at least in a first phase, it is sometimes necessary.
If you still have doubts about the meaning of the bridge in The Tree of Life, if you are not sure about whom Malick loves and calls mother for his own delight, reading this is might be pointless. Sorry, but I have to use O’Brien’s words: “You must keep that watered”; “you must close the door quietly” a few more times.
Probably few are prepared to understand Malick’s work, it is true. Knowledge of fire is necessary, to know the badlands of life. To have seen many times, to know (which is something different) those movies constantly alluded by the director. To know what is to love cinema, but to love it in a morbid way. To have a true sense of the game and to understand this one’s (a)theological background. To see all this beyond “Art”. Not easy, not little. Even more because losing your vertigo is only possible after a “great shock” and the veiled feeling of the moral emptiness waiting for us on the other side of the door is frightening to a point that some of you aren’t certainly aware. “You’re affraid, I can see it.”

Just before Jack’s break into the Kimballs, we see a white exterior staircase. The staircase is obviously a reference to Vertigo, our vertigo, but there is probably also the intention of evoking another Hitchcock film, Shadow of a Doubt. Like Adrian Martin wrote, this is a film haunted by a diffuse fear. The fear of what Malick and his mother are, I say. White is the color of fear in Hitchcock.

Anyway, let’s go to the point. Badlands is a suicide note in which Malick explains as clear as possible that he killed his social self for his celluloid one, for the realization of the diary of his imaginary life through the lands of cinema. He made himself a criminal and the whole world the police after him. But, at great extent, this film exists only after The Tree of Life, after we have seen the necklace, this is. It is impossible to ignore, to pretend it is another thing. I will not change what Malick done, I cannot. You thought Badlands was beautiful through Grace? Maybe it was, but it would be ridiculous to avoid what is just in front of our faces. Malick’s work is rotten from the first to the last second (like O’Brien’s cabbages, which are a biblically resonant symbol of it). As the Rubaiyat says:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.


Kit left a record playing over and over for the District Attorney to find. He was gambling for time.

The “record” is playing since 1973. Before putting our scalpel deep into that cinematic body left most generously by Kit/Malick to Science – in the name of Science, thank you Terry – we must dedicate ourselves to a sometimes funny sometimes dull exercise: putting the jigsaw puzzle together. Think of yourself as Émil Mâle and of Malick’s ouvre as a medieval cathedral. And then think that this cathedral was actually a “book of stone” (even if written in verse), like Mâle (wrongly) believed these buildings were. I know it seems corny to play to the 19th century iconographers, but I did not invent this game. Your protests should be addressed to Malick.
In the first image of Badlands Holly is sitting on her bed, petting her dog. The absurdity of her words on voice over (“My father had kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years…”) and the spelling soundtrack establish the film’s fairy tale atmosphere. “At times I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.” Malick’s favorite line (Positif interview) is more than obviously a reference to The Wizard of Oz. And I think that in the director’s first shot (excluding Lanton Mills; Malick ends arrested, I would like to see that) what we see is just Holly’s unfortunate arrival to Malick’s Badlands (bad-lands), where she would live the craziest adventure of her long life.

Lets go.


“Philosophy is garbage, but the history of garbage is scholarship.” (dictum attributed to Burton Dreben)

I do not know when Dreben – a professor at Harvard, where Malick graduated – invented this funny comparison. Its rather extreme point of view is not exactly unique. More or less clear comparisons of Philosophy to garbage are not rare or recent; and they contain rich philosophical possibilities... So I am not sure that Malick took his idea from Dreben, if that was possible. Malick knows the history of “garbage” too well to ignore the authors who inspired him.
This said, I do not know a more hilarious image of college life than the one given in Badlands. It would be tremendously funny if Malick was not the sociopath he is.
One of his ingenious tricks was putting Cato/Plato in the truck. If Nicholas Ray had given him such a great philosopher’s name, why shouldn’t he be his imaginary friend in this grotesque version of the life of a 25 years old MIT scholar?

What can I had add about these first images? Besides a very obvious comment from a professor (“This lady don’t ever pay her bills. She’s gonna get in trouble…”), there is that pair of used shoes that Kit tries to sell to a passing bum and that he gives to Cato (“Gimme a dollar for them... Cost twenty new”). There is a possibility that this is a “garbage” joke, one from someone who had published a translation of Heidegger (Woody?). Heidegger (among others) made a famous comment about a pair of peasant shoes painted by Van Gogh in The Origin of the Work of Art.

Malick might very well be saying that he just doesn’t give a damn anymore about “trash” (he doesn’t, believe me). But I should say here that he gave those shoes to Plato for a reason absolutely strange to this kind of jokes. Offering to Cato those shoes was the pretext to, latter, after he had shot him, inspect his feet. Like James Dean and Natalie Wood do with Plato’s stockings.

Before closing the doors he checks Cato’s shoes. to see if they are the ones he gave him.” (script) Malick took his game to the limit with Cato/Plato. His name, the way he dies, the chicken... The rest of the film seems to me rather impossible to understand without The Tree of Life, but things are so damn clear with this character that I ask myself how nobody saw who he was in Kit’s head. Malick knew very well that he was playing a dangerous card with Cato: “Kit never let on why he’d shot Cato. He said that just talking about it could bring us bad luck and that right now we needed all the luck we could get.” But when you go for a double indemnity, it is all or nothing.

Kit had enough of that for one day and says goodbye to Cato. We see him walking through a deserted alley. And if I told you that in that alley you can find Malick’s entire project? Would you believe me? You should.
First, there is an undeniable allusion to his greatest cinematic loves and inspirations: Vertigo and Psycho, the two films merged in one gesture. Brillant, I must say.

This deserves x-large size. There is no improvisation whatsoever. The final version of the script says: “He balances a stolen mop on his finger.”

So one day we would all know that in the begining it was Hitchcock. Hitchcock in spiritum, this is. If you are one of those dull guys who can’t see things beyond “style”, forget it: you will never understand Malick.

In the beggining it was Hitchcock’s spirit, the spirit of Saboteur: “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” Just wait for The Voyage of Time, Hitch...

What Kit does next is no less important. He stomps a can. Then he looks around to see if anyone has spotted him at this. Once more, this is in the script. It is no improvisation. Malick is just smashing the “grey theory”, the garbage he hates. Kit kicks the can violently. Robert repeats the same thing in The Tree of Life when he joyfully destroys the trash can. As you know, Kit would never get back to his former job.

No more trash!

I have, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine, Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labour, studied through.
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.
Magister, doctor styled, indeed,
Already these ten years I lead,
Up, down, across, and to and fro,
My pupils by the nose, - and learn,
That we in truth can nothing know!
That in my heart like fire doth burn.
‘Tis true I’ve more cunning than all your dull tribe,
Magister and doctor, priest, parson, and scribe;
Scruple or doubt comes not to enthrall me,
Neither can devil nor hell now appal me.

Next, he spots Holly. We see the titles: BADLANDS. He speaks to her in his smart guy kind of manners. The scene is quite unforgettable.

Kit: Listen, Holly, you want to take a walk with me?
Holly: What for?
Kit: Well, I got some stuff to say. Guess I’m kind of lucky that way. Most people don’t have anything on their minds, do they?

I have to agree with Malick on this point.

Some of the precedents of Malick’s work are very old. Below, A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts. Grammar is presenting the young man to her sisters. Prudentia reigns over the assembley. Malick didn’t need help, like the Quattrocento boy. He just introduced himself to the love of his life. And if someone was blessing them, it certainly was not Prudentia (maybe Dementia). How should we baptize this episode? A Young Man Introduces himself to Hollywood?


“What kind of work do you think you would be qualified for?”

Kit’s firing is left conveniently vague: he is firing himself.
He had already said to Holly that he wasn’t “in love with the stuff”. When he meets her for the second time, he announces: “Quit my job.” “Just seemed like the right move...” We should think that he didn’t want to admit that he had been fired, right? Wrong.

Showing Kit receiving the news was just the pretext to an additional joke in which Malick could underline his absolute contempt for his former career. It is that guy (the truck driver, Woody?) slowly paring an apple (a symbol of knowledge) by his German Sheppard – Heidegger, I suspect – that gives the news:
Man: Heard the news, Kit? Been in all the headlines.
Kit: What’s that?
Man: You have been fired. Ain’t that a helluva note?
Kit throws his keys to the oil can. Like I said, they stand for his Phi Beta Kappa key: “Love of learning is the guide of life”. It was. Bye, bye.
As for Kit’s interview at the employment agency, it is one of the pearls of Malick’s humor for self consumption: “I’d like you to write me out a slip, though, proving I came down here.” No comments necessary, I believe.
Clerk: “Well, I think we could find you something... working cattle over at the pens.”

“It’s a confounded lie. All I said was that they should be treated like cattle.” (Hitchcock on the remark attributed to him that “actors are cattle”)

Hitchcock’s comparison is certainly horrible but can be understood in the context of the high degree of abstraction of his cinema. Hitchcock knew exactly what he wanted, had his shots drawn like cartoons. The actors where supposed to do just what was on the script. The British director hated improvisation. In this sense, they should behave like cattle. (The metaphor is also related to the movement of the actors in a limited space)
The idea for Kit’s new job is born of this famous Hitchcockian comparison. Kit’s work in the feedlot is nothing more nothing less than Malick’s studies at the American Film Institute, where he entered in 1969. I would like to see Lanton Mills, the short film made at the AFI. The descriptions that I have read let me think that Kit stepping a dead cow might be an allusion to this film.
But the Hitchcockian joke broadened its sense, and not only in latter films (The New World, The Tree of Life), ultimately to signify that the entire world is Malick’s cattle (Jack/the spectator is also part of his film). During the car chase, Kit passes by several cows who (yes, who) seem to do not understand what’s going on. I don’t want to offend nobody, so I will just let you imagine what this is. But in the feedlot what we see is a grotesque representation of Malick learning how to direct actors in a film.

For more than all, Malick’s game is cruel for his actors, they are his first victims. Imagine what is to discover that you have been manipulated to do something like playing the director treating you like cattle, as Malick did when he put Sheen at the pens.
Malick’s technique of working “cattle” is very different of Hitchcock’s. With Malick, actors can think they are relatively free to improvise. After stuffing them in celluloid, he can do exactly what he wants in the editing room, as he only works with total freedom over the final result. What doesn’t fit his ideas goes off. He needs to give no justification.
But in Badlands there was little improvisation. Malick even said that he wanted more in the future. His first film is very precise, the message had to be very clear, perfectly articulated. It his natural that with time he came to feel more confident to improvise. All artists do, even con artists. The tree house seems to be an idea from Jack Fisk (at least I have heard that). But it was fully integrated in Malick’s discourse. And changing Kit’s age from 19 to 25, like it was something to accommodate the choice of Sheen for the main role, was brillant (although 19 is a special age too, as we have seen).
Malick learn everything at the nun’s school in San Juan Bautista (Vertigo), the two ways through life. The funny thing is that nobody remembers Hitchcock when Malick comes to the conversation. When we get to The Thin Red Line or The New World it seems just crazy. That is part of the trick. If he wanted to adopt his master’s style, it would be easy. But, like I said, Malick is Hitchcockian in spirit. Nature has strange ways.
Before being arrested Kit builds his monument. And he puts – I believe it is important – the rich man’s hat. I thought about from which Hitchcock film this hat could come. Well, it could be Mitchum’s straw hat (Cape Fear, see this). Apparently, the rich man is called Mr. Scarborough as an allusion to the director of The Night of the Hunter (he was born in such town), who worked with Hitchcock in The Paradine Case (another case of “condensed” allusions). But we can’t avoid thinking in one Hitchcock film that gives some relevance to hats, Shadow of a Doubt. Uncle Charlie is the man who says “The whole world is a joke to me.”

Like the end of some Broadway musical. I have been thinking about the people who arrest Kit, Tom (deputy), Ray (sheriff), that trooper who escorts the prisoners in the plane. I suspect that they are all film characters, as this is still part of Malick’s masquerade. This is the end of his dream, but it is still his dream, and maybe the craziest part of it. The trooper, that guy whose hat catches Kit’s attention and tells him “You’re quite an individual, Kit”: Clint Eastwood (Coogan’s Bluff)?


“What did you gain?” (The Tree of Life)

Why? I have already tried to expose here the reasons occasionally given by Malick for having done what is described in this blog. After some hesitations, I arrived to the conclusion that no “profound reason” is given, no justification. That is why Malick’s work is truly evil, I wrote.
It is certain that we can intuit that he has a pretty dark, horrible, idea of the world, one that would somehow be ventilated as a justification. I think the validity of this is very limited. Clearly, he just says us that there was a moment when all that was true and kind in him died. The brother he talks about is more than a biological brother. It is the human brother. We. What eventually happened in his life is out of this. That is not part of the game: “…in real life, you hide your suffering; it’s the only way to survive. That’s what happens to Kit. Far from having made them mature, deeper, sympathetic – a myth Americans believe in – suffering has made him trite, narrow-minded, and dense. That is why Kit has become a narcissist, not in the sense that he’s looking for the root cause of his problems, but rather because he’s an imposter who doesn’t like who he is.”
The ways in which he exactly suffered will never be explained. The precise reasons of his hate, if exist, what made him desire “that if the Communists ever dropped the atomic bomb, (…) they’d put it right in the middle of Rapid City” [South Dakota is here just a metaphor of the real world], are a private business of him. He will not expose his wounds, only his madness, his obscenity, his evil. All that can hurt you, nothing that would hurt him. If you haven’t found out yet, he is the nuts of Holly’s joke:

“Did you hear the one about the guy in the nuthouse that went
around naked, with only a hat and gloves on, and this nurse came
up to him and said, "Hey, what... You can’t walk around that
way," and the guy says, "What’s the matter? Nobody comes around here." Anyway, the nurse says, "What do you have the hat and gloves on for, then?" And the guy says, "Well, you never know."”

He keeps his guard up all the time.
This said, I think that Malick was never as convincing as at the employment agency when the clerk presented Kit/him the possibility of working at the pens: “Well, what the hell. Just hope there’s a breeze.” Something bigger than life, than the shallowness, the emptiness of Fort Dupree. You have certainly noticed that Holly’s “Well, stop the world” alludes to the first dialogue between Dean and N. Wood, the one of the famous “Who lives?”.

“Before we left he shot a football that he considered excess baggage.” It seems to me rather impossible that Malick was thinking in something else: Bigger than Life. He didn’t find a use for Ray’s ball in his game, but it was too special to him so he could avoid a reference to Bigger then Life.

I see the possibility of this breeze as an answer to those Antonionian shots of the streets before the trash truck appears. I believe that Malick wanted them to look Antonionian (probably like some shots of the soldiers in the end). Like if he was answering in his cinephile way to Chastain’s question with another one: What did I lose?

Half serious, half kidding, I would say that you could think like this in order to understand our friend: James Dean was a Hitchcock fan graduated at Harvard; was full of ennui at the MIT; having read Bataille and Bachelard, he got the wrong ideas.


“Little by little we fell in love...”

Kit’s love story with Kazan’s daughter develops. In previous posts, I have covered much of it. What is left to say? Sargis shooting Marilyn’s dog (The Misfits; poor John Huston, transformed in Holly’s Toto) was a detail deign of Buñuel. I do not think it is not hazardous that Mr. Sargis throws the dead dog to the River of Life, the River of Cinema, that river where we see the tree, the tree that will start floating the moment the lovers leave Fort Dupree.
There is a particularly interesting shot whit Kit in bed dreaming about Holly. The script says that “His attitude suggests that this is a scene of her fantasy”: “And as he lay in bed, in the middle of the night, he always hearda noise like somebody was holding a seashell against his ear. And
sometimes he’d see me coming toward him in beautiful white robes, and I’d put my cold hand on his forehead.”

It serves as a good example of Malick’s relation with cinema. Holly’s words seem to be a reference to a beautiful shot of Splendor in the Grass in which Natalie Wood, at home, puts a seashell against her year after a meeting with Beatty. Anyway, what we see here is Malick imagining his imaginary lover imagining his imaginary self. All the deepness of Malick’s spiral, of Malick’s alienation, can be glanced in this vertiginous moment of cinema.


“…she threw out her fish when he was sick. Perhaps this act sets everything in motion.” (Positif interview)
“Later I got a new one, but this incident kept on bothering me and I turned to Kit.” I don’t have to tell you who was her new fish, have I?

Mr. Catfish and Mrs. Sharky. The allusion to The Lady from Shangai’s aquarium is brilliant.

Malick’s comment to Positif is very curious. We have already seen, and seen extensively, how central is the role of The Lady from Shangai in The Tree of Life. Of its sharks and murderous winds. How they were put in relation with Mother and Malick’s River of Life.

Probably that shot of Sargis appearing suddenly in the mirror while Kit is packing Holly’s things is an allusion to Welles’ film. To the moment when the sharks finally free their lust of murder and shoot the mirrors (their images) until each one of them is dead, in an apocalyptic suicide that is one of cinema’s most powerful moments. A moment of cinematic ecstasy, you could call it. So, maybe Malick is innocent and Holly is the only responsible for a terrifying call of the abyss to which he could not resist? Just kidding.
(Malick: It was extremely rude to use the catfish’s F for Fake after throwing him away. He was not that sick after all.)


Too late now.

Kit enters the door (of her house) and kills Hollys father. Poor Kazan, nobody told him that he died in 1973. He is presented with a final joke: He dont need a doctor (On the Waterfront: He dont need a doctor. He needs a priest). Kit contemplates what he has done. It is too late. His plan is on march. Before going to the train station to record his message, Kit stops at the door and gives Holly one last look. It is one of the truly intense, mysterious and great shots of Malick’s cinema. Just fearing that she would denouce him to the police? Kit looks to her like it was for the last time. Why?

Holly smokes a cigarette, looks through the window. Going back to the ways of childhood is the answer to redeem an existence without redemption. To close the eyes and to dream an infantile dream, an evil dream. If you cannot be saved, you can at least be condemned. Holly and Kit escape from Fort Dupree in The Night of the Hunter’s night, in the immense night of childhood. Pearl and John with their secret down the River of Life.



“It was going too fast.”

Like I wrote in the end of The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick (notes on the script), that train threatening Jack since his early days is associated with RL, the River of Life. The script says: “A locomotive approaches the end of the tunnel. The light draws closer. Soon it shall burst out into the day. No longer a blind mechanism, it has become (quick dissolves, quick cuts) a river – living, flowing – the pure waters of the river life rushing down from a mountain peak.” This was not filmed, but it is curious to verify that the first time that the sound of the train is heard is when Jack confronts himself with RL in the garden (Mother: “No! No!”). The last, I believe, is when Jack cries with Steve and RL. The sound of the train fades into the sound of water in that scene.
I first wrote that the train is associated with the murderers of such films as Shadow of a Doubt, Monsieur Verdoux, The Night of the Hunter, La Bête Humaine. Malick’s river rhymed well with this, but I was clearly not getting it “by the root.” After some reflection, I concluded that like the river, the tree, the sun, the cows, money or the agricultural practices, the train is one of Malick’s favorite metaphors.

I did not say then that the train is associated with the O’Briens’ home too. And the road with the rail line. The first image also associates the train with the river. All these metaphors seem to merge.

Have you noticed that Kit goes out to record his suicide note at the train station? Do you think this detail is unimportant? I don’t. I think this is one of the thousand Malickian jokes. A mythology joke, so to speak.

Mythically or legendary speaking – the factual truth is not welcome here, with a fan of The Man who Shot Liberty Valance we must “print the legend” – the first room to receive a projection became just the place where Kit records his message: a train station. Everyone knows how supposedly the audience was terrified with the vision of the moving train entering the room, causing everybody to shout and run in panic. Cinema’s founding myth, testifying the power of film over us. Mother’s power. Mrs. Kimball’s power. The nightgown. What Jack is afraid to confront and ashamed to admit. The train does not exclude what I mentioned first, but it is to be seen as the river of images transforming into Malick’s River of Life. Let’s give the word to Lynne Kirby about this train & cinema subject matter:
“Cinema as we know it, as an institution, as an entertainment based on the mass spectatorship of projected images, was born in 1895, in the Golden Age of railway travel. As the prehistory and beginnings of cinema strongly suggest, film finds an apt metaphor in the railroad. The train can be seen as providing the prototypical experience of looking at a framed apparatus. Both are a means of transporting a passenger to a totally different place, both are highly charged vehicles of narrative events, stories, intersections of strangers, both are based on a fundamental paradox: simultaneous motion and stillness. These are the two great machines of vision that give rise to similar modes of perception, and are geared to shaping the leisure time of a mass society.
From 1895 on, the railroad occupies an important place in the vocabulary, thematic repertoire and representational strategies of filmmaking. It is a privileged mode of transportation in the early silent period, more than the horse, the car, the telegrapher, and subway pick-up films began to appear around 1902, early film-goers were treated to numberless views of trains arriving and departing, of landscapes and city streets receding rapidly before cameras mounted on the fronts of locomotives and trolleys. The very term "tracking shot" is a compelling index of the permeation of filmmaking practice by the language of the railroad. And around the world in 1895-96, the single image invoked rhetorically over and over to describe the illusionistic power of cinema, as well as film’s illusion of movement, is that of a train rushing toward the camera in ¾ view.” (Male Hysteria and Early Cinema)

Kit’s “last look” kind of look might find here an explanation. I am not sure, but maybe Malick wants to make it possible to believe that Kit went to the train station not only to record Badlands but his entire filmography, to make all the voyages, all the films, before coming back to Holly’s home and depart to his final journey.

The train was never so present as in Days of Heaven: “...all three of us been goin’ places, lookin’ for things, searchin’ for things, goin’ on adventures.” In the end, Abby leaves in a train. Linda and her friend follow the railroad.

The train appears two (three) more times in Badlands. “Like the caravan in "The Adventures of Marco Polo"” and at the end, when Kit goes in the police car. The meaning of the last image seems clear: Kit was caught and the train of cinema continues his journey without him. The first time, Holly asks Kit to have a closer look and he parks his car under a rail trestle. They hide beside the car while the train roars violently overhead. When it has passed, Holly watches it disappear into the distance. Maybe, after all, it was then that the train took them in imagination to live those other films, those other adventures. Maybe they were on the train. They had just buried their relics, to be able to confront them in the future if they would comeback. “We planned a huge network of tunnels under the forest floor”, says Holly. Malick’s filmography is an imaginary space with as many holes as a Swiss cheese, passages that allow to travel between films, to establish relations not always clear.
We can also imagine that Holly was just anguished to be left in Malick’s badlands, in the river with no return of a wacko, and wanted to contemplate her furious train. In any case, to capture the lovers feeling that fury was certainly why Malick put them under the railroad.
Their road (they are beside the car) is the River of Life, the river under Jack’s train. This is a long five parts film. “Please God, kill him. Let him die. Get him out of here.” That sequence starts whit Jack looking to O’Brien fixing his car (maybe to be related with Kits fake flat tire). We hear the train. Then, with the camera moving towards the wall, starts the movement ending with Jack advancing towards Malick’s home. Truly curious.

The shot of the wall is taken at the exact place where the image of the Japanese garden was. What is that picture? Although it is seen in other places of the house, including in the living room (RL playing the guitar: “He died when he was 19”), during most time, the picture is in the dinning room just above Father’s music, in the symbolic core of the residence and film.

The bamboo frame helps us to identify the Japanese motifs. We can see the lantern.

I thought that the picture had been removed because it symbolized something that Jack – us, this is – was in risk of defying. Father’s authority, Malick’s game, his fraud, his unsuspected violence over us. Remember that we see all these images after the necklace. Whoever understood what the necklace was…would end up in Malick’s Nature.
The shot of the naked wall not only invites us to look for the image in the picture, but also, considering the end of the sequence, permits it to be associated with the O’Briens’ home itself (and the train). This is in line with its position over the gramophone player.
Like I said before, the picture seems to be a view of a famous roofed bridge covered with snow, the Taihei-kaku (Hein Shrine, Kyoto; compare the picture with this photo: attention to the lantern). My mind has poundered over the subject and, my readers, under the light of the Malickian allusionism this is not important. What is important is the motif: a Japanese garden. Malick gives us an extra hint: it is associated with his home. It must be a reference to a special film, or it would not deserve such an honor, right? Some film in which Malick feels at home.
You know what we hear Malick singing when we really “get it by the root”? Singin’ in the Rain. I am not kidding with you. And I am not thinking in Stanley Donen. Not that Stanley.
Being in question such a great and particular Kubrick fan (is there an alternative explanation to that solemn “How did you come to me?” and that “Follow me”?), I suspect that the Japanese garden does not stand for a Japanese film (how would we know which?). It stands for HOME.

It rains one time in Waco. Three shots, one of a leaf (a cabagge leaf?). After, we see baby Jack passing by the picture and by the pine cone, Bataille’s pine cone.

I have used the image of rape in a previous post to descibe Malick’s experiment. Maybe you thought it was sensationalist, disproportioned, absurd. If you did, you obviously did not understand yet in what the hell you got into in 1973. As for Malick, he knows very well what he has done with you. That innocent picture with the bamboo frame is just another way of telling it. The Japanese garden is an allusion to Clockwork Orange. More precisely, to its most famous – and, for some, infamous – scene: the rapping and spanking at the intellectual’s HOME.

Alex did not like the “grey theory” neither: “The sun’s in my heart/ And I’m ready for love”.

Dear readers, that picturesque garden view with the lamp stands for that house’s Japanese garden, filmed by Kubrick in Alexander’s two visits to it.

My dear readers, Jack did not get out of the rail line on time. Through Nature, that’s clear. The train struck him at full speed. For what I have read over the years about this train, some of you will be in critic condition the moment you start hearing Malick Singin’ in the Rain.


I found a toaster.”

One of the first films in which I thought when I began to understand what was going on in Waco was The Seven Year Itch. Soon it gets clear that Malick is a Billy Wilder fan, but that is not the point. The point is that Wilder’s 1955 film an experience of a journey through films in a film.
This journey processes itself in Richard Sherman’s head (Tom Ewell). As you know, he is alone in New York while his family is on vacation. The charming girl in the apartment upstairs (Marylyn Monroe) and his overactive imagination make him visualize several parody reenactments of famous movie scenes (Brief Encounter; From Here to Eternity, etc.). Cinephile jokes, even if we are talking of popular cinephilia, so to speak.

One of the film’s funniest gags: Tom is preparing toasts for breakfast and gets so nervous imagining his wife suddenly coming back that he smashes the bread and starts buttering his own hands.

It is not impossible that the toaster found by Kit in the basement with some old slices of bread inside, found in the lower floor (remember the stair of the apartment in The Seven Year Itch? Holly/Marylyn lived above), is Wilder’s toaster. Strange it may seem, but a part of Malick’s idea was born from this 1955 film, or in its tradition. It told him that his imaginary diary, the diary of his adventures in the world of cinema, could become a film itself (one in which he would toast). He just needed to change a couple of things, so his adventures wouldn’t be noticed until the right time.
As we speak of Billy Wilder, let’s say something about Sunset Boulevard, one of the true loves of Terrence Malick, fundamental to understand his symbolical discourse.

Who parks at Norma’s rarely is able to go away. One of those films whose spell time has not touched.

His love for Sunset Boulevard is not surprising at all. Before the Nouvelle Vague, Wilder’s film is the one containing the most fascinating and sophisticated network of movie references. It is certainly one of the great American films, “one of the biggest”, one with all sort of metaphorical possibilities about cinema and its world. A story narrated by the protagonist “from among the dead”, a rare solution (another example is Monsieur Verdoux), lending it an extra necrophiliac touch. The story of how a young screenwriter got into Norma Desmond’s house only to leave it as a corpse. Norma’s house, with its spelling decay, the protagonist of the film. A house apart from the world, away from everything. A house where we only breathe the old Hollywood days.

Malick identifies his River of Life with Norma’s swimming pool, the pool where Gillis dies, both in Days of Heaven – do not forget that the Foreman is Sunset Boulevard’s Max – and, much more important, in The Tree of Life. By the way, in the last film the identification is extended to Max, Norma’s butler.

We start hearing the organ in the boys’ room. In Sunset Boulevard we start hearing it in Gillies’ room. In masochist humiliation, Max accepts to serve his former star and wife as a butler, like he was playing a role in a strange and very long film, a film which had become his life. He plays the organ, projects his/her films for her and keeps alive her illusion of fame. He really has a lot to do with Norman Baites.

Malick is using Gillis story to tell us his own. Norma and her house are “Mother”, Mrs. Cinema, and he died in her pool. The Grace in him, the truth and kindness. The day he entered her immense house (which, just by chance, is the same house of Rebel Without a Cause), he really didn’t want to return to the real world. Why? That’s what I am trying to tell you. It is an enormous place, you know. All the Hitchcock’s, the Wilder’s, the Buñuel’s. Murnau. The Bresson’s, the Kubrick’s. All the distant islands, forests, cities. Sternberg, Lang. Godard. Stroheim. The seven seas and the immensities of the skies. All Ray’s masterpieces. Kazan, Chaplin. Ford, Penn. Have you thought about it? All the adventures, pleasures, voyages. Wars, balls. The thousand femmes fatales. Castles, magical houses. All the lands over the rainbow. So…“A very simple set-up: an older woman who is well-to-do. A younger man who is not doing too well ... Can you figure it out yourself?” Be practical. He’s got a good thing here. “A long-term contract with no options.” Just kidding. Or maybe not.
If you have read this blog since last August, you have noticed that I have not discovered a single member from Malick’s family from after the ‘70s. He also lives in a cinematic past. He actually doesn’t create any character at all. It’s all invented. His family comes all from the past, from the infinite rooms of that house. He just needs to bring his family together to form his home, and that is exactly what happens in the shore of eternity.

I discovered a wonderful joke with all this. O’Brien says to Jack at the road: “Don’t do it like I did, promise me that. I dreamed of being a great musician. I left myself get side-tracked.” I was misinterpreting this too. As O’Brien continues saying “When you’re looking for something to happen, that was it. Life. You lived it”, some people thought that the idea of Jack dropping a twig and a car passing by in the opposite direction was a rather annoying cliché. I agree – through Grace.

You just have to explore the rest of the film to find this car parked in the Spencers’ yard, that yard where we are strongly advised not to enter. I said that this yard is a symbol of Nature. And, after all, what is to fall in the way of Nature more than to answer the “big question” asked by the director in the beginning? To understand that The Tree of Life is just a film, a film made of other films and a film about cinema? Malick got “side-tracked” when he became Norma Desmond’s lover. For him, there is nothing to invent. He just plays with the toys that others made.
“Keep out of there.”

That house is the first thing seen by Jack. For the neighborhood’s scale, that is “a great big white elephant of a place.” Nobody is seen there. There is a black car in front of the garage (we see it one night passing by Jack), a big garage, always open.

The first thing seen by Jack is the house and...the “boulevard”.

Malick could not use any name directly associated with the film. Desmond, Swanson, Wilder, Holden, Gillis, Stroheim, Mayerling? All too particular, out of the question. I think the name Spencer came from a Swanson/DeMille partnership, The Affairs of Anatol. It would be appropriated, no?

I suspect from the beginning that this house stands for Sunset Boulevard. The chimney has Holly’s initials, like Norma’s car had her’s. In the upper floor, room in the left, there is a swan in the wall (Gloria Swanson). I just couldn’t make sense of Holden transformed into that bird burning. Just because he was traped in a golden cage? I don’t think so. But maybe the bird stands for Stroheim, as a bird has symbolic relevance in Greed, a film which Malick seems to like (Days of Heaven). I read somewhere that it is a chicken. I can’t say. If it is, it might be a reference to Rebel Without a Cause, filmed in this very house. Anyway, the house is a mise en abime and an object for the purpose of play.

I will not start a true critic of Malick’s work in this blog. When a reasonable portion of his allusions is inventoried, Science will be in position to slowly start to digest Malick’s body. Sooner than later it will be ready to store in the warehouse of culture.
When I mention allusions, I am not speaking of all of his appropriations. For example, it is of little importance that the sermon was taken mainly from Kierkegaard. The point is that the meaning was completely subverted. He chose Kierkegaard because it would encourage all sort of “full of grace interpretations for his amusement. The same way, Pocahontas’ story is worthless for the discussion of Malick’s Nature. Or the early 20th century America of Days of Heaven.
Who wants to begin the task of Science will have to place Malick among his Hollywood contemporaries. His frenetic allusionism is the best way. Like I said before, Malick’s entire generation was the first to be addicted to it. Even if this practice’s meaning is different in Malick, both in ways and means (and much more extreme), it must be considered against what his contemporaries were doing.

“The proliferation of the film-history credo allowed emerging directors to presuppose that at least part of their audience was prepared to look for their allusions to film history and to see in them signals of the expressive commitments of their films. The game of allusion could begin; the senders and receivers were in place; the necessary conditions for allusionistic interplay were satisfied.”

The “game”, Carroll calls it. In Malick, this game is catch me if you can (who knows if O’Brien’s comment about his voyages in Pan Am – “The entire bathroom was stainless steel. Even the wash basin.” – is not a joke with Spilberg’s film, after all, he might have borrowed him some dinosaurs). To a limited extent, Malick’s Grace vs. Nature joke is not unknown to us. We are used to admire it in the audience of many films. Like Carroll himself noticed:

“At many late-seventies premieres, one frequently had the feeling of watching two films simultaneously that is, those well enough versed in film history to note references and delicate variations, and sufficiently committed to the pretensions of Cinema to bother to decipher such self-conscious gestures- as a prerequisite for anything approaching a full appreciation of their work.”

It is the same in every art. What could only happen with cinema when it formed a sufficiently large and diffused sea of celluloid, had long time been a reality with painting, literature, etc. You don’t need to know Rafael to like, even to comment, Déjeuner sur lherbe. The experience can be fully rewarding both ways. To like the painting you don’t have to know the engraving of Rafael’s drawing and his other sources, have an idea of Manet’s culture and the ways by which (and with what sort of intentions) 19th century European painters allude to the masters of the past. You don’t need to have read the thousand things written on the subject.
Hollywood directors (or artists, in general) know this and try to accommodate their different audience’s. They build more or less demarked ways of Grace and Nature through their films, so to speak.
Some of Malick’s themes – cinephilia, the nature of spectatorship, manipulation, the possibility of truth, voyeurism, alienation, necrophilia and the love of images – and favorite directors – who doesn’t like Hitchcock, Murnau, Welles? – are common to his contemporaries. This is just a sociopathic version of these preferences. And, by the way, Malick is far from offering interesting views on all these subject matters. He is too monomaniac and dogmatic to do that. But as he is floating “right in the middle of the river”, I suppose that has no importance to him.
Carroll had a severe and not totally unfair appreciation of most of the New Hollywood’s allusionistic trend, imported from their French parents, Godard, first of all, because these directors were never really engaged with the profound interrogation about the nature of cinema originally served by allusionism. For Carroll, with some exceptions, in the end of the ‘70s, far from having the cultural importance it had in the beginning of the decade, it served affectation, nostalgia, and self-deception. To mention something important, to imitate some great director’s style, to borrow his themes and plots, to accumulate commentaries about our own work by means of allusion, is not sufficient to make an interesting film. Much more is needed to produce an object of artistic vitality.
Malick has absolutely no regard, reverence, for the other filmmakers, at least in the traditional sense. He is not dealing with real persons, just with the products of his imagination, tempered with lots of cynical humor. Certainly it is not “artistic”, but intensity, vitality, is what Malick’s game has. It has effectiveness. It entraps you and him, it becomes real, totalizing. His systematic identification with Norman Bates is not just a cheap joke. He really built a demential private trap for him, one where he can burn, both using and offering himself to the “power of images”. (By the way, I used Freedberg’s concept rather than something picked up in film theory because, although there are certain cinematic specificities to be considered, it places the question in a much richer anthropological framework.)


“It being the flood season we built our house in the trees, with tamarisk walls and willows laid side by side to make a floor. There wasn’t a plant in the forest that didn’t come in handy.”

When the lovers leave Fort Dupree in Kit’s Mercury (James Dean drove one in Rebel Without a Cause), they build a tree house in the forest, by the river, far away from humanity, like Robinson Crusoe. That house is Malick’s first fort and one of the metaphors of his work, like I said. It is decorated with objects from Holly’s house. They hang the Maxfield Parrish in the tree house and a green iron lamp is put on the table. Holly amuses herself watching the animals and painting her eyes like a low budget Cleopatra (I was thinking… with so many chickens around, and if this was an allusion to Cul-de-sac ?). She dances with Kit: “Love, love is strange. Lot of people take it for a game.” The lyrics were chosen with obvious intentionality.

Holly reads Kit The Kon-Tiki Expedition, abou a boat searching for Polinesia, a boat named after the Inca sun god: “Time passed. At dawn, just before six, Torstein came hurrying down from the masthead. He could see a whole line of small palmclad islands far ahead...” “He was nervous”, Kit comments. Was he already dreaming with the islands of Murnau?
One of the curious things to be found in the days of the tree house is what might be the earliest allusion to Death in Venice in Malick’s oeuvre. I am speaking of Holly walking by the river fresh from her bath wrapped à la grecque in a white sheet. The film had only been released in 1971, but it seems that Malick was really struck. His muse had to play RL’s role: he wasn’t born yet. [An alternative interpretation in this post]

Although I do not exclude the possibility of an allusion to some film, as far as I can understand the bounty hunters were a way to include a message to those who would eventually understand his game:

“they would’ve played it as down and dirty as they could, and besides, held overheard them whispering about how they were only interested in the reward money. With lawmen it wouldtve been different. They were out there to get a job done and they deserved a fair chance. But not a bounty hunter.”

This is meant to be discovered. Malick wants to be taken by the “police”. He would not be blackmailed. Tremendously funny, Terry.


“Stay as long as you like.”

The journey goes on. They visit Cato, Kit kills him and (apparently) the young couple. They take their Studebaker.
Before they get to Hitchcock’s, Kit makes a joke with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “Listen, honey, when all this is over, I’m going to sit down and buy you a big, thick steak.” We see the whole country looking for the criminals, including Malick as the detective from Boston who could find no clues.
They arrive to the rich man’s house, where they were looking for “supplies”. The deaf maid opens the door and Holly comments on voice over, just to make explicit that she is really Hitchcock’s maid:Later we found out she was deaf and we hadn’t even known it.” That was exactly what happened in You Got to Have Luck. (Actually, Hitchcock did not even direct that episode; you know, even Welles said of F for Fake: “Everything was a lie. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t.”) Malick films the delight of the couple in the paradisiacal residence. Holly takes a cane (Uncle Charlie’s?) out of the umbrella rack, and strolls in the park: “The world was like a faraway planet to which I could never return... I thought what a fine place it was, full of things for people to look into and enjoy.” Hitchcock’s world is heaven for him.

There is a travelling over the soft eroticism of something like an allegory of fertility, a pastoral scene with a shepherdess holding a bird’s nest to which a shepherd points (a copy of Boucher; Hitchcock decorated a room with his famous swing in Frenzy, but I doubt the director had this in mind). The same time, we hear the acute sound of Holly’s finger running around the lip of a crystal glass. I confess that this has really puzzled me. With Malick, this is certainly an allusion to a film. I am inclined to think that the image refers to Norman Bates’ hobby, stuffing birds (and The Birds). And that maybe the glass does not matter, but only the sound, evoking the violins of Bernard Herrmann’s famous soundtrack. But we can certainly understand this shot on another level: everything is born out of this house, this is the garden of delights, this is Mother.
Kit and Holly interact with several objects more. I suppose their gestures most contain more allusions to the rich man’s works. I could speculate about each of them (the chairs: Suspicion?; the marble bust: Under Capricorn’s mummy head?), but I don’t think that is particularly important. What is important, like I wrote, is that Malick chooses to make the dictaphone speech here.
“Someone” appears at the door and the two must leave. Kit locks Hitchcock and his maid and puts the rich man’s jacket and hat. A minute after they are out of his house, Malick decides to play to Out of the Past (maybe those references to Mexico have something to do with this film). Holly has a shawl over her head to evoke Greer. She is nervous: “I’d like to get out of here.” “Soon as I start the car... and fix my hat.” One more time, Holly says something that clarifies the allusion: “Fearing there’d be roadblocks on the highways, we took off across that area known as the Great Plains.”


“…and wouldn’t they wonder!”

One of the scenes with an obvious parallel with The Tree of Life is the burying of some objects from Holly’s suitcase. We see that trophy took from the mansion, a magnifier, the stereopticon slides, a doll, a pack of Camels, being put in a bucket. Holly comments:

“He said that nobody else would know where we’d put them, and that we’d come back someday, maybe, and they’d still be sitting here, just the same, but we’d be different. And if we never got back, well, somebody might dig them up a thousand years from now and wouldn’t they wonder!”

What Kit buried in that desert was just his plan. That is what the trophy tells you. It came from Hitchcock’s house. That’s Dial M for Murder, a trophy from the ex-tennis player who offers us the most extraordinary murder plan ever filmed, 20 minutes of what I personally consider one of the peaks of Hitchcock’s art. The doll, although not similar at all, might stand for The Night of the Hunter, but, considering its look, I think it is more probably one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s guards. The magnifier, for Sherlock, Jr? As for the Camel’s, I leave it to you (hint: look for the Camel, not the cigarretes, in the film inspiring Cato’s slow death).



In one of Badlands’ extraordinary moments, Holly takes a look at some of those stereopticon vistas:
“It sent a chill down my spine, and I thought… Where would I be this very moment if Kit had never met me? ... Or killed anybody? This very moment... If my Mom had never met my Dad? If she’d of never died?... And what’s the man I’ll marry going to look like? What’s he doing right this minute? ... Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face?”

This is the first vista Holly puts in the stereopticon: zoom, there she goes on the river of the imagination. What we see is a canal with palm trees along. I believe this is just the river of Holly[wood], a joke with the iconic palm trees of Los Angeles. Look for them in The Thin Red Line.

I understand this as a dramatization of Malick’s creative process. The stereopticon views are a visual source of inspiration for Holly’s father, something which helps him to imagine, to produce images. For me, the real question is: and if?
I mean, and if Kazan was a widower sign painter working in Fort Dupree and Holly[wood] was his redhead daughter? And if the director was playing Charles Starkweather/James Dean and came to say hello to her? And if Norman Bates was a 1906 [Psycho is a 1960 film] farmer? And Stroheim his foreman? If Murnau became an Indian chief and Reri, his daughter, was playing Pocahontas? And…if she became Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the woman who we never see but whose ghost obsesses everyone in the British director’s film? And if the characters of the movies that we love would live together in a suburb like the one of our childhood, would inhabit a house like the one where we grew up – would be our mother, father, wife, brother, friends, priest – to play our naughty games? And if they would get together in a beach where no police could limit our imagination? Note that Kit walks by with a log over his shoulder as Holly dives into her vistas. He was building something: Badlands, the film whose “visual resemble postcards with color printed twice” (Manny Farber words are the most brillant comment ever made about this film).

What’s the enigma of Malick’s sphinx? Minnelli? «I got it all figured out. […] I like the idea of building things with my own hands. […] Some day, I’d like to build my own house. I’ve got a few ideas about it.» (The Clock) It is a valid hypothesis as The Clock is one of the best love stories of the forties and Malick alluded to a work of the same director, Some Came Running. There is a line in Badlands that seems to echo Minnelli’s film, but it might be just a coincidence. Something to think about. (“KIT: Boy, if I could sing a song like that... I mean, if I could sing a song about the way I feel right now, it’d be a hit.”; DRUNK: If I could bring it from my heart, one song like that, then you can take the rest of it and keep it.”)

The vertigo of this game scared Holly. For days she lived in dread and wished that she could be taken “somewhere over the rainbow” (my words). The truth is that she would have to do what Kit told her to. Kit controls this game: “He says frog, I jump”, she confessed to that girl who appeared at Cato’s.
The beginning of Days of Heaven testifies again the process of Malick’s imagination. We see several old photographs sliding on the screen while Morricone’s music sets the spell atmosphere. In the last image we change to fiction: Linda, in a pose reminiscent of Chaplin’s The Kid. We see a less sophisticated version of it in the beginning of Bonnie and Clyde, which apparently inspired Malick. True photographs of the outlaws give place, in the end, to photos of the actors with captions with historical facts introducing both characters. As if the images had put in motion the director’s imagination, which could now continue alone.
The unashamed creativity of Malick’s eye appropriates itself of everything for his game. All his joy is in the dislocation of characters, narratives and situations. It is in that game that he experiences the liberating power of the imagination.


Somewhere way, up high

Kit knew that the end was coming. Under the Cadillac’s lights, in cosmic isolation, he dances with Holly. She wears the rich man’s jacket (Kit’s jacket: Kit dancing with Kit). It is one of the most romantic scenes in the history of cinema:

“The gypsy say and I know why
A falling blossom only touches lips that lie.
A blossom fell and very soon
I saw you kissing someone new beneath the moon.
I thought you loved me.
You said you loved me.
We plan together to dream forever.
The dream has ended,
For true love died.
The night a blossom fell
And touch two lips that lie.”

Are the lights of the car simulating a projector?

There are two objects from Holly’s house that I find particularly intriguing, the green iron lamp and Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak. I am insecure about Daybreak, which decorates the lovers’ tree. Should I consider the name or the image? As you know, Daybreak is the title of one of Carné’s masterpieces, the story (told by flashbacks) of a man who barricades himself in a room after committing murder and ends killing himself. From the window, Gabin makes a famous speech to the crowd that could find a place in Malick’s film. But maybe what matters is the image. With Malick, it is usually like that. In Top Hat, when Edward (Horace Everett Horton) is punched by his wife, he asks Fred Astaire how he looks like. He answers: “It looks like a sunrise by Maxfield Parrish.”

Probably, there is a little joke here, as the scenario where Ginger and Fred dance the film’s most famous theme seems vaguely inspired in Parrish’s Daybreak. So, we have to ask the question: is this game heaven for Malick?

Heaven... I’m in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.
Heaven... I’m in heaven,
And the cares that hung around me through the week,
Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak,
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.
Oh, I love to climb a mountain,
And to reach the highest peak.
But it doesn’t thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.
Oh I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek
But I don’t enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek
Dance with me
I want my arms around you
That charm about you
Will carry me through...to heaven
Heaven... I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.

I have not yet said much about The Wizard of Oz. After Vertigo and Psycho, I dare to say that The Wizard of Oz is the most important film to look deeply into Badlands. Strange? Well, opening his film with an allusion to it was not a Malick’s whim.

You just need to understand that, for his tragic game’s sake, Holly both is and is not Malick. A poet dies but his muse is immortal. There is a moment when she must leave him alone to confront the “police”. The dream must end. Holly must continue her life, even if under “probation and a lot of nasty looks.” She will end marrying the “son” of some director who will defend the honour of cinema against Malick’s delirium. She will end “kissing someone new beneath the moon”.

“A distant mountain, a wild turkey, a lizard, a burst of lightening in a cloud on the horizon, a falcon. Kit takes all this in, then he turns back to the campsite.” (script) In what is Kit thinking with his riffle à la James Dean? As for the mountain, I am not sure. The turkey could stand for Giant, maybe, maybe not… As for the rest, I think I know about what he was wondering. If the lizard stands for The Night of the Iguana, he was thinking about “home”, this is, necrophiliac appropriations of Tennessee Williams: “I don’t regard a home as a... as a place, a building... bricks, wood, stone. I think of a home... as something two people have between them. In which each can... ...nest, rest...live in, emotionally speaking.” The lightening in a cloud followed by the falcon is easier: it is an allusion to Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (“The stuff that dreams are made of”), or more precisely an allusion to its allusion to Shakespeare (The Tempest, “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on”).

“There’s no place like home.” (The Wizard of Oz) In the end, Holly must go back to hers, from where she arrived to Badlands. She will not stay forever here. Probably her ascension in the helicopter means just that she doesn’t want to play this game anymore. This is not her land over the rainbow, it is Malick’s. “I just don’t want to go”, she says. As Kit’s car disappears in the landscape, we see the sun magnificently breaking through the clouds. Maybe he wanted that to be an allusion to The Wizard of Oz’s most famous moment, which is a symbol of our condition of spectators:

“Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do...come true....
...Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
Away above the chimney tops,
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow,
Why then – oh, why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why can’t I?”

Kit is ending his dream, comming back from his crazy bad-lands to face reality.
Now, we can’t go against the law, Dorothy.” In Dorothy’s sepia world, we both see ourselves seeking the land of cinema to dream our dreams and already live the dream itself (a wonderful noir version of this is The Woman in the Window). Just what The Tree of Life’s architect is to Malick. In his cold house and office, he also starts dreaming about that “somewhere” beyond the reach of the law. And he does not need to move an inch to travel to that place. In the candle’s flame, his empty life is transfigured into his outlaw dream.


Dorothy’s sepia world was looking for her. Certainly, they were not confortable to know that she had run with a wacko. Malick was genial: he inverted The Wizard of Oz’s scheme.

The Wizard of Oz opens and closes with the vision of the clouds. And so I asked myself if those clouds seen in the end, those clouds which are a synthesis of Malick’s work and life, were not there as a final allusion to this film, connecting the beginning and the end of Badlands, a common solution, after all. Kit looks at Holly, Holly looks at the window and then we see the top of the clouds.

There is a diference. In Badlands, we are on the top of the clouds, not looking at them from the ground. Why? Because we are in heaven.
With Malick, it always ends with home. Home, The Tree of Life is all about home, he never searched for anything else in his movies: “For my home. For my family.” (The Thin Red Line); “Can we not go home?” (The New World) Like Dorothy, he could say: “There’s no place like home.” But Malick’s imaginary voyage does not redeem the “real world”, that world which Kit cannot understand, cannot feel, from which he is disconnected. With Malick’s journey, it is exactly the contrary. That’s what means to cross the door: to cut all connections with down here, under the clouds. Not at all re-ligare what was broken, to try to regain the state of being at home in the “real world” with real people. In this (strong) sense, his films (his life) are truly irreligious, antireligious. He feels that he can only be who he is and loved for what he is somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere over the clouds, alone in the dark of the theater. And at total war with the world. What he has done since 1973 is an act of faith in this dream’s reality. Paradoxically, all else is unreal. Holly said it simply: I sensed that my destiny now lay with Kit, for better or for worse, and that it was better to spend a week with one who loved me for what I was than years of loneliness.” How is it in Out of the Past? “You’re no good and neither am I. That’s why we deserve each other.”

“I went for a ride in a plane once. It was a graduation present.” Or was it in a plain? Or both?

In 1973 Malick took off from the world with his redhead dream. There were those 20 years in Paris during which he might have “wandered” from his plan or “forgotten” it. His story sous le ciel de Paris is rather confuse, with a mess of aborted projects in the middle. But one thing I know. The man who did The Thin Red Line was going right to the end.

We are going to have to talk about that sometime.

“It all goes to show how you can know a person and not really know him at the same time.