What’s it really about? “The Thin Red Line” Directed by Terrence Malick

According to the short synopsis at imdb.com, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, based on the autobiographical novel by James Jones, focuses on the conflict at the Guadalcanal during the second world war. While it is true that this event is the setting for a most of the duration of the film, this conflict is not in itself the central problem of the film. The film asks some very large questions about life and existence itself. Allowing characters in the middle of a war to explore these questions, provides a very interesting contrast between actions and intentions, good vs. evil. This will be a short exploration of the central questions of the film, and of the methods used to portray these ambiguities in morale. (All quotes are from the final cut of the film.)

“Maybe all men got one big soul who everybody’s a part of. All faces of the same man. One big self.”

One central idea explored in the film, is the idea that all men belong to the same soul. There are no purely evil or purely good sides in “The Thin Red Line” and the film does not favor either the Japanese or the Americans in terms of morale. Being good means to be connected to this universal soul. Being evil or being in the wrong, means being disconnected from that soul. In the film, Malick also poses a lot of questions about life, death, birth and rebirth. These questions are answered by the same theory about the one shared soul. If everything comes from nature, everything will return to nature. Death is juxtaposed with life and visions of bodies in water, remnant of a fetus in a womb, connecting the phases of death and rebirth.

We are told that infinity is in the calm, that all good and all evil comes from and returns to the same source – to nature. There is only one world, there is only this one rock, but it is in constant change, growth, reincarnation, and the moments we are given, the moments we experience, are infinite. Infinity exists in the moments, and infinity belongs to us. Although the progression of the attacks and the cause and effect structure within the circumstance of war and approach is intact within the structure of the plot, the voice overs, controlling sound and volume, and emphasizing certain things that are not important for the narrative of the war, directs the main focus of the film to the characters’ spiritual state and the condition of their collective soul. We are made to see all the men, the Japanese and the Americans alike, as victims, and the story therefore does not become one of good versus evil, with clean cut, opposing parties.

The film follows the Americans attacking the Japanese, with the Americans clearly favored in screen time. However, the film is not about the Americans versus the Japanese, or even about the war. The film is about man versus himself, and man versus the universal. The one character that has been given the most ambiguous or unfavorable traits is the one character who seems completely out of touch with the community and the unity, even among his own men. Lt. Col. Gordon Tall does not care that his men are passing out or dying of lack of water. He does not care that approaching the Japanese in an open field is a suicide mission. He has become conceited and obsessed with titles, and as the film goes on he is offered little redemption. Tall has completely removed himself from the shared soul of men, and is no longer connected to his fellow men, the connection that would have been his redemption. This disconnect is what makes him a bad person, rather than whose flag he bears or how many people he has killed. In complete opposition, Staros is good because he is connected to the collective soul. His primary concern, what his men wanted to thank him for in the end, was that he looked out for the others, kept them together and kept them alive. “You are my sons. My dear sons. You live inside me now. I’ll carry you wherever I go.” Their souls are merged and they are part of the same source, making them connected, concerned, aware and ultimately, despite their actions, they are good by simply being and feeling conflicted.

By the framing of shots and by the usage of subjective points of views, Malick is able to redeem the time spent with the Americans. Scared Japanese soldiers plea straight into the camera, and aggravated, crazed Americans aim straight for the lens. Malick does not shy away from portraying the evil in all of his characters, and though most of them are permitted some form of redemption by the end, the audience is not presented with the false notions of predictable, stereotypical characterizations of pure evil or pure good. The characters’ struggles with what is righteous and what is immoral are part of their redemption. They do things we would think of as evil, and the only reason we don’t label the characters wicked is that we know of their confliction and their pain.

Are you righteous? Are you 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?” 

Because not only the characters’ actions but also their thoughts and feelings, the condition of their inner lives, are laid bare, we can and do sympathize and empathize with them. Their clear internal struggles with doing what is right and struggling to find out who they are and how to feel, redeems their morally ambiguous actions. Because they are still connected to the soul shared by all men, by Americans and Japanese alike, they won’t be seen as purely evil and they will warrant sympathy and empathy despite the dreary context of the film.

Malick opens the film with a crocodile disappearing under the surface of the water, and it becomes clear that the inserts of animal imagery play a large thematic role throughout the film. The crocodile disappears into the water and becomes indistinguishable from it. The crocodile symbolizes the characters in the film. They wear identical uniforms, carry the same flags, tags and weapons. Although they do possess some individual character traits, they become difficult to tell apart. Witt serves as a red line throughout the film, however, much of the film doesn’t involve him or revolve around him. There is no clear single lead protagonist, which reinforces the sense of unity and community. “In this world, a man himself is nothing. And there ain’t no world but this one.” Each character is nothing more than a part of the whole. Drowned by the environment, covered by the thick air and submerged into this strange but familiar territory where each is merely one part of a whole. When Sgt. Storm confesses that he doesn’t feel anything anymore, even when he’s looking at a dying boy, Malick again inserts a shot of the crocodile. This time it is numb, bound, unmoving, on land – a foreign territory. The crocodile reflects back to the numbness of the Sergeant. The animal reflects back on the human – they are all part of the same source; nature.

Malick uses the juxtaposition of images of dying soldiers with the images of living animals to underscore the theme. The notion is also put into words by the voice over of Private Witt when he subconsciously wonders; “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 contended heart.” Private Witt’s voiceover serves as a reminder of this unity of the soul. The content and the context of the voiceover are like something a dying man might reflect on his deathbed after having seen all these evils and all these beauties of the world. They are words that sound like unspoken feelings, and their message is something any character could have felt. Although the words are uttered in the voice of Witt, they could just as well have been read by any one of the characters in the film that are still connected to the shared soul of men. Terrence Malik shows in words and in images that men and animals are all part of nature. Nature holds the source of everything that will ever be born. So when a solider dies and we cut to a bird crawling out of its broken eggshell for the first time, we know that the cycle of life goes on and that the soul of man still lives. Understanding that nature holds the roots of everything that will ever be born is also vital in understanding the film’s definition of evil.

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 and the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?

If men and evil both come from nature, evil did not come from men, rather, evil happened to men. As long as we can see all of the soldiers as victims, we can sympathize with them despite their actions, because we know that the evil they are part of were first implemented on them.

In one of his earliest monologues in the film, Witt talks about his dying mother. He tells us that infinity is in the calm, communicating Malick’s intention. This film is going to display infinity, and now we know where we are going to find it. By turning down the volume of the non-diegetic as well as the diegetic soundtrack, by lingering in slow moving shots and silent moments in the center of the line, by staying in the calm and quiet moment, the audience is made to feel a sense of this infinity. The underwater shots reflect back on the moment in the mother’s womb when the baby is protected and untouched by the world. The positioning of these shots – the beginning of the film and the immediate moment after Witt’s death, signifies the relationship between death, life, rebirth and the in-between – the moment in the womb, where the individual exists but is not yet part of life.

The film opens on a small, private universe where the children don’t fight, everybody is participating in everything and no man is left to himself. The underwater womb-like sequences illustrates the essence of this universe. The characters are untouched by the rest of the world and they live in the moment only. And because the moment has been experienced and lived, it will go on forever for as long as it is remembered. We return to this peaceful universe after Witt is dead, reaffirming the idea that these moments do last forever, and exist still even though Witt is gone. The first act establishes a world quite different from the rest of the film, where there are no children, no women and all the men are armed. By establishing such a different world before thrusting the characters and the audience into the war, Malick introduces a stark contrast and a natural environment for the philosophical wandering of the characters. If we hadn’t been given any perspective of what the characters’ lives were like before the war, the war would have seemed like all there was, and deep existential questions would seem more far-fetched. This contrast provides the ideal condition for questions like those raised in the voice overs, and allows the audience to believe in the credibility and origin of the questions. The characters’ struggles are authentic, and so is the audiences’ empathy for the characters. A film which could have easily been a flat, action packed war film, ascends to the level of existentially questioning moral ambiguity. Good and evil are redefined as community and connectivity versus apathy and disconnect.

L – Short Film

“L”, written and directed by Edel Garstad, centers around Lysa, a young artist paying her way though life by escorting older men. She is forced to come to terms with her circumstances when she finds out she is pregnant. The film stars Dana Gartland, Jack Pruett and Jeremy Hamilton, and will be screened at Hunter College on December 18th 2013.

LYSA screencap I

The film was shot with the ArriS on Kodak Vision3 500T Color Negative Film 7219 and a Digital Cannon 5D Mark III

Sestina

I will let it soothe me to numbness, the song
we never had. Some nights I will remember
the sweet words you never said and wish
that you were still mine. I will drive
till the sky again turns blue,
and finally I will sleep alone, dreaming

of the first time you took my hand. I dream
of the day broke the seal between my legs and the songs
you never played; the candles you never lit. I bury my white
teeth in my lip, and because I can not forget, I remember
the feeling of your hands, mouth, arms, legs entwined, as I drive
faster, speeding, rushing, flushed. Trying to escape, wishing

you were here. Wishing you were gone. Wishing,
so hard that I go back in time and change dreams
to memories. The farther I drive,
the louder the song
is ringing in my ears, till I remember
everything we were, through a filter of passionate red.

Your eyes were cold and distant, two shallow blue
pools that never focused. I always wanted
more. But they were the first eyes that saw, even if they didn’t remember.
So I just closed my eyes and dreamt
up a happier tune, dumbing out the song
of your ragged breath and redundant drive.

The farther I drive
the more distant you seem, until you’re a mere speck of grey
dust on my rearview mirror. But all the songs
that weren’t ours forever remind me of the desire
that brought us together and drifted us apart. A wish
whispered in the dark shadows of a suppressed dream
won’t be remembered

even when remembering
was all I swore I would do. And so I drive
far, fast and forever. Because if I close my eyes and dream
of your beautiful veiled blue
eyes, I will cry and wish
that I had had just one single song

to remember the grey
mornings we spent and wish
they had been more like the song in my dreams.

 

– Edel Garstad (2013)

Moving in

Moving – the least glamorous and most awful experience in the world. Especially when done on a budget.

As any responsible and cost-effective, unlicensed, unemployed student in New York City would do, I naturally transported all of my shit on the MTA. Apart from some evil-eyes on the C-train and some annoyed huffing, it all went… well not smoothly, but it went. I got all my stuff from midtown Manhattan to half-deep Brooklyn in the matter of months! As much as I hate the process of actually moving (imagine me on the subway with a twin size bed and mattress, then there was the 200 pounds worth of books, then a desk and a swivel chair, not to mention the multiple truckloads worth of clothes, tools, kitchen supplies, food I didn’t want to throw out, office supplies, camera equipment and all the tiny crap that adds up to over a ton of backbreaking weight, then you might imagine why), I truly enjoy setting camp. So it wasn’t altogether awful, I suppose. At least there was one good cherry in the large pile of mold.

The most fun thing about moving is reinventing your stuff. So kill me PEETA and Green Peace, but I don’t do it for you. I’m just a poor old kid at the verge of adulthood playing around with my own wallet at the expense of my own future. Moving to a larger space but smaller room, the full size bed was not going to work. And since some smart idiot decided that full size was not going to be the equivalent of two twins, I had a lot of bed slats left over. Bed slats are ingenious creations. Flat, planked, untreated, solid wood structures that can be used for just about anything. So, in way of saving money on therapy, extra furniture, space and yes, also saving the planet, I kept them. And after a few weeks of contemplations and a few hours of work, I now have a cute little bookshelf for the office and extra kitchen counter space. And If I may say so myself, they are truly two one of a kind, solid, unique and priceless, custom made pieces.

 bokhylle I kjøkkenbenk bokhylle II

In the name of my own conscience, I would like to apologize to any persons who suffered physical or emotional pain or annoyance by my moving my stuff on the subway (on one occasion during rush hours). I also apologize to the dear friend who suffered and sweated with me under my heavy loads of crap. You know who you are.

Calle Hellevang-Larsen?

Calle is part of arguably the most successful, Scandinavian comedy trio, Raske Menn (Fast Men), and unlike some comedians, he does not rely on a complex script to get people laughing. This man is one of my absolute favorite comedians and I can tell you I had a hard time containing myself when I found this on Ellen DeGeneres’ website. (If you don’t know who the man in question is, you should probably watch some of his stuff first. It’s not going to make much sense if you’re not familiar with his… uhm, work.)

Drive: How Editing made the scene

This sequence is from Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 drama, “Drive.” The driver (Ryan Gosling) is transporting two outlaws away from their crime scene, with killer driving skills as his only weapon. The music in the background of the shot blends seamlessly in with the images, escalating the hum of the car and the imaginary heartbeats of the perpetrators. The first shot in the sequence dollies in on the driver, establishing him as the “solution” or the escape from the conflict in scene. Set late at night, the shorts are sparsely lit in a color scheme of black and yellow. When the driver shuts off the lights in order to hide from the police, light becomes associated with capture or danger and darkness with safety. Lights coming from the police cars, choppers and flashlights become thrill inducing factors. As the sequence progress, the individual shots are also cut down to size, intensifying the feeling of suspense and establishing pace in the car chase. When leaving the scene, the car rolls slowly, blending in with the late night suburban stride. Every time the car is spotted by officers, however, the driver jumps the pedal, increasing the speed to match the pace of the cutting of the scene.

In any type of scene there are countless ways to edit and put together the final cut. However, in order to achieve certain feeling or establish a certain pace, there are good and bad, right and wrong ways to do it. Music, sound effects, colors, duration and the sequence of the shots all come together to make the final product, and even by just varying one of these factors the final look and feel of the picture can be vastly different. In this particular case, the music, pace and the color scheme of the shots all added up to a highly suspenseful while surprisingly and frustratingly calm and steady sequence.

skrik

Did you know that “Scream” was painted on a piece of cardboard in 1893 and is estimated to be worth more than the “Mona Lisa”?

Munch also covered up a dent in the, ehm, “canvas”, with a dark blue blob of oil paint, someone wrote the sentence “this must have been painted by a madman” across the sky of the painting, Munch let the piece “breathe” in fresh air, believing that rain and bird poop (yes, there is bird poop on there too) would toughen the artwork? There is also a spray of candle wax on the front of the painting and the backside of the cardboard features stamps and stickers from toll and postage as well as an early draft of the painting itself.

http://www.vgtv.no/#!/video/62486/derfor-er-det-fugleb%C3%A6sj-p%C3%A5-munchs-skrik