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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > February 2016 > The wonder of Terrence Malick

The wonder of Terrence Malick

His extraordinary films show the beauty and violence at the heart of nature, says Sameer Rahim

Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected

Terrence Malick is a man of mysteries. Over the last 40 years, the American director has released just six films, with a 20-year pause between the second and third. Unlike most directors, he shows no interest in being a gun for hire and only makes films he has written. He frustrates his studio bosses by spending years in the editing suite getting each scene exactly right. He never does publicity, forbids his image being used in promotional material and almost never gives interviews.

Yet the real mystery about Malick is the work. Shot through with natural imagery, philosophical voiceovers and unconventional plotting, his films sometimes baffle the viewer. Some critics regard him as overblown, humourless and overly religious. Just like great poetry, though, Malick’s films communicate before they are fully understood. And the mystery has a purpose: his subject is both divine mystery and the mystery we are to one another.

Fittingly, even Malick’s birthplace is uncertain. The editors of Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected—a collection of interviews with the director’s collaborators including actors, producers, cinematographers and composers—plump for Ottawa, Illinois but other sources say Waco, Texas, where he grew up. Malick has an unusually intellectual background for Hollywood. After Harvard, he studied philosophy at Oxford with Gilbert Ryle and in 1969 translated Martin Heidegger’s The Essence of Reasons. He wrote journalism for the New Yorker before training at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where fellow director David Lynch later studied.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s February issue: Lawrence Summers questions Robert J Gordon’s thesis on the impact of the digital revolution, John Sawers, the former Chief of MI6, highlights how technology is making the work of spies harder and Frank Furedi examines the student movements demanding protection from the offensive and uncomfortable. Also in this issue: Gershom Gorenberg on Israel, Ben Judah on the complexity of London and Elizabeth Pisani on the impact of fake drugs. Plus Sam Tanenhaus on Obama’s gun control plans.