Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is not the only recent film release that has probed the big questions and explored the wonders and mysteries of the natural world with a gloriously sincere, child-like awe and wonder. Werner Herzog’s astonishing, engrossing Cave of Forgotten Dreams has the same sort of existential curiosity as Life; the same operatic majesty. Both Malick and Herzog are explorers, philosophers, taking their cameras to the far reaches of the earth to create a cinematic meditation as interested in the science of the natural world as it is in the longings of the human heart.

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Tree of Life Debuts at Cannes

On Monday morning, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was seen for the first time in public, at its monumentally anticipated premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. At long last, after years of delays and steadily building hype, Life was seen by its first public audience.

The screening took place early in the morning at 8:30am Cannes time (reportedly there were long queues even at 7am, including fights, pushing, and near-riots), or 11:30pm PST, so of course I stayed up to monitor the feedback on Twitter. Predictably, the initial buzz is all over the map, with some heralding it as a masterpiece and others scratching their heads. Reportedly the screening was met with both sustained cheers and a few isolated boos (not atypical for Cannes). In any case, Malick’s film is certainly the talk of the festival.

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The New World

In some ways, The New World serves as the perfect lead in to Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life. Why? Because TREES are a major theme of World. Yes, trees.

Throughout World, Malick’s fourth film, trees are an essential image and metaphor. Early in the film, trees anchor the boats as the European colonists arrive. At the end, tree comprise the final shot. We look upward at a towering cathedral of trees, and then the film ends with the delicate drop of a leaf.

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The Thin Red Line

After two acclaimed films in the 1970s, Terrence Malick fell off the Hollywood radar for two decades, moved to France, and lived the quiet life of a recluse. No one knew when or if he would ever make another film. But in 1998 he emerged with a third film, a big-budget WWII film (adapted from a James Jones novel) released the same year as Saving Private Ryan. It’s as if Malick wanted to hold the unresolved tension of his first two films as long as possible, waiting for just the right project to release the catharsis.

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Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven is the second film from Terrence Malick, and probably his most accessible and aesthetically stunning film.

Heaven follows Bill (Richard Gere), a fugitive from Chicago who tries to make a new life for himself, his little sister (Linda Manz), and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) in the wheat fields of West Texas. Having killed a factory worker, Bill is propelled westward in search of a new start—a redemptive return to Eden.  The trio arrive at a farm and start their blissful new life there as fieldworkers, until the Farmer (Sam Shepherd) falls in love with Abby and an unstable love triangle forms.  From there, the film plays out in the precarious borderlands between love and jealousy, depravity and redemption, and the particularly Malick-ian terrains of grounded earth and infinite sky.

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The film career of Terrence Malick began in 1972 when, after two years studying at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, the former Rhodes scholar began work on his first feature, Badlands. A deeply atmospheric, myth-driven retelling of the infamous 1958 killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, Badlands explores the phenomenon of innocence in the midst of that most disturbing of evils—the evil of the everyday. Citing influences such as The Hardy Boys, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, Malick has stated his intention of capturing the concept of “innocents abroad”—of innocence in the face of overwhelming drama. Indeed, the focus of Badlands is on the curiously sedate mindsets of its characters who witness and partake in evil as if it were just another mundane activity to engage in.

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May is Terrence Malick Month

I’ve declared May to be Terrence Malick Month. On my blog at least.

Why? Because something is happening this month that happens only about once every 93.5 months: A Terrence Malick film is being released. The reclusive, mysterious filmmaker has released only five films in his 40 year career. One in 1972 (Badlands), one in 1978 (Days of Heaven), one in 1998 after a mysterious two-decade absence from civilization (The Thin Red Line), one in 2005 (The New World), and then this year. In this case, the film in question is called The Tree of Life, and it’s been a long time since so much hype has surrounded a film that so little is known about.

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Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

What a weekend. Highs, lows, drama, love, death, destruction, trending topics, presidents, princes, terrorists, tornadoes, Twitter. Let’s take a moment to breathe… Another weekend in the world.

On Friday morning, as the U.S. South reeled from the second deadliest tornado outbreak in American history, the world turned its eyes to Westminster Abbey to enjoy a moment of old school romanticism. A prince marrying a princess. All the hype may have frustrated some, but the event seemed to me to be a rare occasion of hope and idealism in a world so mired in cynicism and malaise. It was a beautiful, happy day. In a world of so much tragedy, there’s clearly a hunger–an almost eschatological instinct– for images of regal, grandiose love and peace. The Royal Wedding offered a vision of this for millions around the world.

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Are E-Books Good For Us?

Every April I read The Great Gatsby. The tradition started the April of my junior year at Wheaton College, when I took my copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece (the most perfect American novel, IMHO) to Adams Park, laid down on the newly warm grass and read through the whole book in one sunny afternoon. It was bliss.

This year, as an experiment, I decided to buy Gatsby on Kindle and read it on my iPad. I’ve hitherto been loathe to enter the world of e-books, but I figured I better not knock it until I’ve tried it. A few weeks ago at Biola’s Imagination Summit, a discussion on “the future of books” with Moe Girkins (former CEO of Zondervan) and Jason Illian (CEO of e-book upstart ReThink Books) got me thinking about the topic. E-books certainly seem to be the future. Physical books, Borders, libraries… all of that will likely become outmoded. But is that a good thing?

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40 Days

Over the last few weeks, the “Rob Bell Controversy” has spawned a cacophonous onslaught of blog chatter, banter, pontificating and debate. Everyone has an opinion about Rob Bell and his universalist credentials.  For a while it seemed that if you were an evangelical with a blog, a Twitter account, or even just a Facebook page, you simply had to chime in on the debate. Defenders, accusers, brash and nuanced voices of all kinds bombarded the Internet to the extent that even the New York Times took notice.

I haven’t chimed in with a perfunctory blog post yet, mostly because I want to read Bell’s book first, but also because this whole discursive debacle has soured me a bit on the evangelical blogosphere. It seems so pointless that so much energy and time has been poured into this “debate,” with thousands of bloggers conjuring up 500-1000 words or so on Rob Bell, or giving their 140 character two-cents on Twitter, with the only effect seemingly being a more palpable animosity between various camps, and a bewildered secular public looking in on the silly evangelical bickering and thinking, “who would want in on that mess?”

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Brett currently works full-time for Biola University as managing editor for Biola magazine. He also writes movie reviews for Christianity Today and contributes frequently to Relevant magazine.

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