The poetry of the Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line (1998) is a beautiful masterpiece that shows us the meaninglessness of human non-tolerant and aggressive nature. What touched me the most was Terrence Malick’s poetic interpretation of human ignorance on beauty, nature and peace/tranquility.

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The nature plays an import role in the film.

The film’s poetic beauty shows in almost every frame, but especially in those mediating images of nature, when Malick wants us to stop and think for a second what beauty are we as species a part of. There are the moments when Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) is remembering and dreaming of his time with his wife. These images are repeated several times throughout the film and they remind us of our limited time on this planet. Our physical relationships with each other are finite and we should cherish and appreciate each other.

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Our finite time on Earth.

Later in the film he gets the letter from his wife who explains to him that she has fallen in love with another man. What is the meaning of life? Of love? Bell is surprised, of course, but he also puts a smile on his face, as if he can see how meaningless is his situation – fighting and killing an enemy thousands of kilometers away of his home and wife. For what, for who? Does he bears responsibility for his wife leaving him? For thousands of deaths in a meaningless war? He learns the preciousness of life after a battle, when he almost breaks down. He lost his comrades and he killed enemy soldiers. But for what? What is the price?

Later we see Japanese prisoners while Private Vitt (Jim Caviezel) is looking at them with interest. Than he sees a dead Japanese soldier buried under ground. We hear the dead soldier asking: Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was, too.

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Are you loved by all?

And what does Private Bell have left? Maybe his life (yet) and memories of his wife and him. At the same time he asks: Who lit this flame in us? Perhaps he contemplates that the light of our lives, our existence needs to be free, yet we are someone’s prisoners, puppets who do what they are told to do, even when the following actions go against ourselves. Why are not we doing what we really are made to do?

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In conversation with Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn) Sgt. Storm (John C. Reilly) says: I look at that boy dying. I don’t feel nothin’. I don’t care about nothin’ anymore. Welsh responds: Sounds like bliss. I don’t have that feeling yet. That numbness. Not like the rest of you guys. Maybe because I knew what to expect. Maybe I was just frozen up already.

Malick is a master of making beautiful images consisting of contrasts. Nature and man, beautiful landscapes and metal shells…

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Malick’s contrast.

The Thin Red Line is a wonderful film that goes strait to my list of essential films, not only because it has as a masterful cinematography and great acting performances, but because it is bearing an import message for the mankind. It is up to us as film viewers to comprehend it.

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This great evil.
What seed, what root did it grow from?
Who’s doin’ this?
Who’s killin’ us?
Robbin’ us of life and light.
Mockin’ us with the sight
Of what we might have known.

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