Why do Terrence Malick films look the way they look?

Impress – or annoy – your friends by showing them all the ways a Malick-ian movie can be.

The question is as old as time itself: why? Terrence Malicks Films look like this?

Well, maybe not as old as time, but at least since Malick explored the birth of stars and how dinosaurs are capable of grace in the tree of Life.

From his meteoric rise in the New Hollywood era in the 1970s to his years of sleep, to his return to cinema and his prolific modern streak of feature films, it could be argued that Malick’s films all have their own unique style. However, it cannot be said that his films are at least certain to have a similar look and feel.

Let’s examine what makes a Malick film a Malick film, and how the withdrawn director uses framing, editing, and poetry to give his films the “Malick-ian” look.

This film look from Terrence Malick

As you can see in the video essay from YouTuber above Thomas flightthat Terrence Malick’s film look is difficult to classify but is almost instantly recognizable. This is in part because, while there are similarities, Malick doesn’t really seem to work with any hard rules or norms for his productions.

Of wasteland to A hidden life, Malick has actually experimented with a variety of cameras, devices, and looks for film production over the years. However, the way he presents stories and cinema is unique to him.

As Thomas Flight outlines, the Malick look is really defined by the way Malick shows “life in context”.

The modern Malick look

To do justice to the myriad of Malick fans who may have tried to channel this “Malick look” into their own film, video, or photo projects, there are some distinctive elements that pop up from time to time.

From Malick’s observed penchant for the outdoors to his penchant for wide-angle lenses and smooth steadicam movements, Malick has found at least some consistent filmmaking tools that he’s been using fairly regularly throughout his current, modern career.

For this modern Malick look, the camera can move, look and perceive freely, as if the audience were a curious angel floating through a scene. The camera is often close to the ground and has a distracting habit of chasing actions that, at first glance, might not seem like the obvious choice.

Editing and poetry

However, as you can see in the video and as I would argue as a Malick fan friend, the real essence of the Malick movie look is actually in the cut.

Malick is notorious for making tons of footage. Most of his film coverage is unlikely to make it into the final cut of the film. Yet big names still flock to work with him. Why this?

I think the answer just lies in the movies. Malick’s revealing film style opens up a world of editing possibilities. And it is in these editing decisions that Malick really shines. His ability to weave complex, abstract and often beautiful sequences together is simply outstanding. It’s visual poetry at its best, but not always what you’d expect from a movie full of A-stars.

Ultimately, however, to understand what really makes a Malick film The Malick Filmlook, you probably just have to look inside yourself to find out what makes you so passionate about his films.

Don’t hesitate to join in and share why you think Malick’s films look the way they do!

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