is one of the best war movies every made. Moreover, director Terrence Malick (The
Days of Heaven, 1978) returns to movie making after a long absence with a work
that probes poetic and philosophical depths as few movies of any kind have ever
done. If you are looking for a film that reaches far beyong the familiar questions
concerning the terror and evil of warfare, this is it. And in this sense
it makes Saving Private Ryan seem conventional and shallow
say that Malick's creation is without its flaws. In fact, its length (nearly three
hours) and lack of clear plot lines alone will leave many viewers cold. Malick
defies the odds by taking his time, and allowing the film to unfold with a deliberate
pace that forces the viewer to savor both its stunning scenery and its narrators'
innermost thoughts and feelings. And in doing so, he leads his audience on a journey
of discovery that explores some of the same terrain covered by biblical works
such as the book of Job and the Psalms.
on the soldier/sage, Pvt. Witt, played convincingly by Jim Caviezel asks, "What
is this war at the heart of nature?" When the question arises the Private
is wandering AOL through the forests and beaches inhabited by the peaceful Melanesians
of the Solomon Islands. Soon that peace will be shattered by the explosive violence
of the World War II battle of Guadalcanal. No, the battle scenes here do not reach
the intensity or the graphic power of the opening sequences in Saving Private Ryan.The real focus here is not
in the detail of dates or places, nor even in the overarching questions that arise
when the characters in this film are confronted with the absurdity of war. Rather,
in asking that opening question, Malick is drawing our attention to the violence
that is an instrinsic part of life itself, a violence that continues long after
the guns of battle are silenced. The contest between the Japanese and the Americans,
the conflict that divides one soldier in C-for-Charlie Company against another,
the clash of feelings that occurs within the mind of a single soldier, all of
these play out in counterpoint to the incredible beauty of the natural world.
As the soldiers make
their way through a forest whose canopied trees, birds and flowers resemble the
colorful, hallowed space of a Gothic cathedral, the film-maker reminds us that
there is a mystery at the very heart of life that is itself divine.
God then to be found in the heart of darkness, as well as in the light of day?
And if so, is that
same God ultimately as responsible for the violence as for the good things which
we more readily accept as gifts from heaven? Malick has the courage to answer
both those questions in the affirmative, and the skill to lead us toward the point
of seeing exactly what he means.
has attempted to make a war movie drive toward a point of mystical illumination.
Depending upon what the viewer is prepared to see, he either succeeds or fails.
I, for one, believe he succeeds.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.