Terrence Malick is one of the most divisive filmmakers working today, if not ever. Owner of a famously reclusive private life as well as a filmography full of gaps (he took twenty years between his second and third movie), Malick has been praised and criticized in equal measure. His supporters view all of his films as masterpieces (he's only directed six including this year's To the Wonder), citing his visual prowess, technical abilities, emotional power, and artistic merit. His detractors criticize his films for being dull, pretentious, unfocused, as well as devoid of plot, character, and dialogue. Whether you like his films are not, there's no denying his importance to cinema as two of his films have already stood the test of time and another is already considered by some to be among the best ever made despite being only a few years old.
Life and Career
Terrence Malick's early years remain a bit of a mystery, as does much of his personal life. Various reports say he was born in either Ottowa, Illinois or Waco, Texas. Malick studied Philosophy at Harvard, graduating Summa Cum Laude before entering Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Malick left without finishing his doctorate but he later taught philosophy at MIT and his translation of the work of German philosopher Heidegger was eventually published. Malick then earned a Master's in Fine Arts from the American Film Institute in 1969 where he met longtime collaborator Jack Fisk. Malick started out by writing screenplays, being credited with early drafts of Dirty Harry and Great Balls of Fire. After having trouble getting his screenplays picked up by studios, Malick decided to direct his own screenplays, resulting in 1973's Badlands. Telling a story of a couple who embark on a murder spree, partially based off real life events, Badlands brought Malick to the attention of the film world, earning great reviews and remains Malick's most universally acclaimed film as well as his most conventional. Badlands experimented less with cinema than Malick's later efforts but did establish some of Malick's trademark's such as astonishing visuals and propensity for voice-overs. Malick's follow up film was 1979's Days of Heaven which followed a love triangle in early 1900's Texas. Malick spent years in post-production on Days of Heaven and the difficulties he faced getting the film made helped prompt his later self imposed exile from filmmaking. Despite the production troubles, Days of Heaven won Best Director at Cannes as well as Best Cinematography at the Oscars. Roger Ebert later called it among "the most beautiful films ever made" and Days of Heaven placed Malick among America's foremost artistic filmmakers. After Days of Heaven, Malick retired from filmmaking for twenty years and no one really knows why. Malick's legend grew during the break and he spent his time writing a number of screenplays. Malick's return to filmmaking in the late 90's generated a surge of interest in his earlier films and seemingly every actor in Hollywood wanted to be in his next film. 1998's The Thin Red Line had such an impressive cast that just listing the actors who filmed scenes but were cut from the movie would take quite a while. The Thin Red Line earned considerable critical acclaim, being nominated for seven Oscars and was considered by many, such as Martin Scorsese and Gene Siskel, to be among the best films of the 90's. Malick again took a long break, returning in 2005 with the New World, a retelling of the story of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia. The New World continued Malick's experimentation with the boundaries of cinema, featuring even more voice-overs in favor of inter-character dialogue and focusing more on visual storytelling rather than auditory. The New World received rather mixed acclaim upon its release but like many Malick films has since been reevaluated and appeared on many "best of the 2000's" movie lists. In 2011, Malick released his most ambitious movie in the Tree of Life, a film that juxtaposed the life of a family in Texas with the creation, life, and death of the universe. While the Tree of Life was one of the years most divisive films, many hailed it as a masterpiece, as the film placed on Sight & Sound's 2012 list of best films and was voted by Roger Ebert as one of the top 10 of all time. 2013 sees Malick release his latest film To The Wonder which in typical Malick form has opened to mixed reviews. Malick currently is busier than ever with two films currently in production.