The Thin Red Line [1998]

For some time now, Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now have been title contenders for my favorite war movie of all time. Having just watched The Thin Red Line, it seems that this decision is going to be one that is much harder than I expected. But I think the latter, another Terrence Malick masterpiece, is inching ahead of them all. 

A war epic focused on the less-touched upon Pacific theater of the second World War, Malick had outdone himself again after a long hiatus from film. This movie is simply beautiful, with Malick-inspired cinematography utilized to show the brutality of war while also juxtaposing it with shots of nature (and the effect war has on it). The cast is a massive ensemble, some of which didn’t even make it into the final movie of the almost five hour original cut. Mysticism, wonder, meditation are preferred at the expense of character development, but honestly I didn’t care. From my perspective, I saw the prevalence of actors (some of which played characters not safe from being killed at any instance) and their minimal development as secondary to the idea of being just another solider in a war. They were simply another face in a mass of people going to war, but they all mattered. They were all brothers, and when one brother went down, you felt it resonate hard. That’s all the development I needed.

As far as cinematography, Malick again directed a beautiful film. Wide shots depicting the broad landscapes occupied by natives and soldiers are quickly paralleled with close, tight shots in the heat of battle, emitting one of the greatest senses of claustrophobia I’ve ever experienced. And as I said before, shots of nature and the wildlife around are abundant. In one instance you’ll get a shot of explosions, only to quickly shift to a few parrots in the trees nearby. It left me rattled at first, but after thinking about it it all made thematic sense. War is hell - brutal hell. So why do we do it? Where does it come from? What’s the point? The shots of wildlife and the landscape truly bring these questions home as the violence slowly tears away at it. Why do we do this when there’s beauty in the world? How can we allow it to happen? Now, this is very atypical of your standard war movie, but this isn’t a regular war movie. The best description I’ve heard so far is that it’s rather a poem about war and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll leave you with my favorite shots and my favorite quote that perfectly encapsulates the movie (and is of course presented in voice-over because this is Malick after all). 

“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?”