Days of Hell

But those are relatively minor quibbles, as is the questionable psychological constitution of some of the characters. Why didn't Witt drop out of the Army for good, or get discharged? How did Staros, a passionately religious lawyer, come to be leading other men into battle? Ultimately, these men support a larger goal beyond messages that are obvious enough (e.g., war is hell; modern man has spoiled Nature and those who live in harmony with it). By making such an emotional and lyrical war movie, one that's unabashedly gorgeous despite a healthy gore quotient, Malick is trying above all to make us feel again. Witt tells Welsh, who's seemingly shut down to everything around him, "I can still see a spark in you." That's Malick speaking.

Some are bound to roll their eyes at this. They might feel shortchanged by the ratio of battle scenes to those of scared or weeping soldiers, by the lack of triumph or even a clear purpose. What kind of wimpy-ass war movie is this? Transposing war into an emotional key, The Thin Red Line could be the first film to do double duty as a combat film and a women's picture. Then again, it's a nature film as much as anything, full of lush flora and fauna scenes to rival the Discovery Channel.

Whose line is this, anyway: John Cusack in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line
Whose line is this, anyway: John Cusack in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line

It's precisely this refusal to conform to expectations that has won The Thin Red Line its detractors, who are perhaps forgetting that such a quality is also a mark of great art. During the opening of the film, the natives sing an exquisitely uplifting song that also plays over the final credits. It's like the closing hymn after a strangely hypnotic service on celluloid. Think what you will, but that's meant as a compliment.

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