"The Thin Red Line" feels like an extension of the second film, in which a narrator muses on the underlying tragedy that is sometimes shown on the screen, sometimes implied.
Both films are founded on a transcendental sense that all natural things share their underlying reality in the mind of God.
This video essay on The Thin Red Line is part of a series that also includes pieces on Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The New World.
The actors in "The Thin Red Line" are making one movie, and the director is making another.
It was not this way in the novel by James Jones that inspired the screenplay.
Jones drew his characters sharply, and indicated the ways in which each acted according to his ability and personality; his novel could have been filmed by Spielberg in the style of "Saving Private Ryan." Malick's movie sees it more as a crap shoot.This is, the movie implies, a society that reflects man's best nature.But reality interrupts when the two soldiers are captured and returned to their Army company for the assault on a crucial hill on Guadalcanal.They all seem to be musing in the same voice, the voice of a man who is older, more educated, more poetic and less worldly than any of these characters seem likely to be: the voice of the director.Terrence Malick is the director of two of the best films I have ever seen, "Badlands" (1973) and "Days of Heaven" (1978).The movie's schizophrenia keeps it from greatness (this film has no firm idea of what it is about), but doesn't make it bad.It is, in fact, sort of fascinating: a film in the act of becoming, a field trial, an experiment in which a dreamy poet meditates on stark reality.Intense moments of combat or personal drama are interrupted by cutaways to animals, vegetation, and rolling ocean waves; more so even than Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line insists that individual human experience is not central to anything but our our own perception, that it is in fact a tiny part of the totality of life on earth.Even war itself is diminished by being represented not as a force that opposes nature, but as an especially rancorous and deluded part of nature.The plot of the second act of the film involves the taking of a well-defended hill, and the colonel prefers that it be attacked in a frontal assault; a captain (Elias Koteas) resists this plan as suicidal, and is right from strategic point of view, but wrong when viewed through the colonel's bloodlust: "You are not gonna take your men around in the jungle to avoid a goddamn fight." The soldiers are not well-developed as individual characters.Covered in grime and blood, they look much alike, and we strain to hear their names, barked out mostly in one syllable (Welsh, Fife, Tall, Witt, Gaff, Bosche, Bell, Keck, Staros).