Every David Lynch film ranked from Worst to Best

In anticipation of the revival series of Twin Peaks, I decided to rewatch and rank all of David Lynch’s films. As Terrence Malick was originally a philosophy major, Lynch was a painter who turned to filmmaking. As a result, he paints his subconscious onto each of his films, for better or worse. The man is obsessed with 1950s style and the picturesque charm of Middle American life. Identity and the unknown are also recurring themes in his work.

What separates Lynch from the majority of his copycats is that he doesn’t try to be weird for the sake of being weird, which is what most parodies of him and his work misunderstand. His work is never condescending or pretentious* because he is more interested in images than ideas. He’s not a patronizing message-pusher and never hides behind metaphors. He simply creates what inspires him with little thought as to what others would think and this is what makes him such an authentic filmmaker. More importantly he knows the importance of the mundane and its impact on our lives, even if we don’t always know what it means.

 

*I’m referring to his feature films. It’s debatable when referring to some of his shorts.

 

14. Dune (1984)

Rating: 4/10

This movie is a mess. It’s quite a bit incomprehensible upon first viewing, which explains the moronic voice-overs that every character in the film has to make sure the audience knows what’s going on. There’s also too much exposition with the narration.  The special effects are horrible. The editing feels rushed. There is, however, some fantastic imagery that pops up in a few parts of the movie.

 

13. Duran Duran: Unstaged (2014)

Rating: 4.5/10

His name is David Lynch, he’s from another land.

He films Duran Duran, a very shitty band.

To get the most of this, you have to be a fan.

Fuck you Duran Duran across the Rio Grande.

 

12. Eraserhead Stories (2001)

Rating: 5/10

This is an interesting documentary where David Lynch talks about the making of Eraserhead.

 

11. Inland Empire (2006)

Rating: 5.5/10

This is the final installment of Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy. He retreads on familiar ground on familiar ground and it’s not too enjoyable the third time around. He uses story devices that were used more effectively in Lost Highway, and he really seems to love Sunset Boulevard. He has fun with layers, fiction within fiction, and plays with time as an instrument to put his musings on screen. The movie goes on showing how fiction and “stories” influence reality and vice versa. The film is shot on standard definition video giving off a “reality tv” vibe, possibly poking at reality’s superficial fabrication. The segments with the Rabbits are great, making fun of the weight and importance us viewers give to wooden simulation. He goes full circle starting with the humor of it, and then trying to seriously examine it.

There are some interesting scenes and images, but nothing that justifies its three hour length. The film alternates between built-up tension and throwaway ideas that don’t add up to anything that isn’t appreciated by only die-hard Lynch fans. This movie received mostly positive reviews and I cannot help but think it has something to do with Lynch’s rock star status. It was considered the 2nd best film of 2007 by Cahiers Du Cinema (which shouldn’t be that surprising, seeing as how they overrate Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Gus Van Sant, and Francis Ford “holy shit, could you believe I’m still making movies?” Coppola).

If this film were made by an unknown filmmaker, it would receive neither an audience nor the time of day. It’s definitely a huge step back from the long haul of the making of Eraserhead. The film doesn’t compete with Crispin Glover’s What is It? trilogy or Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, each a series of extremely self-indulgent surrealist films that were mostly ignored by the mainstream film press. These films push the limits of what film can be, while Lynch gets too comfortable with his old ideas. Glover, influenced by Lynch himself searches for what creates taboo and how one approaches it; Barney goes even deeper with incomprehensible content and imagery that he manages to win over some art critics while pissing off every film critic that can’t pigeonhole the movie by conventional standards. Lynch’s retro pop aesthetic makes his films easier to digest. He attempts to follow the footsteps of Fellini’s 8 ½, Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, and Godard’s Contempt but doesn’t quite catch up to either of them. Fuck, Be Kind Rewind seems closer to those movies in comparison.

One major complaint I have is towards the soundtrack as many of the choices are weak when compared to his best soundtracks/scores in Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Hell, I fucking hate Rammstein and Marilyn Manson, but I cannot deny how well they were used in Lost Highway. Angelo Badalamenti being absent possibly has something to do with the downgrade. I absolutely adore Penderecki, but I don’t see any reasonable choice for his music in the film beyond having token Polish music for a film that partially takes place in Poland. Also, if there were musical nightmare retardant to a David Lynch film, it would be hearing Beck’s Black Tambourine.

The conclusion that precedes the end credits scene is so unbelievably cheesy. Laura Dern steps out and hugs the traumatized woman in the hotel room. The woman searched for therapy in cinema playing on a television and it saved her. It got her through the tough time. Yawn. Many of his other films become more rewarding upon further viewings, this one not so much.

If this film cut out a lot of unnecessary scenes, I probably would have given this a higher grade. Either way, I’m happy Lynch got this excess out of his system, if only to ensure his bad ideas were wasted on this film and not on the return of Twin Peaks. Despite my dissatisfaction, I’m very happy a movie like this was even made. I prefer people taking chances making a spectacular failure over playing it safe and making a boring generic movie.

The end credits are fun though.

 

10. Twin Peaks Original Series (1990-1991)

Rating: 6.2/10 (this is a great rating by TV standards!!)

Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost

Directed by David Lynch, Duwayne Dunham, Tina Rathborne, Tim Hunter, Lesli Linka Glatter, Caleb Deschanel, Mark Frost, Todd Holland, Graeme Clifford, Uli Edel, Diane Keaton, James Foley, Jonathan Sanger, and Stephen Gyllenhaal

Written by Mark Frost, David Lynch, Harley Peyton, Robert Engels, Jerry Stahl, Barry Pullman, Scott Frost, and Tricia Brock

While this isn’t a film, and Lynch only directed 6 out of the 30 episodes, I can’t make a ranking involving David Lynch’s work without mentioning his most important work in television. It ranks among the greatest television shows of all time; with the pilot being a strong contender for one of the best television pilots (It’s equally excellent if watched as a standalone film).

Twin Peaks is a show that changed television, pushing the boundaries of what could be done. There is playfulness in form and structure that is nothing like what came before it. Nobody involved with the television show even thought it would be picked up network TV. It was only an act of desperation on ABC’s part, searching for new shows, that it was even selected.

Sadly, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. After the success of the first season, the executives at ABC meddled with the show’s direction in the second season in a misguided attempt to hold onto as many viewers possible, dragging down the quality of the show, and leading to its cancellation. A significant chunk of the second season is crap because of this. David Lynch and Mark Frost had minimal involvement with the show during this time as they were focused on other film projects. This led to some episodes being directed by mismatched one-time directors. I mean, Diane Keaton? What the fuck?

The show is a psycho-spiritual soap opera horror murder mystery revolving around the death of Laura Palmer, a popular and beloved high school student. She is the most interesting character in the show and is dead before the pilot begins.

The town isn’t what it appears to be, and almost everyone has something to hide. One weird thing about the show, and this is saying something, is that the main protagonist, Dale Cooper, is both extremely competent and good. Most media is driven by conflict and internal struggle, which makes it interesting that Cooper is pure without being a dumb Pollyanna.

Many of the characters are quirky, there is an emphasis on atmosphere, the music is perfect, and there is an emphasis on the unknown. The show finds balance between self-aware soap opera campiness and dark terror, something many shows fail to imitate.  It influenced many shows like the X-Files, the Sopranos, and Lost.

There are also midgets, giants, spirits, and creamed corn, but that is neither here nor there. The owls are not what they seem.

If you ever had an annoying friend who tried to analyze and interpret their dreams aloud to you, this is the show for them. If you ever knew someone who practiced tarot cards, this is the show for them. If you have ever had a relative who bought an extensive carpet, only to be thrown in a dumpster the next day, this is the show for them.

Season 1 Grade: 7.6

Season 2 Grade: 5.7

Episode Rankings (with ratings)

  1. Episode 2 (8/10)
  2. Episode 29 (8/10)
  3. Episode 14 (8/10)
  4. Pilot (8/10)
  5. Episode 5 (8/10)
  6. Episode 16 (8/10)
  7. Episode 7 (7.5/10)
  8. Episode 13 (7.5/10)
  9. Episode 8 (7.5/10)
  10. Episode 4 (7.5/10)
  11. Episode 1 (7.5/10)
  12. Episode 9 (7.5/10)
  13. Episode 10 (7/10)
  14. Episode 6 (7/10)
  15. Episode 3 (7/10)
  16. Episode 15 (7/10)
  17. Episode 28 (6/10)
  18. Episode 12 (6/10)
  19. Episode 11 (5.5/10)
  20. Episode 27 (5/10)
  21. Episode 25 (5/10)
  22. Episode 17 (5/10)
  23. Episode 23 (4.5/10)
  24. Episode 26 (4.5/10)
  25. Episode 21 (4.5/10)
  26. Episode 22 (4/10)
  27. Episode 20 (4/10)
  28. Episode 18 (4/10)
  29. Episode 24 (3.5/10)
  30. Episode 19 (3/10)

 

9. The Elephant Man (1980)

Rating: 7/10

This is David Lynch’s most conventionally told story. For the most part, the film unfolds in a conventionally told homage to classic Hollywood. The film’s perspective for the most part is black and white, ironic because the film is also shot that way. Each of the characters in the film fits an archetype and no more than that. The story progresses with predictable emotional cues. The soundtrack is at its best when it doesn’t exist as the music can be incredibly cheesy.

There are some Lynchian quirks that are fighting to get out in the film. The opening scene is one of the goofier parts of the film; imagery of elephants walking is superimposed over a staring woman before the elephants attack, dragging her to the ground. The symbolism is rather too literal. Some of these directorial decisions drag down the film and make the film feel more like a student film than Eraserhead. These Lynchian quirks become more effective in the second half of the film, one particular example being the Elephant Man locked in a cage with hostile baboons. These quirks are few and far in between the bulk of the movie, which makes some laughable due to execution.

Despite some of these reservations, Lynch shows that he capable of directing a “normal” movie if he wanted to. One has to admire the restraint from making this film very sentimental, which is very tempting given the source material. While still showing the ugliness of 19th century England, Lynch shows restraint from making this film pure misery porn as most Oscar nominated filmmakers would do today.

 

8. Wild at Heart (1990)

Rating 7/10

This film is what would happen if Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was directed by David Lynch.

Jokes aside, to say that the sequences in this film lack subtlety is a huge understatement. Everything in it is extreme, blunt, and in-your-face. It might even be a camp masterpiece. Hell, Tarantino wishes his films were as cool as this one. The thing people misunderstand about Lynch is that none of the weirder parts of his films are random. They might not make sense on a narrative level, but on a subconscious level they succeed.

One particular example in this film would be the injured woman in the car accident. She starts to spout nonsense about her purse and fear about getting in trouble with her mother. If you’ve known a person long enough to sleep next to them and speak to them upon waking up, there’s a chance their mental state could still be in the dream they’ve awoken from. I’ve been spoken to in dream logic, only for the said person to absolutely forget what they are talking about within minutes. I’ve probably done it to others as well. Our motivations don’t just change at different stages of our life, but in different states of being.

Anyways, I’ve not read Barry Gifford’s novel from which the movie is adapted from, so I don’t know how faithful the movie is to the book. I don’t know if the references to the Wizard of Oz are an invention of Lynch or are from the book, but the film has fun with them throughout. What I can see is affection for the characters, which is what separates this film from a parody.

Still, this movie sure as shit didn’t deserve to win a Palme d’Or.

 

7. The Straight Story (1999)

Rating: 7.3/10

Even the most ardent David Lynch hater cannot possibly dislike this movie. It’s a warm affectionate portrait of Alvin Straight’s real life odyssey to reunite with his brother. David Lynch treats the man’s journey with warm affection and respect. There is an emphasis on realism, an absence of sensationalism and a very much appreciated lack of sentimentality that was present in the Elephant Man. Lynch proves he is very much capable of making a conventional film that still exceeds in execution over the average Hollywood director.

 

6. Eraserhead (1977)

Rating: 7.5/10

David Lynch may have perfected the experimental art film with Eraserhead because this has influenced and inspired hundreds of copycats and none of them as good.

David Lynch understands something that the majority of modern horror directors fail to understand. Instead of trying to overwhelm the audience with “scary” elements, Lynch understands that the things that make us uncomfortable are usually subtle. The strangeness of these weird little incidents is what lets us know something is off. With this early film, Lynch proves to be quite the master of atmosphere. The sound is impeccable and Lynch is a master of imagery. Whether you like this movie or not, something in this film will forever stick to your head. Hell, Lynch manages to make something as natural as a dog breastfeeding her puppies into something nightmarish.

The main character is in a crapsack world, where nothing seems to go right for him. He lives in an ugly apartment; his room window faces a brick wall allowing almost no light to get in. The industrial town he’s in looks abandoned with an aura of crippling depression. To make things worse, he ends up with a deformed monster child, while trapped in a forced loveless marriage. Instead of daydreaming of a better life, he is only consoled by thoughts of suicide staring at the radiator in his apartment. “In heaven, everything is fine.”

Everyone in the film is cold and uncompassionate. The man tries his best to do right by people and his “child”, but the lack of support of his wife and the maddening bawling of his monster child are enough to drive him to madness. The baby also gets in the way of his own small dreams, which I hope this isn’t how Lynch felt about his own kids.

We know nothing about the protagonist, of who he is, or how he ended up in this situation. We ask ourselves what the man asks himself, “How did I end up here?”

There is a definite Franz Kafka influence to this film. It’s also hard not to draw interpretations based on David Lynch’s horrible experiences living in Philadelphia. Similar imagery reappears from this film in Mulholland drive. Eraserhead is a very original film and I cannot think of any film that came before it that is anything like it.

 

5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Rating: 8/10

Note: Please, for fuck’s sake, do not watch this film until you have seen the entirety of Twin Peaks seasons 1 and 2.

This is David Lynch’s most misunderstood film. It received boos at the Cannes Film Festival where it premiered, and was a commercial and critical disappointment. On the surface, viewed through the eyes of an idiot, it’s about a girl who has a lot of sex and does a lot of drugs. But it is much more than that. I’m sad to say I was one of those idiots when I first watched it as a teenager years ago. I was stupid and naive like Bobby, James, and Donna.

Where do I start? The first story revolving around Chester Desmond is creepy and captivating. It’s endlessly rewarding as we see a nice agent attempt to solve a murder mystery in a town that can only be described as the shitty polar opposite of Twin Peaks. The people are ugly, trashy, and unwelcoming. They treat authority with absolute contempt, giving the two agents a very hard time. While the story might seem like an odd shaggy dog story, it’s a perfect transition to the bulk of Laura’s life before her murder.

This film is scary, sad, and emotionally draining. We come face to face with Laura’s suffering and her best attempts to escape it. She constantly cokes up to numb the pain, and gets it on with low-lives in the pink room. Meanwhile, she is in perpetual runaway from spirits and demons both literal and figurative. The true horror of the film is how everyone is oblivious to Laura’s pain. Sure, the people of Twin Peaks are mostly harmless and seem nice, but what makes them monsters is how they all ignore the cries for help of a young girl. They’re all too distracted with their own lives to understand or even care. This is what contrasts the shitty town in the beginning of the film with Twin Peaks. At the end of the day, what is it their actions and lack thereof say? This is called back to in one of the early episodes of Twin Peaks where Bobby makes a scene at her funeral blaming everyone. On the surface, Laura is popular, beloved, with many friends and admirers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If people just looked past the surface, they might notice her misery.

It’s only after it is too late that the citizens pretend to care. Another sad thing about this film is that caring isn’t even enough. Bobby, James, and Donna do care about Laura to an extent, but they don’t know how to help, and that’s ultimately her doom. She doesn’t know how to talk about her problems. Her problems are to an extent incomprehensible for someone of her age. I think the genius stroke of the film is by evoking the supernatural, it adds empathy to her character and to victims of rape and incest.

The truth is, most victims are ignored and misunderstood. People like to believe that by talking about their problems, that’s going to make things easier, but it ignores the difficulties that go with it. Could anyone possibly believe any of the stuff Laura could describe? Harold Smith, her loyal secret friend, tells her that it’s all in her head, which adds to her some hopeless anguish. It’s easy to point fingers and say, something is wrong, but does anyone step in any do anything? What could they do? As Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart would say, she has no parental guidance (I mean, they’re pretty fucked-up themselves).

David Lynch’s master direction and surreal imagery prevents this film from being a trivial victim story that is so beloved by the academy awards. Instead of aiming for cheap sentimental bait, Lynch strives for pure cinema.

 

4. Blue Velvet (1986)

Rating: 8/10 (Best Lynch Soundtrack)

The only thing that bugs me about this film is how rushed the beginning is, Lynch really wants to get Jeffrey into Dorothy’s apartment. The progression of the film feels contrived up until that part. His motivations don’t matter as long as the movie gets to the interesting part. Other than that, this movie is absolutely fantastic.

Lynch really captures the idealized charm and sweetness of small town America, while hinting at the ugliness hidden beneath it, a theme he goes back to in Twin Peaks. This ugliness manifests itself because of both public obliviousness and willful submission.

He takes the Noir film genre to a very weird place. We get a look at the innocents’ fascination with the wicked, along with reflections on the patterns of abuse. We get a quick glimpse at how the pure can assume the role of the abuser when the opportunity presents itself and what toll abuse can take on a person’s sanity.

Angelo Badalamenti’s score and Lynch’s soundtrack choices elevate the film to another level. The usage of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” as the character, Ben, lip syncs to the film is both enigmatic and magical. This song makes for some perfect visual dissonance in both this scene and the scene after when Frank and his men are beating the shit out of Jeffrey. There’s not any other contemporary filmmaker that can juxtapose American Oldies Popular music the way Lynch does in this and Mulholland Drive.

Dennis Hopper plays the role of his lifetime in this film, as the psychotic villain, Frank, as Isabella Rossellini plays the unforgettable tortured Dorothy Valens.  Overall, I will never forget the rosy tinted way Lynch paints Classic 50s Dreamlike American Suburbia against the nightmarishly incomprehensible.

As Jeffrey puts it, “Why do there have to be people like Frank?”

 

3. Lost Highway (1997)

Rating: 8/10

One time when I was out of town, I lied to my girlfriend about the date I was returning home so I could surprise her. I made it back while she was at work. I did my best to hide my luggage, my jacket, and everything so she wouldn’t notice I was home. I hid in the closet with the intention of scaring the absolute shit out of her when she walked in. The stupid cat wouldn’t stop pawing me for attention.

Hours later, she opened our apartment door, shouting in anger and fear, “Who the fuck is in here?!” She didn’t take footsteps deep inside to come anywhere near the bedroom closet, still shouting from outside. I realized I forgot to lock the door upon arriving.

There used to be two gangs in Chicago that consisted entirely of homeless people. I don’t know what their official names were, if they had any. The first consisted of the people who slept in Harrison Park, the second slept in Dvorak park. The reason the two groups had beef is anyone’s guess.

Rambo, presumably self-named after the film, was the head of the Harrison Park hobos. He was broad like an ox, with a giant hard beer belly. His teeth were yellow with some missing, he had a small grey undersized Polo stretched over his hairy gut; he looked in his forties going on his sixties. He loved to “get blasted” to Black Sabbath. My friend, who I will not name to protect his guilty ass, introduced me to him and their way of life. Some years after this, my friend’s house was set on fire. My girlfriend never met him.

This is the first installment in Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy.

 

2. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

 

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Rating: 9/10

This is the second installment in Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy.

This is and will forever be my favorite David Lynch film. It gets better and better with each viewing. As of now, it’s probably one of the best films, if not the best film of the 21st century.

Originally intended to be a pilot of a longer television series for ABC, after it wasn’t picked up, Lynch added more onto it, making it the great Mulholland Drive we all know and love.

Lynch, a true surrealist, has always been interested in dreams, which only makes sense that he films a piece reflecting on the dreams people have when they move to Hollywood. People on the outside, from many small towns, look at the glamour, the fame, and the sugarcoated version of this way of life on television and the movies. People sometimes fantasize about becoming a part of this world, but fantasies almost never match up with reality: What we want vs. what we get.

Lynch, by this point, has over fifty years of life experience in his belt, moving from a small town to an industrial city to Los Angeles. Recognition has landed him work in Hollywood, which is how he has experienced the good and the bad. Right now, David Lynch has gone on the record that with the current status of the industry today, he probably won’t make another film again. So, because of this, it’s hard not to see the director character in the film, Adam Kesher, as a reflection and criticism of the industry influenced by Lynch’s own experiences. The people who ultimately pull the strings in the movie business are portrayed as thugs and gangsters. The reason they have this seemingly infinite power is unknown, but it is an obstacle even an established successful big-shot director can’t bypass. The actual character of Adam Kesher himself probably has nothing in common with Lynch himself, seeing as their look, talk, and demeanor are completely different. Perhaps he could be based on someone?

Seeing as this film more than pays homage to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Betty can be seen as similar to how Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard wants to see herself, and Diane can be the Norma Desmond that actually is. Obviously, the character isn’t or has anything specifically in common with Ms. Desmond, but has to do with the significance of identity. The happy-go-lucky Nancy Drew movie star wannabe Betty is a huge contrast from the bitter emotionally-abused Diane.

There is no band, and yet, we hear a band.

Identity is probably the key theme in this film. Rita is searching for it in a literal way, Betty in a spiritual way, and Kesher is grasping at what he has left of it. The film flirts with this theme, as Betty auditions for a film as another character, and Rita tries on the wig to begin her new life. The eerie concert performance at Club Silencio is a forewarning of the cruel reality that is going to wake up Diane.

One funny comment that someone on a Youtube comment brought up regarding the first scene featuring the man behind Winkies was something along the lines of “You know you’re a great director when you can make a scary scene full of tension that takes place in plain daylight.”

Lynch gets it.

Every Terrence Malick film ranked from Worst to Best

In anticipation of Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, I re-watched all of his films (with the exception of Voyage of Time, which I saw in theaters a year ago.) I have a tremendous amount of respect for Malick’s work, even if I have no idea what he is doing. While I’m not especially crazy about his later work, the man makes movies for himself first, and that commitment to self-indulgence gives him artist credibility. I doubt he will ever make another film that I will love, but he’s definitely capable.

 

9. Knight of Cups

Rating: 4.5/10

This movie sucks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr0YZzL8KCI

 

8. Song to Song

Rating 5/10

This probably deserves a lower rating as it is incredibly bad, but it is fun to watch. It is pure self-parody and its inclusion of Austin City Limits footage brings the film to “so bad it’s funny” territory. Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, and Matthew Fassbender are in on the joke this time around, which brings great camp performances. Their self-aware acting rivals the excellent Gina Gershon in Showgirls.

The best acting in the film is done by Patti Smith, and the worst by Lykke Li.

 

7. The New World

Rating: 5.5/10

What bothers me about this film is that instead of feeling like an almost three-hour epic, it feels like four different movies crammed into one. First, there is the contact between the English and the new world, which leads to John Smith becoming intertwined with Pocahontas and the natives, and the consequences of it. Second, there is Pocahontas’s exile and merge with the settlers. Third, there is her new relationship with John Rolfe, and fourth, there is Pocahontas in her “new world”, England.

The reason I say four different movies is because the editing in this film isn’t seamless. The film drops us in each sequence and has us sit around, getting comfortable in the film’s world, before abruptly jumping forward to the next “plot” point to further the overall arc. It feels forced and annoying. It makes me care less about the characters as the “story” goes on. What makes this more annoying is that the film is at first, both equally about Smith and Pocahontas, their relationship with each other and their respective “worlds.” About midway through, Smith is out of the film, and Pocahontas is the sole protagonist. She is a passive protagonist and makes no interesting decisions for the rest of the film. She goes with the flow as the equally uninteresting dictate her decisions.

The film lacks the emotion and passion of Malick’s previous films and settles for wooden talk as the camera moves around the characters. None of the emotion present in each character’s faces in the thin red line is present here. Most scenes have each of the actors just make blank faces. Malick starts to plagiarize himself as John Smith’s time with the natives could be seen as no different from when Witt went AWOL in the thin red line. They serve the same purpose and push the same idea. This also kinda makes this the second film in Malick’s Eat Pray Love trilogy, as Malick seems to love characters finding happiness in other cultures. The voice overs in this film are terrible by the way.  I pulled up the first quote voice over line I could find on IMDB.

Mother, where do you live? In the sky? The clouds? The sea? Show me your face. Give me a sign. We rise… we rise. Afraid of myself. A god, he seems to me. What else is life but being near you? Do they suspect? Oh, to be given to you. You to me. I will be faithful to you. True. Two no more. One. One. I am… I am.

Despite my reservations, there are interesting ideas executed well in this film. There is the contrast between Smith’s peace and joy among the tribe and the instant savagery he sees when he meets back up with his fellow men. Each character trying to adapt to what they find weird about the other’s culture is also neat. There might be a good television or miniseries in this film, if each story were given enough time to flow naturally, but instead the film comes off empty and fake. Malick is on his way to become the cheesy grandpa who tells kids, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

 

6. The Tree of Life

Rating: 6/10

This might be literally Malick’s most commercial film, if you split the movie up and make 200 different commercials. I loved this when I first saw it five years ago, but upon re-watching it, I slapped myself in the face. Then I took a poo. Then I showered, because I don’t feel comfortable with a post-poop ass in my moderately clean underwear.

So the film isn’t exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Hell, the film truly deserves neither the intense praise it got nor the hate. It’s a pretty aight movie, even if I love to constantly make fun of it.

Okay, so here’s what works. First, the cinematography is flat out eye porn. It’s hard not to love the photography is every scene. Second, which is the main thing I loved, is the intimate family interactions. The little snippets of growing up in the small Texas town in the 1950s feel too real. When the father speaks to his kids, the dialogue is well acted and naturalistic. The stern father and the loving mother, and the distinction between how the kids respond to each of them emotionally is heartwarming. It’s also riveting when the film shows seemingly random moments in the children’s lives that shape their development. Life is just a bunch of little moments that for better or worse make us. Almost every character in this film is portrayed affectionately even when they are at their worst.

Now here’s what sucks. The scenes that take place in the future/present are phony. Sure, the beginning sets us up for a character death that still impacts the characters in the present, but the way it is done is silly. Are the ultra-modern looking Dallas skyscrapers to show the contrast between the nostalgia filtered past and the cold mechanical future? Should we give a shit? Next, the cosmic imagery interspersed in the film, regardless of what anyone says, brings down the movie. I know Malick’s childhood and family mean the universe to him, but this is an obnoxious way of showing that.  It doesn’t enhance the mood, unless nature porn is enough to blow everyone’s mind? If that’s your thing, fine. I won’t deny that the world looks awesome, but when you try to interpret symbolic truth/meaning in this, you’re just making an ass out of yourself. The film’s religious “spiritual” meandering sucks shit. This is the third film to have voiceovers saying, “Mother” followed by something a yuppie yoga instructor would say. Malick isn’t as stupid and sexy as Jim Morrison to get away with this kind of stuff.

I could also go on about the stupidity of the mom at the end of the movie saying something along the lines of “I give you my son” to the guy’s wife.

Oh and here’s a fun fact. Upon re-watching this, my Blu-ray player malfunctioned around the last couple of minutes of the movie. I had to restart it and jump back to the scene (for some reason the playback wouldn’t work). At the scene selection menu for the last scene, its fucking title is “Was it a dream?”

He’s not even trying anymore. This is the cookie-cutter art film stereotype and it’s good enough for him.

Will viewers choose the path of nature, accepting the daily crap that is force fed to them and pretending it’s great, or the path of grace, searching for and sucking the dick of every mild deviation and pretending its revolutionary?

Wrong.

Read a book.

 

5. Voyage of Time (A.K.A. Tree of Life Bloopers)

Rating: 6.3/10

I saw this movie at a zoo.

It smelled like shit and there were ladybugs on the projector.

There were about twenty people in the audience.

Fourteen of them had Down syndrome.

 

4. To The Wonder

Rating: 7/10 (Best of 21st Century Malick)

It amazes me how little Ben Affleck has to bring to this movie. He is especially terrible at playing someone doing nothing. Malick could not have picked a less charismatic actor to play his avatar.

Moving on, this might be both Malick’s most abstract film and his meanest. Like The Tree of Life, this film is also based on Malick’s own life experiences. The woman in this film, Marina, is based off his relationship with his ex-wife. Since Affleck just makes dumb faces while Marina does things, she is the focus of the film. By Malick casts himself out of the action, and having her as the center of the drama, he succeeds in making her character come across as both crazy and stupid. Her actions are on a whim and come across as incredibly childish. Knowing that this is Malick’s interpretation of being with this woman, by making her look this way but conveniently making his character a simple mime, he comes across like a judgmental asshole, revealing his take on her while hiding himself.  Marina has a child in this film, and they both act almost identical to each other.

She has a line in the film where she says, “weak people never end things. They wait for other people to do it for them.” Seeing as all of her decisions are a result of Malick’s character, who is the one to end their relationship, the narrative implies that she is weak. This point is supported through her progressive aimlessness.

What makes this film a bit refreshing is that Malick manages to show us the mundane and the ugly in this film. We see them go to a Hardees drive-through and it looks just like that. We see boring looking parts of Oklahoma and trashy looking kids and families. It’s not this beautiful glorified image, but itself. Through the priest played by Javier Bardem, we see a lot of ugly, sad people with serious problems. For once, everything isn’t beautiful.

The movie is abstract because it continues to jump forward randomly, giving the audience very little to work with. This forces the viewers to fill in the blanks throughout the whole movie. I can’t even call this ambiguity because this is beyond that. This is Malick at his most experimental.

There are pretty nature shots, but they are crazily reduced compared to all his other movies.

 

3. The Thin Red Line

Rating: 7/10

This is the transitional film that separates Malick’s early work from his later work.  This is the film that will satisfy both the 70s purists and those that love his 21st century “spiritual” phase.  What I think is remarkable about this film is how unimportant language is in it. I think a foreigner can watch this without subtitles and still understand the story, the tone, and the feeling of the film as long as they are visually literate. The soldiers don’t necessarily need to be American vs. the Japanese. This could be any war. It shows both the forced bond and unity, along with the cruel savagery of conflict. There are no good or bad guys, just people. Both groups fight each other for their cause, while the third group, the Melanesians, stand idly as the other two groups use their land as a battlefield.

With the exception of Witt, none of the characters’ names are memorable. Each character represents a different aspect of mankind: the hope, fear, sacrifice, struggle, anguish, anger, and love. The latter is a theme that Malick will never shut the fuck up about in some of his more heavy handed films. Seriously, I could have sworn the voice overs in this film were repeated to worse effect in his later movies. Anyways, Malick’s directing here prevents any of the characters from coming across as clichés.

This film begins and ends with Witt. It can almost be seen as his story, but it isn’t. The film doesn’t have a beginning or an end. The film drops us into the aftermath of Witt’s actions, seeing him at his happiest.  We only learn a little about one of the soldier’s lives before the war, but everyone else is a shadow of themselves along with their current circumstances.  While I don’t agree with all of Malick’s directing decisions, up to this point he has established not only a love of nature, but a love of humanity.

 

2. Badlands

Rating: 8/10

This is a fantastic directorial debut and possibly Malick’s most accessible film. One can see the first of what would become Malick’s trademark style: the voiceovers, the poetic storytelling, gorgeous cinematography, ambiguity, etc. Funny enough, this is still his most plot-centric film, and it’s just barely plot-driven compared to most Hollywood movies*. Kit and Holly play two sociopath lovers on the run from the law. The film doesn’t try to vilify them as monsters, nor give the audience a sympathetic insight into their behavior. They are who they are, and that’s that. The audience sees the world through their naïve, dreamlike eyes.

There are subtle hints towards the media’s glorification of crime, and giving rebels celebrity status. Kit takes pride in the fact that he resembles James Dean, even if he’s just an aimless trigger-happy garbage man. Holly hardly feels remorse for any of Kit’s actions and is content to go along for the ride. They both value attention and sudden purpose more than the world around them, giving each of their actions little to no thought. Each has a blue and orange sense of morality, but the film does a good job at not being preachy or judging them. At the end of the day, they are just people.

The music by Carl Orff is so perfectly used in this film that I can’t help but cringe when I hear the melody reused in various other movies and trailers.

 

*This was the 70s though, and Hollywood was taking a lot of risks during this period.

 

1. Days of Heaven

Rating: 9/10

For my money, this is Malick’s best film. Everyone is perfectly cast, especially Linda Manz, who has the face of the time period. Everything of the time period is exceptionally done. The photography is perfect, thanks to Malick’s obsession with the magic hour, as well as the great photography of Haskell Wexler who followed after Nestor Almendros’s lead. This might also be Malick’s most emotionally honest film. One thing that seperates Badlands and Days of Heaven from Malick’s later films is that the voiceovers in both films reveal insight into the psyche of the characters and their world, even if it’s not obviously related to the action around them. The newer films have too much pseudo-spiritual talk-out-of-assing.

The film doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh conditions of migrant work, but illustrates both the cruelty and lack of compassion of humanity, along with the little things that keep people moving. Pure cinema is when the young Linda tap dances with a black man as the workers are on break. The kid lives only in the moment. She is rich in experience, although uneducated, has character and a good head on her shoulders. She constantly reflects upon her feelings and random thoughts, as the film’s narrator.

Hell, the line, “I could be a mud doctor” is so damn perfect; I want to tear my hair out.

Richard Gere’s character, Bill, is motivated mostly by love (a theme that follows all of Malick’s work) for Abby (Brooke Adams). He is selfish, impulsive, and stupid at times, throwing away his meal for the day to fight with a stranger to defend his lover’s honor. Moments like this establish both his unrestrained behavior and his sacrificial nature, which will have him later push his woman to marry another man to give her a better life. While seemingly noble, Bill doesn’t consider the consequences.

Abby and the farmer (who Abby marries) are both tormented characters. Abby is conflicted by guilt of both lying to and in turn using the farmer to elevate her status, and betraying Bill, by giving herself to the farmer. Later, she ends up falling in love with the farmer, which only complicates her feelings. Abby depends on others, in which she chooses to act within the limited choices given to her. The farmer is alienated by his status. He is dumb and lonely, with little understanding of how the world works, and has only one friend. He is also terminally ill.

The film is a mood piece, as interestingly enough, Malick cut the majority of the dialogue scenes from the film, which is crazy as the film gets to the point without inconsistency. I would imagine the uncut film would feel like a bloated drama. To me, this work of visual poetry is his masterpiece.

Also, Leo Kottke’s guitar music is pretty cool.