An enigmatic and reclusive figure when he emerged with his auspicious 1973 debut Badlands, American filmmaker Terrence Malick’s recent burst of relative productivity has been met with mixed critical reaction.
In one camp, some feel that Malick’s formerly singular style has lapsed into cliché. Recent films, from The Tree of Life to this newest one, Song to Song, have been described as resembling “screensavers”: a fine joke, but a beggarly critical assessment. In the other, critics more sensitive to Malick, or just susceptible to that above-mentioned artistic imprimatur, lament that the haters aren’t even bothering to engage the films on their merits, preferring instead to giddily write them off as the ponderous and pretentious work of some dopey stoner working well past his prime.
Certainly, early mutterings in advance of the recent Toronto press screening – that included grumblings about run times, shots of grass, and the apparent lack of “story” in his recent films – betray a critical press that seems not only oblivious to art, but openly hostile toward it. Faced with such hordes of hacks rigging the Tomato-meters with their willful, even boastful, philistinism, how does Terrence Malick stand a chance?
The haughtily unenlightened can joke and snipe and snore all they want. As evinced by Song to Song, Malick is operating in top form. If only we’d be bothered to do the work of making sense of it.