Red Line Terrence Malick's the Term Paper

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For Private Witt, the idea is found in another world. For Sgt. Welsh, no idea exists -- and he tries to get Private Witt to see as much.

Yet, Malick's point is that such a world does exist. In fact, he begins the film with the prayerful chants of the islanders, and rolls credits to the same chant. At one point, one of the soldiers (Dale) sits in the pouring rain, clinging to himself before hurling his collection of Japanese molars away. Malick plays the hauntingly beautiful score by Charles Ives, "The Unanswered Question," to underscore the sense of spiritual desolation in Dale's horrific hobby.

The acting in the film is another point of interest. Malick's characters are not so much scripted as they are caught on film: each actor essentially is playing himself. Jim Caviezel is Private Witt. Sean Penn is Sgt. Welsh. What Malick undertook to do with the Thin Red Line was capture nature not a script. At one point Malick asked Caviezel what he thought of Penn. Caviezel answered, "He's like a rock." "That's good," said Malick. "Let's use that." So in the film, Private Witt walks up to Sgt. Welsh and asks him, "Why do you make yourself out like such a rock -- one minute I can come up and talk to you, and the next it's like we never even met." Yet Malick does not stereotype Penn. He points out the virtue he sees in him by having Sgt. Welsh risk his life to aid a dying troop on the battlefield. Even after Private Witt dies, Sgt. Welsh sticks to his skepticism and cynicism: "All a man can do is make an island for himself, let nothing touch him." But as the troops march to their ship to leave the island they pass a cemetery full of rows and rows of white crosses marking graves. Sgt. Welsh immediately displays his desire to be part of that greater sacrifice
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which drew Private Witt: Welsh admits through voice over: "If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes and my life will be yours."

The brilliant cinematography by John Toll also helps give the film its wonderful essence. The shots follow birds on the wing, and linger on rosy-fingered dawns. They reinforce the grandeur of Malick's motive, which is to capture the majesty of God's creation, and the spiritual purpose of every man.

The editing of the film is also a testament to the director's credibility. Over one million feet of film were shot during the filming and an initial rough cut of over six hours was given to Malick to edit. The studio insisted the film come in under three hours, so Malick went to work weeding out parts that did not contribute to the overall narrative of spiritual conflict and ultimate salvation. One character played by Adrian Brody was central to the initial script. Brody even went to the premier of the film expecting to be hailed as a star. His performance, however, was almost entirely removed from the film (several actors such as Alec Baldwin and Mickey Rourke were removed all together). Instead, Malick edited the footage to concentrate on Private Witt and his relation to the war and the soldiers in that war.

In conclusion, the Thin Red Line pays homage to the war epic by including many big names in its cast -- but the film is more than a movie. It is, in a sense, like a Homeric poem. Through symbols, motifs, leitmotifs, non-diegetic inserts, non-traditional narrative, upward tilted camera angles, and natural lighting, the Thin Red Line captures the beauty, elegance, and mystery of the natural world -- its darker side as well as its goodness, and is a film that can be viewed again and again and be better understood with…

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