A few days ago, I highlighted several things I love about Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line that I feel are rarely (if ever) discussed. Here’s the second part of the post, which will, to be clear, spoil all major plot points of the movie. So please see the movie first before reading this post. This is too good a film to have ruined in print.
Catch up by checking out Part 1 of this post here.
Pvt. Tella (Kirk Acevedo, Alvarez on HBO’s Oz) quietly, simply saying “goodbye” to First Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn). Devastating.
The way Lt. Col. Tall’s (Nick Nolte) index finger is pressed tightly against his temple as he argues with Cpt. Staros (Elias Koteas).
Watch how Tall’s forehead melts after Staros denies Tall’s order. He literally cannot believe what he’s hearing. And that spit…
Welsh studying Staros as Staros denies Tall’s order to advance up the hill. It’s a look that says, “I may not always agree with you. But goddamn if I don’t respect you right now.”
The mild humanity in Nolte’s delivery of the line, “This is a very important decision you’re making, Staros.”
The way Staros instinctually says something in Greek after he gets off the radio with Tall.
This is expert casting. Nick Stahl looks like a baby (he was 17 when they filmed this scene), in this movie. It really puts things into perspective about how young these soldiers were.
Another great POV shot as a soldier is dying. I can almost hear Staros whispering, “Go to the light, my son.”
Tall hitting a soldier on his helmet with his little wand thing. (Oh, and the fact that he carries around a little wand thing, as if he’s a conductor of the war.)
The way Tall says, “What are you doing laying down there where you can’t see a damn thing?” to Staros. It’s spoken with the cadence of a father who is immensely disappointed with his son.
Tall not flinching at the explosion right next to him. Great little nod to Robert Duvall’s Kilgore from Apocalypse Now.
Look at the way Koteas takes his eyes of Nolte for a fraction of a second as Tall bends down to yell at Staros. It’s as if Staros is a child who’s terrified of getting punished.
Look at the way the sun reveals itself as the soldiers storm up the hill. So many filmmakers are concerned with blocking the sun, controlling it. Not Malick. He knows the sun is a part of life, so include it you must.
The stare down after Tall tells Staros: “It’s not ever necessary for you to tell me you think I’m right. Ever. We’ll assume it.”
John Cusack easing out an “Okay…” before they attack the bunker.
Jim Caviezel’s face as he watches a fellow soldier die.
John Cusack letting the fuse of his grenade burn while he’s still holding it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a movie before. They always throw it right after they pull the pin.
The proficiency in which the big guy on the bottom of the frame throws a grenade. We believe he’s done it thousands of times.
Ben Chaplin whispering, “I… I shot a man.” It kills me.
“If some of the men pass out… then they’ll just have to PASS OUT.”
Cpt. John Gaff (John Cusack) studying Tall during the Colonel’s “This is my FIRST war!” rant.
This shot has been discussed a lot, but that’s because it’s one of the finest ever captured in all of film. Such quiet horror.
The attack on the village is terrifying for many reasons, but the fact that the Americans can’t see anything when it starts.... I mean, can you imagine?
The fact that an American war film takes the time to highlight an enemy soldier trying to protect his injured friend.
This subjective camera shot. It’s so haunting.
The overall emotions of these Japanese soldiers. Some pray, others protect; some beg for the carnage to stop, others loudly go insane.
Tall relieving Staros of his command is my favorite verbal exchange in the film. The emotion is perfect throughout. It’s the scene that makes me appreciate Nolte and Koteas the most out of all the actors in the film.
The highlight of the scene has to be Staros turning his head in disgust when Tall tells him he’s going to give Staros the Purple Star because of “That scratch on your face, and because of those cuts on your hands.”
Tall’s silent, isolated, and one would assume, very rare display of remorse. Could be the single best scene of Nolte’s career. Such quiet, astonishing power.
The way Koteas smiles as he gives a bottle of liquor to one of his men brings tears to my eyes. He really is like their father.
The journey Pvt. Dale (Arie Verveen) goes on. From sadistically pulling teeth from dead men, to sobbing by himself in the rain.
The montage of the men enjoying a week’s rest is very telling. They laugh and swim and jump and drink. But they also fight like dogs and come under attack from the enemy. There is truly no rest from war.
“Love. Where does it come from? Who lit this flame in us?”
“I look at that boy dying, I don’t feel nothin’. I don’t care about nothin’ anymore.”
“Sounds like bliss. I don’t have that feeling yet. That numbness.”
This melancholic shot of Miranda Otto as her new lover approaches.
Ben Chaplin’s reaction as he reads the letter from his wife is a hauntingly concise measure of grief. Denial, anger, depression… it’s all there. You don’t direct scenes like that – “So, uhh, read the letter and react to it, okay?” – instead, you let the actor act. And when they’re that good, scenes like this are what happens.
The brief scene between Jim Caviezel and Thomas Jane is a thing of wonder. How long has Jane’s character been sitting out here, alone, without food or water? Why is he okay with sitting out here alone? How long will he be there? Will he ever be found again?
“You ever get lonely?”
“Only around people.”
The way the Japanese soldiers slowly descend from the jungle to the river.
The fear in this soldier’s eyes as he swims downriver. It’s as if he knows he’s swimming to certain death.
The humanity of the Japanese soldiers as they give Pvt. Witt every chance to surrender.
Witt swimming with the village kids after he’s been killed. Is this his heaven?
The way the men silently collect around Witt’s grave. You can tell how much his spirit meant to all them.
I love this guy’s face. That’s a fucking face right there.
Pvt. Train. He made it. “I’m gettin’ older now. By no means old, but older.”
It would be so easy for Malick to end the film with this shot. It’s aesthetically beautiful, and it metaphorically says that the island is behind the men, but will still always be with them.
Instead, he ends the film with this, a sole plant emerging from the water. What does it all mean? I leave for you to decide.
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