Rethinking Generic Representations of History: The Place of Subjective Perspective in Terrence Malick’s Films
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Terrence Malick is recognisable as an auteur not only for the aesthetic beauty of his oeuvre, but also his consistent frustration of traditional narrative modes. This thesis examines the role of genre and gender in Terrence Malick’s films. I analyse the role of these elements in Badlands (1973), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011). Each chapter establishes these films within their respective genres. Badlands is read as a hybrid of crime and road films, The Thin Red Line as a combat film, The New World as a biographical film, and The Tree of Life as a coming-of-age film. I then analyse the means through which Malick subverts and revises each genre’s conventions. These revisions are often driven by Malick’s representation of gender, which has consistently denied traditional genre conventions in its interrogation of male perspectives and the incursion of female perspectives into stereotypically male spaces. The aforementioned films destabilise cinematic conventions through their location within their central characters’ subjective perspectives. Malick’s depiction of well-known periods within American history represents another subversion in his denial of historical nostalgia. Throughout this thesis, I analyse – with a particular focus on voiceover narration – the various ways in which Malick’s idiosyncratic style complicates the spectator’s relationship to the cinematic construction of genre, gender and history through its embodiment of subjective perspectives.