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Moments of Grace: The Collected Terrence Malick

Nov 15 — Dec 15, 2019

“I was just reaching for air.” These are words whispered by Rooney Mara’s Faye during the opening voiceover in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, and they are evocative of Malick’s work in general, in which characters and camera, actors and the filmmaker all reach for the ineffable. Nature, God, love, earthly purpose, notions of permanence and more, remain meaningfully, poignantly beyond our grasp. Yet still we reach. And nearly half a century into a staggeringly ambitious career, so does Malick.

The director’s sole documentary project to date, Voyage of Time (2016) dwelled overtly on the machinations of the natural world, but it is a pervasive theme in all of the director’s films, stretching back to his 1970s breakthroughs Badlands and Days of Heaven, and continuing through his career-revival masterworks The Thin Red Line and The New World. Throughout, the director has famously favored footage captured during the pre-dusk, orange-hued “magic hour,” but it is in his recent films that this preference reveals itself less as an aesthetic than an ethic in which the natural world insistently washes over everything in sight, all the time, whether or not we know it or are ready for it. With these 21st century films (from Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life through this year’s A Hidden Life) he swings—literally swings thanks to frequent collaborator cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s steadicam—from character to environment and back within the same shot, erasing notions of foreground and background so that it is all the same—all action, and all natural. As audience members we are bearing witness to things that actually happened, whether or not they were also scripted.

Malick’s increased productivity at an age when other artists might slow down speaks to an urgency of intent, of needing to define and express moments entirely in progress, an endeavor that is both entirely impossible and utterly defines our lives. In celebration of Malick’s newest contribution to this ongoing artistic endeavor, the achingly ethical and politically resonant A Hidden Life, Museum of the Moving Image presents a comprehensive retrospective of his films, which includes all of his features, several alternate versions, and works by others to which he either contributed or was featured.

A Hidden Life, a Fox Searchlight release, opens in theaters on December 13.

Organized by Curator of Film Eric Hynes and Assistant Curator of Film Edo Choi