Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three Movies That Changed My Life (Part 3)

1. The Thin Red Line

There is no other movie out there that I have triple-dipped for before except this one. I used to own it on VHS, and I wore out my copy til it became nigh unwatchable. Then I bought it on DVD and watched it too many times to count, although it bore nary a scratch because it was beloved to me. Finally, for my birthday my wife got me the Criterion Edition Blu-Ray of it (probably the greatest looking film ever seen on Blu-Ray, it is reference quality and sets the standard for all film transfers, as far as I'm concerened), and I watch it constantly. In the last six months I've owned it, I've probably watched it five or six times. I do not tire of it. I have nearly memorized every scene and every line of this movie. I have owned both discs of the soundtrack for the film and listened to them obsessively. I have purchased and read the book by James Jones which the movie was based on. I cannot say the same of any other movie. Watching it becomes a ritual for me, where I turn out the lights, pull my chair up five feet from the TV, and just get lost in the greatest film of all time. It's been my favorite since I first saw it in 1998.

I was a junior in high school. I bought an old used copy on VHS from Blockbuster. I had never seen it, but for $3 I could ignore the fact that the case for the movie was long gone. I took it home, watched it, and was mystified. I thought this was supposed to be a war movie, but instead I found an abstract exploration of sin, death, violence, and God. Holy cow, so I watched it again. The second time, I tuned the world out and became lost in the glory. A third time. It was all coming together; I was tasting something beautiful in the universe. Progressively as I've watched this film I have always gleaned something new. It's a masterpiece. A masterpiece. I'm gushing.

As a high school junior, I was way too shut up in my little town with my little sophomoric worries. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted friends. I wanted a better truck. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to go to college and become somebody - anybody. I knew there was a world out there, but it felt so far away. All I felt when I looked around me was concrete, wheat fields, closed up storefronts - reminders of a bygone time that was good and once rang of prosperity and success. This was the town I came from, and I'll never forget it because it provided the context for my delight in The Thin Red Line.

Here was a film which did not pass by on the screen, but screamed at me that there was a larger reality and that I should not identify it with myself. I became inflamed with a desire to enjoy the world, to not pass up the delights of flowers, of clouds, of the touch of a girl's hand. After watching The Thin Red Line, I knew that these things were real in more than just a "my life is a TV show" sense. I saw the universe, I saw what I had been missing, and I resolved that whether I died today or tomorrow or 50 years from now, it could not be denied that I lived.

The film injected a poetry into everyday life which I still enjoy. I will often go on a walk and remind myself to savor this moment as though it were my last. Although I have since heard this sentiment echoed by Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, and John Piper, I learned it from all of these men in the context of a post-Thin-Red-Line world. A world after I had seen this film. It became my reference point for finding the beauty in the ordinary and in the extraordinary. The film addresses specific theological matters without ever really speaking of God. The strength of what the film does is, it denies the possibility of comprehending the world apart from God, much like director Terrence Malick would later do with his potential (I haven't decided yet and won't for a decade) magnum opus The Tree of Life.

In the end, it doesn't matter if I convince you. I probably won't. Either you're one of those people who hate this movie, or you agree with me that it's a filmmaking masterpiece. Maybe you're like Gene Siskel and think it's "the greatest contemporary war film I've ever seen." In that case, I'm with you, providing you'll remove the "contemporary war" qualifier. Or maybe you're like a group of my friends I invited over to watch it with the other evening who seemed almost completely mystified by it. In that case, you still need to see it a second or third time.

In the end, I really don't care. The film made it's mark on me, and it's still making its mark on me. Yes, it really is the greatest film ever made. I'll get in a fist-fight defending that claim.

Best dialogue from The Thin Red Line:

Witt: I remember my mother when she was dyin', looked all shrunk up and gray. I asked her if she was afraid. She just shook her head. I was afraid to touch the death I seen in her. I couldn't find nothin' beautiful or uplifting about her goin' back to God. I heard of people talk about immortality, but I ain't seen it. I wondered how it'd be like when I died, what it'd be like to know this breath now was the last one you was ever gonna draw. I just hope I can meet it the same way she did, with the same... calm. 'Cause that's where it's hidden - the immortality I hadn't seen.

Welsh: In this world, a man, himself, is nothing. And there ain't no world but this one.

Storm: I look at that boy dyin', I don't feel nothin'. I don't care about nothin' anymore.
Welsh: Sounds like bliss.

Witt: We were a family. How'd it break up and come apart, so that now we're turned against each other? Each standing in the other's light. How'd we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away. Scattered it, careless. What's keepin' us from reaching out, touching the glory?

Train: Where is it that we were together? Who were you that I lived with? The brother. The friend. Darkness, light. Strife and love. Are they the workings of one mind? The features of the same face? Oh, my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining.

Witt: Do you ever feel lonely?
Welsh: Only around people.

Welsh: There's only one thing a man can do - find something that's his, and make an island for himself. If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack; a glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours.

Bell: Love. Where does it come from? Who lit this flame in us? No war can put it out, conquer it. I was a prisoner. You set me free.

Train: What is this great evil? How did it steal into the world? From what seed, what root did it spring? Who's doing this? Who's killing us? Robbing us of light and life. Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known.

Bell: Why should I be afraid to die? I belong to you. If I go first, I'll wait for you there, on the other side of the dark waters. Be with me now.

Witt: War don't ennoble men. It turns them into dogs... poisons the soul.

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