The Thin Red Line vs. Lost Highway
Disclaimer: This write-up contains massive spoilers, but no summary of the plots. It is also very long and extremely silly. Feel free to skip to the verdict. Also, apologies for being late, and for not being around to have a discussion rather than just posting like this.
Internal dialogue of two voices in my head while watching my bracket films:
Emiliana 1: OK, let’s watch The Thin Red Line!
Emiliana 2: Do I have to? It is so looong. It is a war film, and lots of people are going to die in horrible ways. Don’t you remember, there’s a reason we’ve never watched this before!
Emiliana 1: I know. But it’s Terrence Malick, we love Terrence Malick, and coming from him, it’s not going to be a typical war film! And this is the fifth round of the bracket after all, it has to be really good to have made it this far!
Emiliana 2: Well, do you remember which films it kicked out? Do you remember any of the write-ups?
Emiliana 1: No, I only remember lots of gorgeous screenshots! Come on, at least it will look amazing. You can get excited about that, can’t you?
Emiliana 2: I suppose… Ok then, you’re not going to shut up until we watch it anyway. And we are past the deadline, so we might as well…
Emiliana 1: FINALLY! Yay, here we go!
Emiliana 2: Ooooh, pretty!
Emiliana 1: See? [superior smirk]
Emiliana 2: Aw, come on!!! You’ve got to be kidding! You’re telegraphing the message of the film in the voiceover within the first two minutes of the film? “Nature constantly fights against itself” Ok. Got it. Can we stop watching now?
Emiliana 1: Well, that IS unfortunate. But there has to be more than that! I know there is going to be more than that. And look – here is who seems to be our protagonist, living in harmony with nature and the natives!
Emiliana 2: Oh, pretty! Who is he?
Emiliana 1: I can’t remember his name right now.
Emiliana 2: I want to look it up! Now! Now now now!
Emiliana 1: Shut up, I’m trying to watch the film here!
Emiliana 2: Ok.
Emiliana 2: Look, it’s Sean Penn! We like Sean Penn!
Emiliana 1: I know, I’ve seen Milk as well. Shut up!
Emiliana 2: Ooooh, “growly voice in Nick Nolte’s head“-voice over. Awesome!
Emiliana 1: Yeah. [I hope she doesn’t notice John Travolta’s “Watch me ACT”-act]
Emiliana 1: This is intense. It’s man vs. man, man vs. nature, beauty vs. horror – all these juxtapostitions, that’s not bad, right? And all that destruction and the cruelty, and the futility of it all. It’s quite disturbing and effective, don’t you think?
Emiliana 2: Yeah, I guess.
Emiliana 1: Look, it’s Jared Leto, another guy you really like!
Emiliana 2: Awesome! I had no idea he was in this. – Wait, wha!! He WAS in this. That was quick. BOO!
Emiliana 1: Uh-oh
Emiliana 2: This other guy, the one with the hand grenade – who is he again? I suck at names today!!! I want to look it up!
Emiliana 1: Oh alright, we’ll look it up. In this case, I need to know the name myself, because he is quite impressive here. [imdb to the rescue] … Duh, Woody Harrelson. I knew that. Obviously, I can’t concentrate any more. No wonder really with you distracting me all the time. Let’s take a break. Happy?
Emiliana 2: Ah, that first guy is James Caviezel, of course it is… I wonder if I should watch his version of The Count of Monte Christo again… What? Did you say something? Take a break? Sure!
The next day:
Emiliana 1: Look, we have to give this film a decent chance. Do you remember, there was this interesting battle of power/conscience thing going on between Nick Nolte and the captain who I think is Elias Koteas (and no, we’re not looking it up right now) – we have to know how that turns out. I honestly think we can get into this film if we give it another shot and pay proper attention.
Emiliana 2: Alright. I’m open to persuasion. Let’s do this.
Emiliana 1: There. That sounds better.
Emiliana 2: One more thing though.
Emiliana 1: OMG, What?
Emiliana 2: Don’t you think it’s funny how we’re referring to all of these people by the actors that play them rather than by the names of their characters? Are these even proper characters? I can’t say that I care very much about any of them right now.
Emiliana 1: Hm, you may have a point there. But maybe that‘s intentional. Something about men losing their individuality in war, them just being cannon fodder, or maybe archetypes of human nature. Something of that sort. We’ll keep an eye on it and see how it turns out.
[Fighting & Dying]
Emiliana 1: This film looks amazing.
Emiliana 2: Yawn. What else is new?
Emiliana 1: You know, just because you expect a Malick film to look beautiful, you shouldn’t stop giving it credit for that!
Emiliana 2: Hm, yes, you’re right.
Emiliana 2: The letter from Ben Chaplin‘s beloved wife, completely crushing him? Didn‘t see that coming, and it hit me hard. Obviously, I do care about these characters after all.
Emiliana 1: Interesting. So would you say that you are really into the film now?
Emiliana 2: Shut up, I‘m trying to watch a film here.
[Fighting & Dying]
Emiliana 2: Whoa. This Japanese soldier looked right at me. It was me pursuing him, about to kill him. That was only one quick moment, but I think that for the very first time I understand what people mean when they say that a film puts you right into the action.
Emiliana 1: [captivated silence]
Emiliana 2: Ok, here is our heroic sacrifice, courtesy of the James Caviezel character. And in his dying moments, he remembers how happy he was living with the innocent native population. Ouch. That‘s it, I‘ve been hit over the head with the message once too often now.
Emiliana 2: George Clooney!! I completely forgot he was supposed to be in this. Good thing too, because otherwise I would have waited for him the whole time. And he only turns up ten minutes from the end! Listen, I‘m a fan of most of these people, but giving recognizable actors like these only one brief scene (like Clooney, Travolta, Leto, Cusack) takes me completely out of the film every time one of them pops up on screen. As a side-effect of that, the whole film seems more like a patchwork of isolated incidents than a consistent narrative. This structure just does not work for me. All these repetitive voiceovers about war and nature and man sure don‘t help either, they bring the film to a screeching halt every time. Ooops, film is over. Petered out there a little…<
Emiliana 1: You know, that was the most insightful thing you‘ve said so far. I hear what you‘re saying, all this is really problematic. Too bad that I can‘t articulate very well what worked for me, I think that on one level, I simply allowed it to work on me in a visual and subconscious way. All in all, can we agree on a solid 7/10?
Emiliana 2: Ok, 7/10 it is.
The next day:
Emiliana 1: So, what do we remember about Lost Highway?
Emiliana 2: Not much at all. Bill Pullman is in it, there‘s a creepy guy, and back when we watched it for the first and only time many years ago, we liked it a lot and fancied we understood perfectly what was going on.
Emiliana 1: Yeah, and what was that?
Emiliana 2: I have no idea.
Emiliana 1: Excellent. Let‘s do this.
Emiliana 2: Yay!
Emiliana 1: WTF was that?
Emiliana 2: I don‘t know. I certainly didn‘t remember any of that.
Emiliana 1: Me neither. Our brain seems to have a really effective protective mechanism in place - every memory completely erased! I wasn‘t even sure if I had in fact seen the film before, but the coffee table-meets-head scene brought it all back. But anyway - can we get a few coherent thoughts together?
Emiliana 2: Let‘s see. Holy crap was it scary!
Emiliana 1: Yeah, the sound design, the atmosphere… The first part was pure horror film for me, but there was just as much tension when we shifted to the part of the story that has a different protagonist. Maybe the tension only came from trying to figure out wtf was going on, but even if that‘s the case, it was effective.
Emiliana 2: Absolutely. Should we even try to make complete sense of the film? The last ten minutes give you quite a lot to chew on, but I don‘t think it matters all that much if you can find a coherent, logical story here. I think I got what the film was trying to do, anyway. Oh, and wasn‘t the soundtrack fantastic?
Emiliana 1: Yes, some really brilliant choices there. But I wasn‘t quite comfortable with the way the film looked at women and their bodies. We definitely saw a lot more of them than the men.
Emiliana 2: I know what you mean. Even if you take into consideration that this may have been the point (one of the characters is a porn film maker with pretty sick tastes after all), I‘m not sure that was entirely necessary.<
Emiliana 1: So, can we find a rating for the film?
Emiliana 2: You want me to put a number on this? I can‘t, I have to let it settle for a while.
Emiliana 1: I agree, but I think we have reached a
The Thin Red Line looks beautiful, and has some important things to say about human nature and war. There are some fantastic performances here and there, but I felt I never got enough from any of these characters. The big problem for me was that it always seemed to shout „Look at me! Aren‘t I PROFOUND!!“ and that bothered me immensely, and kept me at a distance the whole time. Lost Highway on the other hand drew me in from start to finish, and put me on an emotional roller coaster ride. There is such a distinct look and feel to the film, it is a director‘s vision completely realized on film.
There's great filmmaking in both of these films, but I‘d put Lost Highway through to the next round.