Date of Birth: November 30, 1943
One of the most enigmatic directors and visual stylists in contemporary American cinema, Terrence Malick was born in Ottawa, Illinois. He grew up in rural Oklahoma and Texas, working as a farmhand and on oil fields. Despite these modest upbringings, Malick graduated with a philosophy degree from Harvard and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, although he later dropped out of the latter due to disagreements with his professor. Still, the studious Malick returned to the United States and began teaching philosophy at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), while also enrolling in a graduate film course at the American Film Institute. To finance his pursuit into film at the AFI, Malick contributed uncredited rewrites on the films Deadhead Miles (1972) and Dirty Harry (1971).
Upon completing his studies, Malick began production on his first film, Badlands (1973). Following two teenage criminals (played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) on the run in the Dakotas, the film was a loose re-telling of the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree from the 1950s. Made on a budget of less than $450,000, the film drew rave reviews and turned Malick into a filmmaker to watch.
Five years later, Malick returned with Days of Heaven (1978). Featuring Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as farm laborers in the Panhandle, the film was hailed for its lush cinematography and symbolic imagery. Days of Heaven cemented Malick as a unique filmmaker and storyteller who told his narrative and expressed emotions and themes through image and sound, rather than dialogue. Malick received the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the drama, which also took home a Best Cinematography Oscar.
Upon completing Days of Heaven, Malick took a nearly 20-year hiatus from filmmaking and moved to Paris to teach. In 1997, however, the reclusive director announced his return to American cinema with the World War II drama The Thin Red Line (1998). The film, based on the James Joyce novel about a legion of American soldiers during the Battle of Guadalcanal, boasted a large ensemble including Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody and Woody Harrelson. The Thin Red Line won the Golden Lion—the top award at the Berlin Film Festival—and also garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including two for Malick in the directing and adapted screenplay categories.
Following the success of The Thin Red Line, Malick seized an opportunity to finance The New World (2005), a script he had been developing since the 1970s. The New World, a dramatization of American colonization over Native Americans in the 17th century, focused mainly on Pocahontas and her relationships with John Smith (Colin Farrell) and John Rolfe (Christian Bale).
Malick's The Tree of Life (2011) is an audacious and visually breathtaking family drama starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn which won the Palme D'or, the coveted top prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. He also received a 2012 Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Directing.
His latest efforts include the drama Knight of Cups (2015) with Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, as well as the Austin, Texas-set ensemble drama Song to Song (2017).
Although responsible for a small body of work, Terrence Malick remains a towering presence in American cinema, and one of its most illuminating visionaries and storytellers.
Song to Song (2017)
Voyage of Time (2016)
Knight of Cups (2015)
To the Wonder (2012)
The Tree of Life (2011)
The New World (2005)
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Days of Heaven (1978)