Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Essence of Film

Roger Ebert, discussing Terence Malick's new film, gets at the essence of what distinguishes a great film from a bad one:

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer "to" anyone or anything, but prayer "about" everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.

This might seem esoteric, but the greatness of film lies not in its escapism, though escapism is entirely legitimate, but in its ability to absorb us in new universes. And this is regardless of genre: whether we are in the spaceship in Solaris, bowling with the Dude and Walter, in the dressing room in All About Eve, or wandering through the tropical forest between battles in Malick's own The Thin Red Line.