How We Remember

Gilberto Perez writes about the films of Terrence Malick

The family is moving out of town, and as the car drives away the mother looks back at the house they’re leaving behind. ‘The only way to be happy is to love,’ she says in voiceover. ‘Unless you love … your life will flash by.’ We cut to her point of view and, through the car’s rear window, see the pale green two-storey house receding down the quiet street. Then, unpredictably, we cut to a shot from inside the empty house: through the middle of three tall bay windows, past a green tree overhanging the road, the car can be seen disappearing into the distance. The home returns the mother’s gaze; in a kind of shot/ reverse shot, the glance of farewell is reciprocal. This occurs towards the end of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), which centres on a family in a Texas town in the 1950s. The use of voiceover is characteristic of Malick – no other filmmaker has been so devoted to the device. Also typical is the personified yet unascribed perspective, the sense we get in the empty house of seeing through the eyes of someone unseen, some house spirit watching the car go.

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