Dear Thin Red Line,
Where do I begin?
I suppose it could be the time that we first met. I was 13. You were recorded from HBO onto a battered VHS tape. Two hours later I was in tears for the first time ever from a movie. Later, as your credits rolled I knew that I had found my way from the wilderness of simple movies into the wide, sparkling utopia of cinema.
Then there was the time I finally bought you for myself in DVD form. I brought you home from the SunCoast and threw you into the DVD player. Your power, your entrancing and bewitching power, remained untarnished by the passage of time.
Since those days I have brought you with me from college to my current domicile. Everywhere I go you follow, and every time I watch you the same aspects that I first fell in love with only deepen and grow. At the same time, new and wonderful pieces of your incomprehensibly gorgeous whole rise to the surface. And now, the Criterion Collection has seen fit to bring you to me in a glorious new edition, and my love burns all the more brightly once again.
The Thin Red Line, our love is like a fine wine in value, complexity, and fulfillment.
Yet you seem so simple and ordinary on the surface. The tale of a company, C for Charlie, being deployed onto Guadalcanal in order to take an airstrip from the Japanese during World War II. An ensemble piece populated by stars and character actors both big and small. There are many like you, Thin Red Line, but unlike the rest you transcend the earthly shackles of your genre to become something wholly new.
What possible reason could there be for your ascension into the ranks of rarefied perfection in my eyes? Is it that fact that you were the first movie made by Terrance Malick in over twenty years? Truly his print of existential musing and naturalistic wonder is firmly impressed upon you. It is perhaps him alone who could have taken a war movie of such sweep and bombast and still somehow turned it into a meditative treatise on the very nature of man and war. Many have tried to make this conceit work, but only he, with his focus on the wars within nature as well as the wars of man, enunciated this idea so articulately.
Even deeper still is your photography by John Toll, whose camera sweeps with such ease and grace over the tall grass of that island paradise, finding now and then the huddled shapes of the terrified soldiers within. This majesty, of course, is aided by the surprisingly low-key music composed by Hans Zimmer.
But no, Thin Red Line. I think that my true affection for you comes in the form of your cast of characters. There are too many to be named individually, so many in fact that I still to this day forget the breadth of your cast until another famous face appears on the screen. As a physical presence, each actor imbibes his character with their own specific stance. Be it timidity and worry, machismo, daunted professionalism, or downright fear, these men could almost be distinguished by their physical reactions alone, no names or faces needed.
Added to this fealty of character is the haunted and transcendent voice overs that seem to well up from a place of poetry beyond diagetic speech. In these stream of consciousness voice overs – in some cases married with soundless images of their civilians lives – we find the true heart of each man.
This, I think, Thin Red Line, is the source of your enduring place in my heart. You are, in my eyes, the perfect coming together of ethereal beauty, and enduring human truth. You are gorgeous to look at, yet capable of inspiring a depth of thought that most movies can only hope to lifelessly pantomime.
From televised copy, to single disc first edition, to your current Blu-Ray Criterion edition and beyond, I look forward to growing old with you and coming to find the even further beauties you hold.
With enduring affection,
Brian J. Roan