Terrence Frederick Malick (born November 30, 1943) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. In a career spanning over four decades, Malick has received consistent regard for his work, having to date directed only six feature films: Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), and the forthcoming To the Wonder (2012).
Malick was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director for The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life and Best Adapted Screenplay for The Thin Red Line, as well as winning the Golden Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival for The Thin Red Lineand the Palme d’Or at the 64th Cannes Film Festival for The Tree of Life.
Notoriously private, details about Malick are difficult to come by, his birthplace could be either Ottawa, Illinois or Waco, Texas, depending on which information you choose to believe. He is the son of Irene and Emil A. Malick, a geologist. Malick had two younger brothers: Chris and Larry. Larry Malick was a guitarist who went to study in Spain with the legendary Segovia in the late 1960’s. In 1968, it is alleged that Larry intentionally broke his own hands due to pressure over his musical studies. Emil went to Spain to help Larry, but Larry died shortly after, apparently committing suicide. Themes revisited by Malick in 2011.
Malick studied philosophy at Harvard University, graduating in 1965. He went on to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar but left without earning a doctorate. Upon returning to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist for Life, Newsweek and The New Yorker.
Malick’s start in film began after earning an Master of Fine Arts from the AFI Conservatory in 1969, writing and directing the short film Lanton Mills. At the AFI, he established contacts with longtime collaborator Jack Fisk, and agent Mike Medavoy, who procured for Malick freelance work revising scripts.
After one of his screenplays, Deadhead Miles, was made into what Paramount Pictures felt to be an unreleasable film, Malick decided to direct his own scripts. His first directorial work was the superlative Badlands (1973), an independent film starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a young couple on a crime spree in the 1950’s. After a troubled production, Badlands drew raves at its premiere at the New York Film Festival, leading to Warner Bros. Pictures buying distribution rights for three times its budget.
Paramount Pictures produced Malick’s second film, Days of Heaven (1978), about a love triangle that develops in the farm country of the Texas Panhandle in the early 20th century. The film spent two years in post-production, during which Malick and his crew experimented with unconventional editing and voice-over techniques. Days of Heaven went on to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, as well as the prize for Best Director at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.
Following the release of Days of Heaven, Malick began developing a project for Paramount, titled Q, that explored the origins of life on earth. During pre-production, he suddenly moved to Paris and disappeared from public view. During this time, he wrote a number of screenplays, including The English Speaker; adaptations of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose; a script about Jerry Lee Lewis; and continued work on the Q script. Malick’s work on Q eventually became the basis for his 2011 film The Tree of Life.
Twenty years after Days of Heaven, Malick returned to film directing in 1998 with The Thin Red Line (1998), a loose adaptation of the James Jones World War II novel of the same name, for which he gathered a large ensemble of famous stars. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and received critical acclaim.
After learning of Malick’s work on an article about Che Guevara during the 1960’s, Steven Soderbergh offered Malick the chance to write and direct a film about Guevara that he had been developing with Benicio del Toro. Malick accepted and produced a screenplay focused on Guevara’s failed revolution in Bolivia. After a year and a half, the financing had not come together entirely, and Malick was given the opportunity to direct The New World, another script he had begun developing in the 1970’s. Consequently, he left the Guevara project and Soderbergh went on to direct Che Parts 1 and 2.
The New World, which featured a romantic interpretation of the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, was released in 2005. Over one million feet of film was shot for the film, and three different cuts of varying length were released. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, but received generally mixed reviews during its theatrical run, though it has since been hailed as one of the best films of the decade.
Malick’s fifth feature, The Tree of Life, was filmed in Smithville, Texas, and elsewhere during 2008. Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, it is a family drama spanning multiple time periods and focuses on an individual’s reconciling love, mercy and beauty with the existence of sickness, suffering and death. It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it won the coveted Palme d’Or.
Malick’s sixth feature, titled To the Wonder, premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival where it garnered mixed reviews.
Malick’s next two projects are Lawless and Knight of Cups. Lawless stars Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Knight of Cups will star Bale, and will also feature Blanchett. The films are being shot back-to-back. In early 2012, the title “Lawless” was given to The Weinstein Company’s The Wettest County, leaving Malick’s Lawless untitled.