Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick Biography

Screenwriter, Actor, Filmmaker (1943–)
Terrence Malick is a critically acclaimed American film director who films include: Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life.


Terrence Malick was born on November 20, 1943 in Ottawa, Illinois. After graduating from Harvard and studying abroad as a Rhodes Scholar, Malick enrolled at the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Studies. His debut film as director, Badlands, was critically acclaimed and established his reputation as a careful visual craftsmen whose work captured the splendor of nature. His other films include The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life.

Early Life

A brilliant yet somewhat mysterious filmmaker, Terrence Malick has received extensive praise for his innovative and imaginative movies, but he himself stays away from the media spotlight. Born in Ottawa, Illinois, on November 20, 1943, Malick grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. His father worked as an executive in the oil industry. As a young man, Malick was a bright student. He graduated from Harvard University in 1966 with a degree in philosophy. He went to continue his studies abroad as a Rhodes scholar, attending Magdalen College in Oxford, England.

Malick worked as a freelance journalist and as a philosophy professor before discovering his interest in film. In 1969, he enrolled at the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Studies in Los Angeles, California. Malick made his first film—a short entitled Landon Mills—as a student there.

Film Career

To support himself while he studied his craft, Malick worked as a screenwriter. He reportedly worked on the script for 1971's Drive, He Said, but his first major screenplay credit came the following year with Pocket Money. Malick wrote this western comedy, which was based on the J.P.S. Brown novel Jim Kane.

In 1973, Malick made an impressive debut as a feature film director and screenwriter with the crime drama Badlands. The critically acclaimed film, starring Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen, was based in part on the murders committed by Caril Ann Fugate and Charles Starkweather in the late 1950s. Audiences would have to wait five years for Malick's next project Days of Heaven.

Days of Heaven stars Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard. The trio's characters are involved in a love triangle, and the film is largely set on a Texas farm in the early 20th century. With its rich and compelling visuals, it is no wonder that critic Roger Ebert described it as "one of the most beautiful films ever made." Malick earned much praise for the film and even picked up a Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Unfortunately, movie audiences were less enthusiastic about Days of Heaven, and the film did poorly at the box office. Moving to France, Malick retreated from filmmaking for nearly two decades after this disappointment. He made an impressive return with the war drama The Thin Red Line in 1998. This adaptation of a James Jones novel featured Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn and Nick Nolte, and Malick used his trademark impressionistic style to tell this tale. For his work, he received two Academy Award nominations—one for his screenplay and the other for directing.

Malick went on to tackle early American history with 2005's The New World, exploring the lives of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. Starring Q'orianka Kilcher, Colin Farrell and Christian Bale, the film received warm reviews.

Recent Projects

With 2011's The Tree of Life, Malick delivered a fascinating cinematic experience. Much of the film centers on a Texas family in the 1950s. In the film, Brad Pitt plays the father and Jessica Chastain plays the mother; their characters have very different ideologies, and their son, Jack, is caught between these clashing and contradictory philosophies. This very human story is mixed with an exploration of larger themes. As Justin Chang described it in Variety, Tree of Life is "a transfixing odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination on the earth's origins." While some derided the project for being too pretentious or abstract, the movie won the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Malick also picked up his second Academy Award nomination for best director for the project.

Following Tree of Life, Malick began working on a number of new projects. His romantic drama To the Wonder with Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams debuted at several film festivals in 2012, receiving mixed reviews. Around the same time, he completed filming on another drama with Christian Bale and Natalie Portman, Knight of Cups. Additionally, tackling a more philosophical project, Malick worked with Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson on the film Voyage of Time.

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