Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)
Director: Terrence Malick
Over the years, the name Terrence Malick has been associated with masterful yet divisive filmmaking. Not since his Tree of Life (2011) has Malick won the hearts of critics as his most recent films, including To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2015), have been received with a mix of disapproval, if not total indifference, from critics and simultaneous fervent defense by those who still admire and appreciate his vision. However, his latest is an entirely different affair. Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016) is not just another Malick production simply because it’s not a production at all; it’s a poem. Malick is finally free to speak and paint without the restraints of a screenplay, a narrative, the burden to satisfy the audience’s need for characters and plot. This film has been in production for over a decade due to Malick’s meticulous efforts to research, consult, and create exact and elegant shots of our universe. For the first time, Malick’s poetry is unleashed freely in beautifully constructed shots, ones we’ve always expected and enjoyed from him.
After watching the trailer, Voyage of Time might seem like Malick’s rendition of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) but about the universe instead of a young boy. After watching the film, that notion is shattered. Malick does not simply transcribe the birth of the universe and its life as it ages, instead he merges scenes of ineffable natural beauty with handheld footage of people from different cultures celebrating, protesting, begging, eating. The combination of wildlife nature and human nature composes an ode to the identity of our world. Nevertheless, this ode is not continually melodious and merry for at times it transforms into a somber song slowly surfacing from beneath the splendid scenery. This film will make you feel sad.
Embedded with Cate Blanchett’s voiceover as she calls out for “Mother,” lost and desperate, the film no longer provides us with gorgeous landscapes for the sake of art. It shows us the vast discrepancy between the flawlessness of nature and the cracks within the human ecosystem; two cultures eons away from each other yet coexisting on the same planet. The handheld footage brings humans into the picture through Hindu festivals, acts of civil disobedience, moments of humiliation; this is who we are. We are not majestic like the whales or powerful like lightning; we are broken smiles and repressed tears.
Yet Malick doesn’t want to dishearten us, he believes in us just as much as he does in the stars and the trees. He joins the two cultures by exposing their common key strength: they are unstoppable. When hungry, leopards attack their prey as do men who hunt for their tribes. When angry, volcanoes erupt relentlessly as do the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square. When passionate, waterfalls rush onwards as do the worshippers to their sanctuaries. Nature is unstoppable and so is the human race. Despite the differences between the purity with which humans interact and that of nature’s inexorable flowing life, we are made of the same stardust that makes us glorious and great. Such greatness is perfectly matched with a sensational classical score that can easily replace the voiceover without affecting the film.
Voyage of Time illustrates the might of the canyons and of the human will. The faces of scorpions and men may not look alike but their hearts beat together. This film will make you feel sad but it will also remind you that maybe you shouldn’t be.