Lightning in a Bottle

In Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) there is an image that no viewer can forget: as soldiers (engaging in the Battle of Guadalcanal of 1942-43) lie low in the grass, both the wind and the light change, sweeping across the field and transforming the scene in a way that no director could have premeditated or staged, and that no post-production team could have credibly faked. It’s a miracle of nature in all its unpredictability—the kind that sometimes arrives when, as Jean Renoir advised, you ‘leave a door open for chance to enter’. Commentators of a mystical bent go so far as to impute to this ‘sublime event’ in The Thin Red Line a sign of grace or guardianship from above—and an index of the director’s own deeply spiritual faith.

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Dr Adrian Martin is Adjunct Associate Professor in Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University. His latest book is Mise en scène and Film Style (Palgrave, 2014) and he co-edits LOLA.

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