The Otherworldly Soundscape of Terrence Malick
How the Palme d’Or winning filmmaker’s sound design creates an equally elliptical experience as his visuals.
When one thinks of the sounds that fill the worlds of Terrence Malick, the thoughts inevitably land on his seemingly patented and ultra-recognizable voiceovers. In a 2001 article, Joan McGettigan calls attention to the subjectivity of the narration, which “makes us suspect that we have not in fact seen as much as we should, or that at least we have not seen what the voiceover narrators have seen.” That is plain to hear, but what could be easily missed is the way the sounds emitted by natural elements are paramount in the creation of a world larger than the frame.
You can often hear the sounds of birds chirping and tree leaves rustling, when neither are in the frame. Take The Tree of Life, for example, when Brad Pitt’s character leans closer to the pavement of an airstrip, Malick magnifies the sound of a church bell chime. In the next shot, Jessica Chastain hears it too, while lying in bed. Where does the sound come from and who of the two can actually hear it? Does it even exist inside the world of the movie, or is Malick creating it just for us? Here are the elliptical sounds of Terrence Malick.