The beginning of Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey asks, “Do you wonder too?” And then – an image of a young girl walking in grass, her attitude curious, playful, and nonchalant. With his latest film, Terrence Malick invites audiences to marvel in wonder at not just the universe, but also its cinematic representation.
Presented in IMAX Ultra-Widescreen focus, cut of the narration and trimmed to 45 minutes, this version of the film purports to be the one closest to what Malick intended for audiences; a “purely experimental film.” To describe what that means begins with describing it as an experience. Of course, all cinematic adventures are experiences, but Voyage of Time differentiates itself by embodying the physical act of movie going and the psychic relationship between the audience and screen; a reflective meditation of thoughts.
Admittedly, these physical and psychic effects begin before the film starts. Standing in line for the screening, one could feel a certain restlessness in the air emanating from the crowd — the excitement of seeing a new Malick film (one which has become exceedingly rare to catch outside of festival circuits). Dziga Vertov captured this atmosphere nearly a century ago in The Man with a Movie Camera. Curtains rise, seats recline and audience members rush in to the theater. Cinema may have arguably been a more grand experience during Vertov’s era, but the passion of the enthralled audience remains to this day. Still, Voyage of Time transcends its art-house hype factor and offers a genuine cinematic experience both worth watching and discussing.
With his nature documentary, Malick returns to familiar scenes recognizable in their similarity to those in The Tree of Life (2011). The clap of thunder, the rumbling of a volcano, the coalescing and explosion of galaxies — these moments in nature are felt in the body, with the IMAX presentation causing overwhelming vibrations to reflect the film’s grandiosity. The visual aspect of the images conjure elegance in their composition, coloring and — perhaps most notably — the choreography.
Malick directs with a mercurial effort, displaying movements of nature as a ballet of creation and life afterwards. The camera spins underwater, travelling to the surface where it then becomes an eye — that familiar Malick image — which reveals itself to be yet another galaxy, this time of microbes. And then, another explosion and more transformations.
While the music lends Voyage of Time a sense of gusto and other emotional bearings, the film still presents a challenge in the interpretation of its images, caused in large part from the lack of voice-over. Malick’s surprises aren’t exhaustive so much as they are efforts to jostle audiences from a state of comfort, and to think whether that reflection centers on the nihilistic insignificance of humanity or the beauty to be found in humanity’s relatively short existence.
As a “purely experimental film,” Voyage of Time is ultimately an extreme, sensory experience. In turn, the film offers a rare cinematic experience filled with forefront curiosity, forged in classic Malick style.
Anthony Dominguez (@Dmngzzz) is an English/Film graduate from SUNY at Albany. His interests in cinema lie in independent and foreign films, as these works are less likely to be covered and consequently more likely to be forgotten. Anthony wishes to preserve their importance through his writing so others may discover these films.