The Thin Red Line (1998)

Just caught this for a second time, and there are so many things to talk about in such a beautiful and complex film. However, it struck me this time what an incredible meditation this is on the beauty of the divine seen in and through the world. And while many would want to see the beauty in the gorgeous landscapes that Malick paints with his camera, what is most striking to me about the film is how it forces us to consider the witness of the horrors of war to the same glorious divine. After all the suffering, killing, and blood-curdling screaming, the men leave the island. And as they look back on it, in the distance, we hear the final narration: “Oh, my soul, let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes, look out at the things you’ve made. All things shining.”

The things that have been made by their creator, they shine. And what we see in this film, it seems to me, is the tension created when one witnesses that shining in all things, even in the most dire of circumstances. To me, that film portrays a disturbing truth about reality, and maybe even about God: that even in the midst of terrible evils, the creation (including humanity) shines, it reflects his glory – even as we kill and maim our fellow man. But how can we see glory in something as painful and disturbing as war? This gets to the heart of what might be the greatest problem for humans in all of history to deal with – the problem of evil. As portrayed in this film, evil is definitely evil, but the glory shines through it as well. A line by Witt (Jim Caviezel) earlier in the film states this more clearly: “One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there’s nothing but unanswered pain. That death’s got the final word, it’s laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it.”

Whenever I reflect on these topics, I return to a quotation by C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, which is a series of journal entries around the time his wife, Joy, succumbed to cancer. His words express my own middling position on all this. He says: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

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