Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick Biography

Terrence Frederick Malick (born November 30, 1943) is an American film director, screenwriter and producer. In a career spanning over four decades, he has directed eight feature films, with an additional film currently in post-production. Malick has received consistent praise for his work and is regarded as one of the greatest living filmmakers, with particular praise usually directed toward his imagery and philosophical themes.

Malick made his directorial debut with the drama Badlands (1973), about a young couple on a crime spree in the 1950s Midwest, loosely based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather. His second film, Days of Heaven (1978), set in 1916 in the Texas Panhandle, follows a farm laborer who becomes caught in a love triangle. Days of Heaven went on to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and Best Director, at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. Both films are often ranked among the best of the 1970s, with Badlands considered one of the best directorial debuts since Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941). After the release of Days of Heaven, Malick took a long hiatus from filmmaking.

Malick returned to cinema with The Thin Red Line (1998), a critically acclaimed epic war film set during World War II. The film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won the Golden Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival. His follow-up to The Thin Red Line was The New World (2005), a romantic historical drama depicting the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement, focusing mostly on the life of Pocahontas and her relationship with Captain John Smith and John Rolfe. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, but received generally mixed reviews during its theatrical run. It has since been hailed by many critics as one of the best films of the decade.

His fifth film, The Tree of Life (2011), is an experimental drama that observes a 1950s Texas family through a fragmented visual style and nonlinear narrative that also depicts the beginning and end of the universe. Although initial reviews were polarized, many critics and scholars now consider the film a masterpiece and has been often listed as one of the greatest films of the 21st century and of all-time. The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. One year later came To the Wonder (2012), a semi-autobiographical experimental romantic drama, which received mixed reviews at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, although went on to win the SIGNIS Award at the same festival. His latest film, Knight of Cups (2015), is about a Los Angeles screenwriter trying to find his place in the world. Some critics and scholars have argued that these latest three films form a sort of trilogy of films all loosely based on Malick's own life and experiences.

Early life

Terrence Malick was born in Ottawa, Illinois. He is the son of Irene (ne Thompson; 1912-2011) and Emil A. Malick (1917-2013), a geologist. His paternal grandparents were Assyrian Christian immigrants from Syria and Lebanon. Malick attended St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, while his family lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Malick had two younger brothers: Chris and Larry. Larry Malick was a guitarist who went to study in Spain with Andrs Segovia in the late 1960s. In 1968, Larry intentionally broke his own hands due to pressure over his musical studies. Their father Emil went to Spain to help Larry, but his son died shortly after, apparently committing suicide. The early death of Malick's younger brother has been explored and referenced in his films The Tree of Life, and to a lesser extent in Knight of Cups.

Malick received a A.B. in philosophy from Harvard College, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965. He did graduate work at Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. After a disagreement with his tutor, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Malick left Oxford without a degree. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick's translation of Heidegger's Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons.

After returning to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist. He wrote articles for Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Life.

Film career

Malick started his film career after earning an MFA from the AFI Conservatory in 1969, directing the short film Lanton Mills. At the AFI, he established contacts with people such as actor Jack Nicholson, longtime collaborator Jack Fisk, and agent Mike Medavoy, who procured for Malick freelance work revising scripts. He wrote an early uncredited draft of Dirty Harry (1971), and he is credited with the screenplay for Pocket Money (1972).

After one of his screenplays, Deadhead Miles, was made into what Paramount Pictures believed was an unreleasable film, Malick decided to direct his own scripts. His first work was Badlands (1973), an independent film starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a young couple on a crime spree in the 1950s Midwest. It was influenced by the crimes of convicted teenaged spree killer Charles Starkweather. After a troubled production, Badlands drew raves at its premiere at the New York Film Festival, leading to Warner Bros. buying distribution rights for three times its budget.

Paramount Pictures produced Malick's second film, Days of Heaven (1978), about a love triangle that develops in the farm country of the Texas Panhandle in the early 20th century. The film spent two years in post-production, during which Malick and his crew experimented with unconventional editing and voice-over techniques. Days of Heaven went on to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, as well as the prize for Best Director at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.

Following the release of Days of Heaven, Malick began developing a project for Paramount, titled Q, that explored the origins of life on earth. During pre-production, he suddenly moved to Paris and disappeared from public view for years. During this time, he wrote a number of screenplays, including The English Speaker, about Josef Breuer's analysis of Anna O.; adaptations of Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer and Larry McMurtry's The Desert Rose; a script about Jerry Lee Lewis; and a stage adaptation of Sansho the Bailiff, which was to be directed by Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, in addition to continuing work on the Q script. Malick's work on Q eventually became the basis for his 2011 film, The Tree of Life. Longtime production designer on Malick's films Jack Fisk says that he was shooting film during this time as well.

Twenty years after Days of Heaven, Malick returned to film directing in 1998 with The Thin Red Line, a loose adaptation of the James Jones World War II novel of the same name, for which he gathered a large ensemble of famous stars. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, won the Golden Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival, and received critical acclaim.

After learning of Malick's work on an article about Che Guevara during the 1960s, Steven Soderbergh offered Malick the chance to write and direct a film about Guevara that he had been developing with Benicio del Toro. Malick accepted and produced a screenplay focused on Guevara's failed revolution in Bolivia. After a year and a half, the financing had not come together entirely, and Malick was given the opportunity to direct The New World, a script he had begun developing in the 1970s. He left the Guevara project in March 2004. Soderbergh directed Che (2008).The New World, which featured a romantic interpretation of the story of John Smith and Pocahontas in the Virginia Colony, was released in 2005. Over one million feet of film was shot, and three different cuts of varying length were released. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, but received generally mixed reviews during its theatrical run. It has since been hailed as one of the best films of the decade. Malick's fifth feature, The Tree of Life, was filmed in Smithville, Texas, and elsewhere during 2008. Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn, it is a family drama spanning multiple time periods; it focuses on an individual's reconciling love, mercy and beauty with the existence of illness, suffering and death. It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d'Or. It also won the FIPRESCI Award for the Best Film of the Year. At the 84th Academy Awards, it was nominated for three awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director for Malick, and Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki. A limited theatrical release in the United States began on May 27, 2011.

Malick's sixth feature, titled To the Wonder, was shot predominately in Bartlesville, Oklahoma; a few scenes were filmed in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. The film premiered at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. It is described in the program notes as "an exploration of love in its many forms". The film stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, and Javier Bardem.

On November 1, 2011, Filmnation Entertainment announced international sales for Malick's next two projects: Lawless and Knight of Cups. Lawless would star Ryan Gosling, with a supporting cast including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Haley Bennett. Knight of Cups would star Bale, and also feature Blanchett, along with Isabel Lucas. The films were shot back-to-back in 2012. Knight of Cups has been considered more divisive than The Tree of Life and To the Wonder and Malick's most experimental film yet.

During the weekend of September 16, 2011, Malick was photographed and caught on film while on set for one of the first times ever, while he and a small crew were following Christian Bale and Haley Bennett around the Austin City Limits Music Festival as part of preliminary shooting for Lawless. He was also seen directing Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara at the Fun Fun Fun Fest on the weekend on November 4, 2011. In early 2012, the title Lawless was given to The Weinstein Company's Lawless, leaving Malick's project untitled. It was announced in March 2015 that the film's new title was Weightless. Malick was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in June 2012.

Concurrent with these two features, Malick has been working on an IMAX documentary, titled Voyage of Time. The Hollywood Reporter described it as "a celebration of the Earth, displaying the whole of time, from the birth of the universe to its final collapse." The film expands on the footage that special effects luminaries Douglas Trumbull (2001) and Dan Glass (The Matrix) created for The Tree of Life. Brad Pitt was signed to do the narration. Footage from the film was screened for investors at the Cannes Film Festival and world sales rights were later picked up by The Wild Bunch. A 2016 release date was announced.

Personal life

Malick is famously protective of his private life. His contracts stipulate that his likeness may not be used for promotional purposes, and he routinely declines requests for interviews.

From 1970 to 1976, Malick was married to Jill Jakes. His companion afterward in the late 1970s was director and screenwriter Michie Gleason. In 1985 in France, he married Michle Marie Morette, whom he met in Paris in 1980; in 1996, Malick asked for a divorce, which was granted. Afterward he married Alexandra "Ecky" Wallace, his high-school sweetheart. Malick's relationship with Michle Marie Morette and Alexandra Wallace was explored in the semi-autobiographical To the Wonder (2012).

As of at least 2011, Malick resides in Austin, Texas.


Year Film Functioned as Notes
Director Producer Writer Composer Actor
1969 Lanton Mills Student short film. Role: Tilman
1971 Dirty Harry Uncredited early draft
Drive, He Said Uncredited draft
1972 Deadhead Miles
Pocket Money Role: Workman (uncredited)
1973 Badlands Role: Caller at Rich Man's House (uncredited) Awarded the Golden Seashell at the 1974 San Sebastin International Film Festival

1974 The Gravy Train Under the pseudonym David Whitney
1978 Days of Heaven Awarded the Best Director Award at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival
Role: Worker (uncredited)
1998 The Thin Red Line Awarded the Golden Bear at the 1999 Berlin Film Festival
1999 Endurance
2000 The Endurance Executive producer
Happy Times Executive producer
2002 Bear's Kiss Uncredited original story
2004 The Beautiful Country
2005 The New World
2006 Amazing Grace
2007 The Unforseen Executive producer
2011 The Tree of Life Awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival
Awarded the FIPRESCI Award for the Best Film of the Year
2012 To the Wonder Awarded the SIGNIS Award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival
2013 Red Wing Executive producer
2014 The Better Angels
2015 Crocodile Gennadiy Executive producer
Knight of Cups
2016 The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry Executive producer
Weightless Completed
Voyage of Time Post-production

Awards and nominations

Award Year Project Category Result
Academy Awards 1999 The Thin Red Line Best Director
Best Adapted Screenplay
2012 The Tree of Life Best Director
Berlin International Film Festival 1999 The Thin Red Line Golden Bear
Cannes Film Festival 1979 Days of Heaven Best Director Award
Palme d'Or
2011 The Tree of Life Palme d'Or
Csar Awards 1999 The Thin Red Line Best Foreign Film
Chicago Film Critics Association 1998 The Thin Red Line Best Director
2011 The Tree of Life Best Director
Best Original Screenplay
Golden Globe Awards 1979 Days of Heaven Best Director


  • Malick, Terrence. Days of Heaven, Registered with the Writers Guild of America, April 14, 1976; revised June 2, 1976.

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