How Terrence Malick Wins at Existential Voiceover Narration
Terrence Malick is a polarizing figure in the filmmaking world.
Some laud him for his existential and introspective style of filmmaking, while others decry his recent films for lacking in narrative substance. Whatever your take on Malick, it's hard to deny that the man has a distinctive style that is uniquely his own. His films are often overflowing with gorgeous photography of the natural world, characters battling personal and existential crises, and of course, copious amounts of voiceover narration.
In a recent video essay, Scott Tobias and Kevin B. Lee explored the history and evolution of Terrence Malick's use of voiceover in his films, and the result is an intriguing look into the ways voiceover acting can have a profound impact on the content and ultimate meaning of your films.
Voiceovers have long been a tool employed by filmmakers in order to bridge gaps in the narrative or to take us inside the head of a certain character. However, Malick uses the voiceover in ways unlike any other filmmaker out there. Almost never does he use the technique to provide exposition or to explicitly tell us how a character is feeling in any given moment.
Instead, Malick uses the voiceover in order to give voice to the internal struggles and existential dilemmas of his characters. However abstract these voiceovers may seem, they more often than not provide instant and recognizable access to the challenging philosophical themes and questions that his films ponder. And that's where Malick's use of voiceovers can be considered brilliant. He uses them to instantaneously transport viewers to the heart of his films, and to ask questions that otherwise might not have been asked.
Are you a fan of Malick and his use of voiceovers? What are some of your favorite uses of voiceover throughout cinema history? Let us know down in the comments!