Brow Beat

Name That Thistle: Terrence Malick Cutaway or Nature Documentary?

If director Terrence Malick is known for anything, it might be his underbrush. A filmmaker as given to considering the lilies of the field as the characters in his films, Malick has made movies—Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005)—that aren’t so much Hollywood features as nature documentaries that happen to be about people. Indeed, for years, little was known about his upcoming film The Tree of Life other than that it would likely contain a cutaway from Brad Pitt to a squirrel.


In Malick’s films, even the least of God’s creatures gets a little love from the camera. Here’s a short list of critters who have stolen screen time away from his human stars: rabbits, wild dogs, various lizards, cattle, freshwater trout, pheasants, raccoons, parrots, various insects, wild turkeys, and (in The Tree of Life) dinosaurs. As Observer film critic Jason Solomons tweeted when Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or, “Ironically, I think a Palme was the only bit of fauna and flora that wasn’t featured [in the film].”


While most filmmakers might not feel justified in lingering for nearly 30 seconds on a shot of waving wheat, we’d like to pay tribute to the man who did. So with all this in mind, we’ve drawn together the quiz below. Watch each clip—meditating on each beetle and blade of grass—and then ask yourself, “Is this a Terrence Malick film or a nature documentary?” (You can then highlight the space below each clip to see the answer.)


Clip #1 above is from: [    Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978)  ]

Clip #2 above is from: [       Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)      ]

Clip #3 above is from: [ Walon Green’s The Secret Life Of Plants (1979)]

Clip #4 above is from: [   Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005)  ]

Clip #5 above is from: [     Ken Burns’ The National Parks (2009)    ]

Clip #6 above is from: [        Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)      ]

Clip #7 above is from: [    PBS’s Nature: Birds of the Gods (2011)  ]

Clip #8 above is from: [  Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) ]

How did you do?  Let us know in the comments.