aleph beth null’s review published on Letterboxd:
profoundly biblical, and not always obviously so. malick mixes eschatological dialogue, a plague of locusts, a mosaic origin story, and an indirectly retributive inferno into a sister-wife variation on the ruth-boaz romance, bathed in liminal light, the golden hour’s, not quite day and not quite night, as teeming with possibility as any supposed binary from genesis 1. (god may have made day and night, but god defines day by evening and morning—the thresholds, the margins. can you tell where land ends and sea begins, o mortal, when the tide’s so eager to wash away your mark? did you shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when god made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling-band; did you prescribe bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and say, “thus far shall you come, and no further, and here shall your proud waves be stopped!”? surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!)
but malick’s not content to let this melting pot simmer in critique of protestant american ethics and the spirit of capitalism. this is just as concerned with and perceptive of abuse dynamics as badlands was. there’s no love triangle here, and forget the trappings of the ruth-boaz texture: this isn’t even a romance. more than that, though: even malick’s fierce indictment of both bill and the farmer in defence of abby is peripheral to the story being told. watch how every character from that ‘love triangle’ exits the narrative, two deaths one train ride, and we’re left with linda. linda, whom you just might have forgotten to care about; linda, stuck in the margins of this story, but who’s been narrating this whole time, because she’s telling her story. (don’t forget that badlands was holly’s story, not kit’s.) how does her story end? that’s a fair question, right? her brother’s dead, her sister-in-law’s gone. she’s not just seen but experienced this whole narrative, not completely but much more than you might think. she’s maisie farange turned nick carraway. in the midst of all her thoughts about the end of the world, you could say her world’s ended. you could say.
but this isn’t the end of her story, because malick is literally god and that final shot is the most perfect ever put to film. yes yes yes it’s obscenely gorgeous & perfectly composed but also listen to linda, really really listen: she’s just begun narrating the next chapter. growing up in such an unsafe & precarious situation hasn’t defined her or wrecked her for life; she’s completely capable, more than capable, of enjoying herself and caring for a new friend, even letting her come close. every fatalistic narrative you might want to impose on her is defied, explicitly: sure, she’s following the train tracks, but she’s not on rails! she walks. she skips! she continues to narrate her life, in past tense, with happiness, and malick, to drive the point home, fades away from her almost mid-paragraph with credits. watch how quickly they appear, how they break the scene’s rhythm—she’s not done talking, not by a long shot. her road goes ever on and on down from the town where it began. we’ve just been watching a little prolegomenon. it won’t define her forever.
and, completely honestly, i’ve never ever seen anything like this. malick pulls the film through itself, klein bottle style, by cutting to credits. i could feel the film’s entire thematic lens blur out of focus and resolve in a completely different perspective—the only time i’ve ever felt any thematic shift so strongly, and it hit me as strongly as depersonalisation and repersonalisation. it’s a total cinematic miracle in celebration of survivors, and i will watch it every moment i can for the rest of my life. god bless linda, god bless holly, god save every maisie farange: those sentences, lovelies, won’t be constrained to the roof of your mouth forever.