In his 1966 “Memorial Address,” German philosopher Martin Heidegger stated that “man today is in flight from thinking.” By “thinking” he did not mean computation, or what he calls “calculative thought,” but “meditative thinking,” which is an “openness to the mystery.” Identifying the special nature of man as a meditative being, Heidegger believed our greatest task in this thoughtless age was “keeping meditative thinking alive.” No one does this better through film than former Heideggerian scholar, now filmmaker, Terrence Malick.
American film is often associated with thoughtlessness. As part of the entertainment industry, movies are becoming theme park extensions rather than art. But Malick’s movies are different. He has elevated film beyond mere entertainment, showing how it can be a medium of contemplation and wonder, instilling in audiences a meditative spirit ready to welcome the Lord and become “hearers of the Word.”
In the address mentioned above, Heidegger states that man tends to flee meditative thinking because it is hard and demanding. Calculative thinking is more comfortable for us, because its clarity and distinctness make us feel like we’re the masters and commanders of our lives and the world. Through technology, we have constructed an artificial world that perpetuates and reinforces this lie of self-sufficiency and disconnection from reality. But such a lie does not gel with our nature. To be fully human is to be open to the mystery at the heart of the world. Malick’s films help people do that. His films are exercises in meditative thinking, and by watching them, we learn how it is done.