Ice Age – A History


The Ice Age film franchise follows the adventures of three mammalian friends: Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the giant ground sloth, and Diego the saber-toothed cat during the ice age. A passing knowledge of Earth’s history would inform the viewer that this is not meant to be an accurate representation of the real ice age that began over 2 million years ago. Normally, this could be seen as a criticism but to do so in this case would detract from the fact that these are animated, child-orientated films and to fault it for its lack of historical accuracy would be like calling a kid stupid for not knowing Mesozoic from Cenozoic.

Not wanting to find myself making children cry, I would default to my opinion that films are conduits for learning rather than to be taken verbatim as truth. If the Ice Age films made one child curious enough to look up mega fauna or geology then it’s done its job.

That said, as a learning experience for myself and as a road map to further understanding, I have taken it upon myself to break down different elements of the film and place them in their real geological and historical context.

Where are we?

The title gives away the fact that story take place during an ice age, more specifically the quaternary glaciation which began approximately 2.58 million years ago to this day, though we are currently in the inter-glacial period. While it may seem odd that we would consider our current era as an ice age, consider that during the cretaceous period global temperatures were on average 10 degrees Celsius warmer.

Some debate exists as to what kicked this off, whether it was orbital, atmospheric, geological, squirrel-rat induced; suffice to say that there was a lot of ice and it shaped the landscape through glaciers and other events.

Given that the ice began to retreat approximately 11 thousand years ago, we can hazard a guess that the Ice Age films take place between 2.5 million and 11 thousand years ago.

However, over the four films we are given conflicting information as to when during the quaternary glaciation the story takes place. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) seems to suggest that it was later in the ice age as things are well, melting. This would put it closer to the 11 thousand years ago mark.

But, with Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), we get another geological milestone when Scrat appears to induce the separation of Pangea, the massive super continent that formed around 300 million years ago.


Pangea gradually separated and is regarded to have ceased existence as a super continent around 200 million years ago. If we were to assume that a saber-toothed squirrel accidentally caused the separation of Pangea then either Scrat can travel back in time or the film takes place over 200 million years before the current ice age.

But, Scrat may actually give us the most accurate way to date the story. In Ice Age (2002), Scrat is frozen in a block of ice and is set adrift. The film indicates that 20,000 years later he washes up onto a desert island. We cannot really use the coconut palm on the island to indicate a time period as fossil records show coconuts developed anywhere from 37 to 55 million years ago, but the climate does seem to indicate that it is closer to the climate we have today. So, that would date the story to around 20 thousand years ago, around 9 thousand years before the beginning of the Holocene period and the beginning of the inter-glacial period.


Looking at the fauna in the films is a useful exercise to show both the range of animals that have existed and when some may have coexisted with one another.

The three main mammal species actually overlap in their existence and location. Megalonyx, giant ground sloths, existed between 10.3 million years ago to 11,000 years ago. Mammoths existed from around 5 million years ago to 4,500 years ago. Smilodons, saber-toothed cats, existed between 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. Additionally, all three animals also lived in present day North America, which is useful for the largely North American voice cast.

Humans, or at the very least the homo genus, existed in unison with the quaternary glaciation which would include the last 2.58 million years to today. So yes, humans did coexist with mammoths, sloths and smilodons (and may have in fact been partially responsible for their extinctions); though this factoids is fairly obvious when you look at cave paintings.

It is also interesting that Manny and Diego are appropriately proportioned but Sid is strangely tiny for his species. Giant ground sloths were very, very large, in some species almost twice the height of a human. Sid is comically shown to be smaller than adult humans, but I guess having him tower over everything would detract from his wacky antics.


Even within the context of the story, the film takes some liberties with where exactly they are within the ice age time scale. Manny the mammoth is under the impression he is one of the last of his species (he isn’t but there don’t seem to be many around), which would suggest they are closer to the end of their existence which would put it out of the range of his sloth and saber-toothed compatriots who died out around 5000 years earlier.

More confusingly, in Ice Age (2002) Sid is attacked by two brontops, real animals but they existed between 38 to 33.9 million years ago, missing the very existence of giant ground sloths by over 20 million years.

These issues are nothing when compared to the third instalment, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) which suggests that mammals, humans and dinosaurs coexisted.

For the pedantic, technically this is true as the clade dinosauria extends to its evolutionary descendants which include present day birds. The more general term of dinosaur, however, tends to mean big reptiles with claws and teeth, you know, the ones we see in the movie Jurassic Park (1993) (itself a problematic title).

Dinosaurs and some small mammals did coexist, with the mammals that survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event going on to evolve into the mammals we have today, including us.

However, and I cannot stress this enough: dinosaurs did not coexist with humans and/or large mammals.

The central dinosaur in Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the tyrannosaurus which exited during the Cretaceous period, the last period to have large reptiles before the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. While the film tries to depict the dinosaurs as having survived in a pocket of jungle, it doesn’t take away from the fact dinosaurs went extinct around 63 million years before the Ice Age story takes place. And this is troubling as they appeared to have survived without any new evolutionary adaptations, except maybe the development of cuteness. Then again, they are in an enclave and may have had no environmental pressures pushing for a need to adapt.


Furthermore, given that they did go extinct almost a literal era ago, it seems unusual that they would be describing their discovery as a dawn. “Dusk” may be dower for children but the sad reality is that all of these adorable creatures are now extinct. Suck it up kids.

Within this film itself we see numerous dinosaurs, but their coexistence is problematic as they all existed at different points of the Mesozoic era. For many people, the terms Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous are well known as periods within the Mesozoic era, the era when reptiles “ruled” the Earth.

It may be easy to lump all dinosaurs together as an amorphous group but the reality is that the Mesozoic era spans nearly 200 million years. So, with that in mind, here is a list of dinosaurs that appear in the film and when and where they existed.


Essentially, these dinosaurs lived across a historical period of 127 million years, and while there is some overlap, they did not all live together, at the same time, in the same location. For example, Brachiosaurs died out 86 million years before Tyrannosaurs existed, and while a majority lived in what is now known as North America, many others lived in Asia and Europe.


Human artifacts appear throughout the series usually as cute jokes but a quick-fire number of shots during Scrat’s splitting of Pangea humorously suggests the origins of some of our most famous human-created monuments.


The Great Sphinx of Giza is the largest monolith statue in the world and was created by the Pharaoh Khafra between 2558-2532 BC, or around 4500 years ago. Humorously, as like the real Sphinx, Scrat-phinx loses its nose. A low-ball estimate of the Ice Age story taking place 11,000 years ago puts the Scrat-phinx about 5000 years before Ancient Egypt civilization, or just before most human civilization for that matter.


Moai, colloquially known as the “Easter Island heads” were created by the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island around 1250 to 1500 years ago. Aside from being way beyond the possible existence of any of the main characters in the Ice Age stories, the carvings are regarded as the last vestiges of this civilization before their collapse.


The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a granite carving in the side of Mount Rushmore in Keystone National Park in South Dakota, United States of America. The sculpture was created by Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum between 1927 and 1941. The four presidents depicted, Scrat Washington, Scrat Jefferson, Scrat Rooservelt and Scrat Lincoln were actually meant to be depicted head to toe but lack of funding forced construction to cease early.

It goes without saying that since these sculptures were created within the lifetime of people alive today, so we cannot really expect to see mammoths during the last century.

Life imitating Art

Nonetheless, if there is something that can be learnt about art is that it can often be accidentally prescient. Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel whose name is a portmanteau of squirrel and rat, is not a real animal but recent fossils have discovered an extinct species which has a passing resemblance to our acorn-phillic friend. Cronopio was named in 2011 and looks like a rat with large teeth.


That said, it existed approximately 99.6 to 96 million years ago; right there with the dinosaurs but nowhere near the other mammals in the Ice Age films. Nor does it have a bushy tail, but instead a thin rat-like one. It also does not appear to be an ancestor to either rats or squirrels; instead it may be a precursor to modern day monotremes like koalas and kangaroos.

Yes, it would seem that Ice Age takes some considerable liberties with geological history. But at the same time its about a group of talking animals so lets not take it too seriously. Contrary to what it seems, this essay is less of a rebuke than it is an opportunity to learn about random bits of history.


X-Men: Days of Future Rectified – A Grand Theory to Explain the X-Men Film Franchise

*spoilers for all X-Men films*


The Internet film geek community is not one to shy away from a good dose of snark. In the case of X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014), the revelation that time travel would play an integral part in the plot had many quip that this would be a great opportunity to “prevent” X-Men 3: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009) from ever happening.

Though a large degree of this animosity was due to the quality of those films (or lack thereof), part of this anger was directed towards the damage they did to the franchise canon.

There is evidence that an attempt was made to nullify some of these criticisms by having both Jean Grey and Scott Summers reappear at the end of DoFP. See guys, they aren’t dead at all, let’s just forget that Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns instead of preventing the third film from going off the rails.

But, that aside, the franchise appears to be riddled with giant plot holes and continuity issues. Does that mean the seven X-Men films are an incongruous mess? Surprisingly, no!

Even after seven films and five different directors over the course of 14 years, there is a way that these films can coexist in the same universe.

What follows is my grand theory: A theory which attempts to bring together the all of the X-Men films into one “consistent” timeline, and hopefully explain away some of these larger plot holes.

Ground Rules

A couple of things need to be established in order to make this theory work:

1)      Alternate timelines can exist.

In the case of the X-Men universe, there are three separate timelines that appear to exist, branching off after significant events occur.

2)      We subscribe to the “stone in a stream” theory that Beast gave in DoFP.

When their attempts to stop Raven/Mystique seem to fail, Beast postulates that maybe there is no way to stop Mystique from getting captured. Or even if they do, it is inevitable that the Sentinels will be created and the world plunged into war because that is the intended flow of the universe. Of course, this does not happen, but it does suggest that even in different timelines, quantum forces draw characters together resulting in similar, though not exactly the same, events.

An example from another film is Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009) where despite the fact history has been irrevocably changed due to Nero going back in time and destroying the Kelvin, the core crew of the Enterprise still somehow end up on the same ship at the same time.

Different timelines

X-Franchise Theory

There are three separate timelines in the X-Men film universe:

a)      The “original” timeline:

The “original” timeline encompasses events that take place in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000), X2 (Bryan Singer, 2003), and X-Men 3: The Last Stand. This timeline terminates with the third film in the trilogy.

b)      The “dystopian” timeline:

The “dystopian” timeline branch off from the original timeline and includes: X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011), The Wolverine (James Mangold, 2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past.

c)      The “corrected” timeline

After Raven chooses not to kill Bolivar Trask, a new timeline is formed which nullifies the dystopian timeline. This includes anything after the point Raven walks away from the White House lawn, when she rescues Logan/Wolverine, and when Logan wakes up to find everyone alive in the school.

The first divergence

The original timeline starts in 1845 when a young Logan and Victor Creed flee after the accidental death of their paternal father. We are then treated to a montage of their involvement of several wars: the American Civil War, World War 1, World War 2 and the Vietnam War. Presumably during this period a young Erik Lensherr is imprisoned in a German camp in 1944, and a young Charles Xavier lives in Westchester County, New York.

The divergence occurs when Raven Darkholme breaks into Xavier’s home and tries to steal some food. My theory is that in the original timeline, Raven breaks into the home but does not get caught, or, does not break into the house at all. Either way, she never meets Xavier. This is supported by the fact at no point during the original trilogy of films did Xavier or Mystique (as she would later rename herself) ever hint that they were essentially adopted sibling.


It is important to establish the impact of the relationship between Xavier and Raven. This is the first original scene we are treated to in First Class (aside from Lensherr’s metal bending in the camp which is shot for shot taken from the original X-Men film). This is the story categorically stating that it would be taking a completely different trajectory to the other films.

Raven’s importance only grows. Xavier admits that he is unable to read her mind and has never been able to even when she was a child. Xavier’s neglect of her is what pushes her toward Lensherr, where she becomes radicalised and wants to take out Trask.

DoFP concretely establishes that Raven’s killing of Trask and her capture are what lead to the creation of the evolved Sentinels. And, after she disables Lensherr, it is established that it is her choice to not kill Trask that prevents the dystopian timeline from being created. Raven is, in fact, the central character of this arc.

So by meeting Xavier the divergent, dystopian timeline was created.

Further proving that this is an alternate timeline are the events of First Class which provides us with a completely different set of events leading up to, during, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. In ‘real’ history the blockade holds, while in First Class the mutants have commandeered the ship, ran the blockade, Xavier destroys the ship, Magneto raises the submarine… you get the picture.

This highlights to the humans the extent of the mutant threat much earlier in history, creating a ripple effect that pushes human and mutant history down a far darker path. In X-Men, the mutant threat only seems to be an issue much later, after the turn of the century.

The second divergence

Trask is assassinated, the Sentinel program continues with Raven’s body providing them with the means to make far more terrifying weapons.

Much further into the future the events of The Wolverine take place: Logan visits Japan to meet Yashida and defeats the Silver Samurai.

In the intervening time, during this dystopian universe, a few things happen which are similar to the original timeline, but a few things do not happen.

a)      Jean Grey dies.

Likely in events similar to The Last Stand, Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix and Logan is forced to kill her. We know this because he has flashbacks to those events and her death. I mention this to indicate that The Wolverine, according to my theory, does not follow The Last Stand.

b)      Professor Xavier does not die.

This is a tricky one, but this does explain why Xavier appears as Patrick Stewart at the end of The Wolverine, and NOT the coma patient he moved his consciousness into at the end of The Last Stand. It may be the wrong assumption to think that The Wolverine comes after the Last Stand, rather, it comes after events similar to The Last Stand. Why is Logan surprised to see Xavier at the end? Not really sure, maybe he was just surprised to see Xavier with Magneto, or he had faked his death to go into hiding after he realised the war with the Sentinels is coming.

What we can definitively say is that Xavier and Magneto have recognised the threat Trask Industries pose and are recruiting Logan for the inevitable war. We even see a Trask Industries advertisement in the airport.

The Sentinels rise up and nearly wipe out the mutant race and their human compatriots. During this period Kitty Pryde discovers that she has the ability to send someone’s consciousness back in time to change the course of history.


The X-Men use this to send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973, to prevent what they believe was the point this dystopian timeline was created: Raven killing Trask and getting captured.

They do so, and Raven chooses not to kill Trask, thus creating a third timeline.

The “corrected” timeline

We see little of the corrected timeline but we can imply certain events. First we see Raven walking away from the White House choosing not to kill Trask. She then disguises herself as Stryker and rescues Logan. The newspaper indicates that the Sentinel program is dismissed and Trask has been arrested.


Wolverine wakes up in the corrected future, in Xavier’s school. The war never took place and as a bonus, we can infer that a considerable chunk of what happened in the original trilogy also didn’t happen, such as the deaths of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Characters that were presumed dead in the dystopian timeline are alive, such as McCoy/Beast (who Logan said did not make it) and Ororo Munroe/Storm (who we see get killed by a Sentinel).

Between Logan getting rescued and when he wakes up, we are to assume that Xavier fulfilled Logan’s plea to establish the school and unite the X-Men.

We can also postulate some alternate events took place, the biggest of which is that Wolverine in the corrected timeline never got an adamantium skeleton or lost his memory.

William Stryker was responsible for creating Wolverines metal claws and skeleton. As DoFP shows, Raven is the one who rescues Logan from the lake, in his most vulnerable state. We are to think that had Stryker been the actual person rescuing the unconscious Logan, he would have then conducted Weapon X experiments with adamantium and given him the metal claws he is famous for.

Given Raven’s change of heart, it seems improbable that she would have let Logan undergo the same fate as her compatriots who were experimented on by Trask. Also, given that Xavier knows that Logan exists and promised to unite them; it seems doubly improbable that he would not come looking for him after escaping from the White House (I mean, he does have Cerebro).

So what does that mean? It means that Logan never lost his memory as he never underwent the procedure or was shot in the head with an adamantium bullet. When he wakes up, we do not see his metal claws so we could infer that he never went through the procedure. But the best piece of evidence seems to be that when Logan wakes up, Xavier says that he is a history teacher at the school.

This seems like a strange career choice for Wolverine given that he is traditionally thought to have lost his memory sometime in the 70s. But if he never lost his memory, he would be a GREAT history teacher because he was actually there. I mean, he went through all those wars, he has firsthand accounts of the battles; he would be an awesome teacher of modern American history.

How this alleviates some massive plot holes

Much has been made of the large plot holes that have developed over the seven films, and some of them seem unable to be rectified. But if you have three timelines, we might actually be able to.

a)      How does Xavier (as Patrick Stewart) appear to be walking at the end of Origins when he was paralysed in 1962, 17 years before the events of Origins.

There is an inevitability to Xavier getting paralysed as part of the stream theory, meaning he would be paralysed in any timeline just in different ways. So in the original timeline he was paralysed sometime after 1979, but before meeting Jean Grey for the first time (as we see him in a wheel chair in The Last Stand flashback).

Clearly in the dystopian timeline this happens much earlier, when Magneto accidently deflects a bullet into Xavier’s back during the Cuban Missile crisis. And this plays towards the idea of a “darker” timeline as it leads to Raven leaving him, failing to establish the school, the disbanding of the X-Men, and his spiral into depression and a drug habit. In particular, unable to guide Raven she eventually assassinates Trask.

b)      How does Emma Frost appear in Origins as Silver Fox’s sister, but then appear as a standalone character in First Class.

Although there are some retroactive attempts to explain that the Emma with diamond skin in Origins wasn’t THE Emma Frost, for the sake of argument let’s say she was. This follows close to the idea of characters will exist in different timelines but are shaped differently due to different histories. In this case, Frost could very well have been Silver Fox’s sister in the original timeline, though in the dystopian timeline she was a stand alone character.

c)      Moira McTaggert was a CIA operative in First Class, but a doctor in The Last Stand. Toad appears as different people at different times between X-Men and DoFP, or Bolivar Trask is different between The Last Stand and DoFP

Again, as with Emma Frost, the same characters shaped differently by the different events in the alternate timelines.

d)      Who built Cerebro? In First Class McCoy had built it independent of Xavier while in the original trilogy Xavier explained he built it with Magneto.

Easily explained by the separate timelines; maybe McCoy never got around to developing a device that became Cerebro in the original timeline, or maybe independent of McCoy, Magneto and Xavier made their own.

e)      Wolverine seemingly remembers events from his past (World War 2 Japanese prisoner of war camp) even though he should have lost his memory.

The dystopian timeline skips the events after the 1940’s, so how Wolverine became coated in adamantium and his claws is up in the air. I would postulate that the procedure may still have taken place, but maybe he was never shot with adamantium bullets causing his amnesia.

Some problems with this theory

This is not a theory without holes. The first major problem is that within DoFP, they seem to undercut their own story. When Xavier explains what happened to Raven they indicate that Trask was her first kill. They also explain she was immediately captured and experimented on. However, strangely, Logan mutters that that was not the last time she killed. This appears to be an attempt to bridge the character of Raven of First Class with the Mystique of the original trilogy where she is a ruthless killer. But in DoFP we are clearly told that she is immediately captured, experimented on, killed and dissected. This seems like an unfortunate piece of dialogue that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make sense within the film let alone the theory I have just outlined.

There are other plot holes in the story that aren’t entirely resolved:

a)      Hank McCoy turns blue in First Class, in X2 he had a cameo and was not blue, then he was back to being blue in The Last Stand.

This is a difficult one to answer given that in the dystopian timeline McCoy had invented a cure, while in the original timeline it was not invented until The Last Stand. So we can’t really explain why McCoy was not blue in X2, though a weak argument could be made that he invented a temporary cure while Warren Worthington III had created a permanent cure. But that’s a bit of a stretch.

b)      Sabertooth is Wolverine’s half brother in Origins but does not indicate he even recognises Logan in X-Men,

Yes, this is one of the big ones. Not really any way to get around this if I include Origins as part of the original timeline. Though just because Sabertooth doesn’t recognise him doesn’t mean he isn’t his brother, maybe he’s not much of a talker. Or maybe Victor also lost his memory…

c)      Strange disparities in character ages

Bleah, I am just assuming that no one on the set of most of these films had a calculator or abacus, because there is no way some of these actors can be playing the same character. I mean, Raven is the same age as Xavier and Magneto but Rebecca Romajin is much younger than either of them, though they try to explain it away that her powers mean she ages slower. So there, mutant X gene, or something.

I am not suggesting that this is the definitive and official explanation of the X-Men franchise, or an Easter Egg of some sort. But there is enough meat to recontextualise the series to even out some of the more glaring issues. It is clear that a lot of what I have described is implied, such as Wolverine not gaining adamantium or Xavier not dying in the alternate timelines. However, as an exercise we may now be able to rest a little easier with the franchise, comfortable that it sort of makes sense in a ugly patchwork quilt kind of way.

At least until X-Men: Apocalypse comes out and ruins everything.

Special thanks to J. Loi for helping me neaten my timeline image, visit his YouTube channel at

For more of my film related work visit

Follow me on twitter @teaandamovie, or on LetterBoxd.


Divergent, posters, women and the male gaze


Daredevil 300 GI Joe

On Stranger Tides The Avengers

The Dark Knight Rises GI Joe Retaliation Thor The Dark World

Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014)

Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003), 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Stephen Sommers, 2009), Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall, 2011), The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012, Empire Magazine cover), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Jon M. Chu, 2013), Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013).

With the release of the latest Divergent poster we again step into the wider discussion about the male gaze through the feminist lens. In this case, Divergent’s theme of empowerment and individuality against the backdrop of a totalitarian society seems to be undercut by your female protagonist’s posterior facing the camera.

Laura Mulvey introduced the idea of the male gaze in 1975 in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The viewing lens is traditionally a heterosexual male. As a result, the female character is passive, usually the object of male viewing, unbeknownst to the viewer, which lends a voyeuristic tone.

The female body is for the pleasure of men, and the image decidedly focuses on them as an erotic object. The characters do not look back at the viewer, instead they are looking away, as if inviting a male to gaze upon them.

This is a particularly prominent image in advertising, and in many cases it is these ads that stand diametrically opposed to the ideas in the film is trying to put forward. We like to think of contemporary films as being more equal. We point out that Joss Whedon directing The Avengers is a good thing given his history of portraying strong female characters with agency. This may be true given that most of the characters above are warriors, self sufficient and capable women. But Hollywood is dominated by men (all of these films were directed by men), and the audience for these kinds of films are traditionally male, and cynically the marketing is going to sell to this demographic.

So for now, we will have to expect more of these types of posters. But in the meantime, thanks to Kevin Bolk for visually realising the The Avengers male cast in Black Widow’s pose.



For daily posts on film and television comparisons go to




Terrence Malick

The term Malickian tends to be associated with footage or stills which appear to be copying the style of Terrence Malick. For this analysis we will be breaking down the main elements to Malick’s style, citing examples from his filmography.

Over his career Malick has focused strongly on the dichotomy of man and nature. His films often bridges these two concepts, usually pairing man with destruction and nature with beauty. In The Thin Red Line this is defined as the split between the jungles of Guadalcanal and the battles of World War 2. In The New World the native American Indians are in symbiosis with nature compared to the colonists who only seem capable of destroying the land. In The Tree of Life, nature and grace are dichotomously introduced as a choice for Jack to choose between his father who is Darwinian and his mother who is ephemeral.

Fire and Water

Malick has represented the man and nature with fire and water respectively. For a fantastic visualisation of this, check out this video by Kogonada. Interestingly, Kogonada has also noticed that the balance has shifted over his career, noticeably leaning more towards water than fire. This is particularly noticeable in To The Wonder (2012) which has no fire, but a lot of water (Malick still shows negative impact man has on nature through the contamination of soil and water).

The reason for this shift may be a move towards less narrative film making and aiming for more ephemeral themes like life and love. Regardless of the reason, it is clear that this symbolic use of imagery is present in his films, below in The Thin Red Line and The New World:





But he uses both images jointly, below in The New World and The Tree Of Life: 




Aside from fire and water, images of nature are incorporated consistently in his film. The American country is a location used heavily, from Badlands, Days of Heaven and To The Wonder. But there are two seminal shots which are often referred to as Malickian, the upward shot of a forest with sunlight bleeding through the canopy (The Thin Red Line, The Tree Of Life and To The Wonder respectively):




Grass in the wind (The Thin Red Line , The New World and To The Wonder respectively):




And as mentioned before, flowing water (The New World, The Tree Of Life andTo The Wonder respectively):




Cinematography and the visual pallet Malick employs focuses heavily on nature and other films that use it extensively run the risk (either positively or negatively) of being described as derivative.

Camera and Framing

At times, but not always, Malick employs a naturalistic, documentary style of camera positioning. His camera appears to follow the characters as they go about their routine unbeknownst to its presence. The camera does not really spend much time on the tripod, usually beholden to the freedom given to the actor. In particular, he has a tendency of framing characters running away from the camera (First two are from The Tree Of Life and the bottom two from To The Wonder):





And under water (The Thin Red LineThe New WorldThe Tree Of Life and To The Wonder respectively):






Malick is just as famous for his use of narration. However, Malick’s use of narration does not tend to deliver exposition but provides ethereal, whispered internal monologues.

Badlands Movie Poster



Malick consistently uses orchestral or choir music. The Tree of Life trailer prominently uses both Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau and Patrick Cassidy’sFuneral March. In the trailer for The Thin Red Line, both instrumental and choir versions of the Melanesian Choir’s Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi are used. As such, pairing any of the images cited above with majestic music invokes Malick. Notice in particular the transition to Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong in The Thin Red Line trailer with a shot of a forest canopy (Time: 2.02):


An assortment of these elements is usually what brings out substantively the concept of being Malickian. To demonstrate this I will use two case examples of when the term Malickian could be, or has been used. Also look for my visual comparison between the trailer of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) by David Lowery which takes many elements from Malick’s films.

Malickian Case Study: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (John Hillcoat, 2007)

The opening of Jesse James provides strikes a strong Malickian chord:

The narration strikes a distinctly poetic tone, in particular the lines:

Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified

The opening is accompanied by the beautiful score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. This hems closely to Malick’s use of music.

The cinematography has a distinctly Malickian feel, with the location the American country side and the utilisation of grass:



trees and canopies:


and this striking image of a field ablaze:



which seems to have been lifted from Days of Heaven.

This mix of cinematography, images, music and narration easily draws parallels with Malick’s style.

Case Study: Man Of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)

Man of Steel

The teaser for Man of Steel was a shock to film fans as it departed widely from Snyder’s auteur bag; steering clear of speed ramping, glorified violence and eclectic use of music and instead cites Malick’s style.

As a case example we will take the teaser (there are two versions, with voice over by either Jor El and Pa Kent, but the footage is the same) and the first feature trailer. Both trailers hit on every element mentioned above, and is the reason why the trailer was described (in a positive way) as Malickian. The film-going community had cynically written off Snyder’s style, usually describing his career trajectory as a downward line from the heights of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and300 (2006) (though it has its vehement detractors too), to the maligned Sucker Punch (2011).

The Man of Steel teaser opens with water washing over a rock:


With a section from the Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring original soundtrack The Bridge of Khazad Dum by Howard Shore (Time: 4.40).

As the trailer continues we hear the narration of either Pa Kent or Jor-El, over a young Clark Kent running from the camera, in grass:


With another shot of a butterfly stuck in a chain, a butterfly also appears in The Tree of Life:



In the first theatrical trailer, the opening shot is a perfect marriage of two of Malick’s elemental themes: Fire and Water, with the bonus of a person in water:



Clearly reminiscent of the underwater shots used by Malick, the image of the drowning child in The Tree Of Life is the most strikingly similar:


Again, beautiful music, Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy. The trailers stark departure from Snyder’s signature style was startling. Snyder is known for taking on other directors style, and the first trailers for Man Of Steel seemed to be following in Malick’s footsteps.


Antonioi’s L’Eclisse, Malick’s To The Wonder: love, discontent and modernity



“I feel like I’m in a foreign country” “Funny, that’s how I feel around you”

Vittoria and Piero, L’Eclisse

Antonioni’s “discontent” trilogy ends with the 1962 film “L’eclisse” (Eclipse), which in turn ends with a very artsy but seminal seven minute montage. The scene, the street corner of Rome’s EUR district where the two lovers promised to meet, is shown through the course of the day. The lovers fail to make this rendezvous, and life goes on unperturbed.

Antonioni adds several flourishes, specifically a barrel filled with water. This is where the lovers meet and flirt, and in moments of casual restlessness, throw rubbish into the water. Now, with the passion gone, the barrel leaks water across the pathway and into the gutter. The water ebbs away in the same way the fickle passion in their relationship has disappeared.

These seven minutes abandon the films narrative and flicks between discordant images of modernist architecture, a bus dropping off passengers and a plane leaving a contrail in the sky.



In my initial viewing it is this shot, of the plane leaving a scar against the clear sky, that stuck with me. It reminded me, as is the way my brain functions when I watch films, of To the Wonder, Terrence Malick’s 2013 film. Malick had a similar shot, this time over Oklahoma, and is one of many which echoes Antonioni’s film.



This initial superficial connection gave way to larger thematic similarities. Both films feature people in somewhat fleeting love affairs, and more importantly, both feature the concept of discontent. Not just discontent with each other, but marking the clash between the classic and the modern.



A.O. Scott of the New York Times asks rhetorically, why are people that are so well off so unhappy, when discussing Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura.

And this may seem flippant but it cuts to the core of L’eclisse. In the first scene, Claudia cannot verbalise why she is leaving her lover, only that she must. But it is clear from their actions that modernity, a nebulous but ubiquitous concept, is at play, especially when Claudia opens the window to reveal the gaudy piece of modernist architecture, the mushroom shaped water tower.


This ugly edifice looms over the pair as the stroll through their neighbourhood one last time together. The EUR district of Rome was flooded with modernist architecture, which rubbed against the existing classical structures. Antonioni is showing in his last seven minutes that these structures impermanence and flare is reflected in our protagonists.

In To the Wonder, Neil is traveling through Europe when he meets Marina, who lives in Paris with her daughter.Together they visit Mont Saint-Michel, a commune in Normandy.


Marina agrees to move to Oklahoma, but it is clear that Marina is not comfortable in her new surroundings. This is particular striking when you compare the drab neighbourhood, with row after row of identical housing units, with the sublime beauty of Mont Saint-Michel, and Paris in general. Eventually, Marina leaves and returns to Paris.



Vittoria’s new love affair with Piero, though passionate, is also fraught with the existing issues that plagued Vittoria’s previous relationship: apathy and emptiness. Their end is telegraphed, not too subtly in one of their first meetings, again depicting the jarring intrusion of modernity in the lives of our protagonists:


What Antonioni is saying about love is similar to what Malick is saying, using the cinematic language to identify the modern idea of fleeting love based on superficial longing, can be doomed. And it is particularly interesting that these films would be discussing the same themes 40 years a part.


The New York Times Critics Pick, A.O. Scott

Indiewire’s The Essential: Michelangelo Antonioni

Criterion Collection, Jonathan Rosenbaum A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni’s E’clisse