“As you watch these passing scenes, how does it seem to you?” This epigraph aptly sets the tone for the experience of letting Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time” wash over you. It’s clear that our cinematic philosopher has clear ideas about what each image means and how camera movement, shot duration and musical accompaniment can enhance that visualization. But there’s a place for us in this film. Our observations and feelings count because humans, albeit for an exceedingly brief time, are a part of this story.
Malick does not merely explain or demonstrate the journey of the universe from Big Bang to apocalyptic death. He thematizes it, expanding on the creation sequences from his 2011 film “The Tree of Life” (some images look quite familiar) but reduces them to pure form. This elemental treatment of the material frees his aesthetic from narrative, which then allows it to function something like Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi” – a cinematic symphony playing in a heavenly chord.
Fans of Malick’s Texan opus will no doubt pick up on the director’s favored dialectic between the ways of nature and grace. Various stages depicted in “Voyage of Time” resemble the violence of the former and the gentleness of the latter. When humans make their appearance late in the film, his convenient gendering of the duality even resumes. Primitive early men are focused on hunting and killing, while women provide a nurturing alternative.
It’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of the firmament as ethereally envisioned by Malick and a battalion of special effects gurus. Yet he and cinematographer Paul Atkins place as much value on the slowly batting eyelashes of a small child as they do on the vast expansion of the universe. How does it seem to me? It seems as if we are not to lose sight of the importance of our own role in the voyage of time.
And the recurring motif of a child running around the low grass in undeveloped land behind a suburban office park only serves to further reinforce this notion. As she traipses about, weeds break up through old concrete slabs long since forgotten by the people who laid them. We are given but a small chance to leave our mark on this story – are we to treat the gift of our earth with violence or gentleness? B+ /