In short, the idea of Malick as a mystic, swapping philosophical discourse for a mythopoesis in which things “make themselves manifest,” is the symmetrical counterpart to a reductive method that sees him as a purveyor of philosophical profundity in narrative form, a sort of modern-day Voltaire. And here we get to the crux. Although the emerging philosophical criticism has the potential to make good some of the promises (and redeem some of the failures) of High Theory, it can never do so if it simply quarries movies for exemplary narratives susceptible of moral evaluation, or for illustrations of arguments elaborated in canonical texts—still less, if it conflates movies with screenplays.10 If this is hardly news, still Malick’s fate is instructive.11 He may be the most academically-credentialed director in Hollywood history, and has come to function as a “best case” for the film-and-philosophy genre. Yet it is merely tendentious to assume that the director’s pedigree should guarantee the accessibility of his films to academic philosophy; after all, Malick quit the field. Acknowledging that fact entails getting beyond thematics and taking seriously the look and sound of his films—which has proved surprisingly difficult, as Critchley can attest. Conversely, an invocation of mysticism would amount to a cop-out, suggesting the existence of some determinate content that cannot be named—and so justifying the gnawing suspicion of certain critics (like Pauline Kael, David Thomson, and Dave Kehr) that Malick is, in the end, a bullshit artist.
more from Richard Neer at nonsite here.