Originally Posted by Bourne101
PTA may not have the distinguished career in philosophy that Malick has, but I think Malick has so little content around which to play with abstractly compared to PTA. I think PTA brings enough content to his films that there is room to explore things abstractly, even if he doesn't have the intellectual background that Malick has. I'm not necessarily against what Malick does, but I do think that his best film is his first film and that he hasn't shown a ton of growth since then. This is a problem for me, even if I'm a fan of some of his work. With Badlands he had the content around which to play with abstractly. With Days of Heaven, The New World, and, by the sounds of it, To the Wonder, I really don't think he had that content. These films largely consist of a mishmash of philosophical ramblings set against aesthetically pleasing images and generally uninteresting stories. I forget who said it (maybe Cop?), but he's ultimately kind of a hippy. I understand that he likes to find his films on set, but if you mix that with a bunch of random philosophical ideas conveyed through overwrought narration, there is a danger that you end up with a confused and unengaging film. Sometimes his style works (The Thin Red Line and, to a lesser extent, The Tree of Life) and sometimes it doesn't (Days of Heaven, The New World, possibly To the Wonder). He'll never make another film as good as Badlands, which was so assured and focused.
It's funny, I originally made an aside detailing exactly the point you're getting on, but cut it out of my post for concern of trailing too far off topic (viz. a controversial view of Malick). In the end I think Malick's best film is The Thin Red Line, his greatest mixture of content and abstraction, but the argument I made in the aside is that we can see a rapid decline starting with The New World in how interesting and rewarding his work is. Personally, I really disliked The Tree of Life, and it came at a time right after I had finished a degree in philosophy (with professors that knew him, and having written a thesis on his main topic of interest), so I cannot imagine being more primed or feasibly receptive as a viewer. The point I would then make, though, is that PTA is beginning to enter the same phase in his work if he continues overindulging his eccentricities, i.e. realizing the full abstract manifestation of what originally made his style interesting (though PTA is not beyond redemption). This is not unexpected; as a matter of fact what made PTA so far my favourite working director was that unlike all of his contemporaries, his cinema showed tremendous and interesting growth, and hadn't devolved into the apparently very appealing trap of the meta-asininity of pure concentrated personal style that seems to have destroyed his generation, i.e. Tarantino, Kevin Smith, etc., etc. (in addition to Malick)
However the only difference I wanted to point out -- and the point is certainly not as pretentious as I think it could come across as -- is that despite how excruciatingly horrible and boring The New World and The Tree of Life are on a cinematic level, one still gets the intellectual work of an incredibly talented philosophical mind, and those that I think are prone to being interested in mysticism get a sort of spiritual experience out of watching an occluded cinematic version of a complex philosophy. When PTA enters the same territory he suffers the same cinematic problems as Malick without the intellectualism to save the thing. This is certainly not a slight on his intellect, since Malick could very easily have been one of the top American intellectuals if he had maintained his path.