Voyage of Time Review

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Voyage of time is a montage of footage concerning the creation of the universe, the evolution of life on earth and the early days of man. This journey through time is intercut with scenes of modern day poverty. The film is narrated by Cate Blanchett who addresses a character named “mother” and talks of this “mother’s” increasingly noticeable absence.

As with all recent Terence Malick films I can’t help but feel I’m missing the point. Some of these sequences are truly beautiful. I was particularly taken with the shots of volcanic activity meant to represent the early forming of the earth. Lava flows just below the earth’s crust, metamorphic rock spews forth beneath the sea and bright red fire blasts against the ashen black skies. It’s quite beautiful and terrifying; it just doesn’t feel like it’s part of a narrative or signifying anything other than the aesthetic.

The impoverished people whom are revisited throughout the film are both the victims of mankind’s malice and neglect but are also the proponents of it as we see them brutally slaughter cattle in the street, allowing their animals to limp around with their throats cut. The distance Malick keeps from his subjects restricts our ability to emphasise with them.

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The most obvious comparison to make here is with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. Reggio depicted the titular “life out of balance” by contrasting shots of the majesty of nature with terrifying footage of the cruelty of man and the impersonal nature of modern life. All set to the startling and hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Phillip Glass. Reggio’s film has no narration but the intention is clear.

Blanchett’s narration does nothing to illuminate what it is we’re meant to be observing in this footage. Who is mother? Clearly some kind of creator but what does the narrator mean by saying she has gone silent. Has mankind lost its relationship with the creator? Is mankind to be contrasted against nature? Mankind hacking the cattle to death is treated just as passively as a school of fish being preyed upon by swordfish and birds. Is the film a critique of modern life or human nature? If so, then I’m not too sorry to say that Reggio has done it first and better. Perhaps the point is that mankind is merely an extension of nature and therefore as susceptible to random acts of destruction. A film that is open to interpretation is a good thing, but here I am simply unmoved to build any interpretation of the admittedly beautiful footage.

You can, however, be assured of some stunning footage of nature and similar special effects work as seen in the Tree of Life depicting the creation and formation of the universe. See it if you’re happy to watch a David Attenborough documentary without the insight.

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