Everyone is searching for something – U2 told us so! But in Terrence Malick’s latest film, following Tree of Life and To the Wonder, he explores the life of a screenwriter named Rick (Christian Bale). Adrift and seeking purpose, Rick’s story may well be akin to Malick’s spiritual struggle, but this parable of sorts is more ‘everyman’ material.
Early on, we’re cleared into two things. One, Rick’s father once told him the story from The Acts of Thomas, a gnostic work, specifically “The Hymn of the Pearl.” Here, a king sends his son away on a quest for a pearl, but once the son arrives in the new world, he’s quickly drugged by the drink offered him – and he forgets. While some might literally grasp alcohol or drugs as the drink, but the truth is that Malick’s picture opens it up enough to apply itself to any of those things which distract us from our purpose.
The other thing Rick experiences is an earthquake. While it shakes things up literally, Rick is shaken by his understanding of the world around him and his place in it. Not all of the storyline is clear (okay, let’s be real, sometimes the narrative is absolutely opaque), but ultimately, it’s more about what Rick experiences than where he gets to. In fact, Bale’s character always seems to be walking – but wandering might be a better term – whether it’s through the city, by the sea, or in the literal wilderness.
In the end, audiences will have to determine whether they can relate to the Malick/Bale spiritual wandering, and whether or not Rick shows any growth that finds him where he needs to be. You can check out the special making of featurette, but Malick’s delivery will always err on the side of mysterious. It’s just the way it is.