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The guide to the mysterious Terrence Malick

A still from "The Tree of Life"

A still from "The Tree of Life" Credit: A still from "The Tree of Life"

The release of a Terrence Malick movie is like a rare eclipse: It barely ever happens, so when it does, the film community takes note.

“The Tree of Life,” the latest flick by the reclusive Austin-based filmmaker, has been eagerly anticipated for years. Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, it’s just Malick’s fifth movie in a career that began with “Badlands” in 1973.

An ambitious and meditative poem that melds the story of a young boy growing up in Waco, Texas, during the ’50s with the origin of the universe, “The Tree of Life” finally hits theaters on Friday after winning the top prize at the recently completed Cannes Film Festival. We help you get up to speed on all things Malick:

Prior films

Malick’s “Badlands” (1973), the story of young criminals played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, and “Days of Heaven” (1978), the portrait of a Texas Panhandle-set love triangle, are standouts of the ’70s New Hollywood period. For complicated reasons, the 67-year-old didn’t return to directing until the 1998 WWII drama “The Thin Red Line,” which he followed up with “The New World” (2005), about John Smith and Pocahontas.

Natural beauty

The Oscar nominee has developed a patient, painterly visual style and has a strong affinity for images drawn from the natural world. His overall approach emphasizes the beauty found in stillness.

Malick’s work defies the simplistic, narrative-driven approach of standard cinematic fare. His movies are unlike anything you’ve seen, but worth taking a viewing gamble on.

Man of mystery

Malick, famously press-shy, hasn’t given an interview since 1973. He never makes the usual Hollywood festival/screening rounds and didn’t even show up at Cannes. Few pictures of the man exist. Why? We’ll probably never know.

Critical darling

If there’s one thing Malick’s career proves, it’s this: Ignore the film press and they’ll love you anyway. Each of his films has earned considerable adulation. He has a sizable fan base of critics and film buffs who’d surely love to hear from him sometime.

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