What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Lesson 8: Terrence Malick; What Is a Visual Ellipsis?

May 18, 2011, 9:44 AM

“Unless you love, your life will flash by.” These are the last words of the voice-over for Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life trailer. There isn’t much that distinguishes them from others appended to other posters for other movies, except that they carry the literary expectations we have for the person who chose them. Malick is our eyes’ Poet Laureate. His gift is making images from ideas; words are his back-up tools.

The new film (apparently booed in Cannes but who cares we love him anyway) stars Sean Penn, who also starred in Malick’s The Thin Red Line, too. A non-traditional “war story,” Line was an adaptation of James Jones’s novel. Here is the trailer.

Writing About War

Jones wrote beautifully and brutally, but what Malick did with his words was less an interpretation of a story than an interpretation of an idea; the idea in that case was war (the promise of the “idea” for the new film is evolution, and family). Spielberg chose the beaches, but Malick chose the jungle.

Jones wrote:

"When compared to the fact that he might very well be dead by this time tomorrow, whether he was courageous or not today was pointless, empty. When compared to the fact that he might be dead tomorrow, everything was pointless. It just didn't make any difference. It was pointless to the tree, it was pointless to every man in his outfit, pointless to everybody in the whole world. Who cared? It was not pointless only to him; and when he was dead, when he ceased to exist, it would be pointless to him too. More important: Not only would it be pointless, it would have been pointless all along. This was an obscure and rather difficult point to grasp. Understanding of it kept slipping in and out on the edges of his mind. It flickered, changing its time sense and tenses. At those moments when he understood it, it left him with a very hollow feeling."

Poets distill battles down to a few lines. Malick took a battle and drew it out—to a dream.

Ellipsis, Made Visual

Unless you love, your life will flash by is not Shakespeare. Malick’s films give meaning with very few words. The words are important, but the value is in the spaces between the words. It’s ellipsis, made visual. And visual ellipsis is an elegant metaphor for how many soldiers experience the memories of battle.



Lesson 8: Terrence Malick; ...

Newsletter: Share: