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Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody


A piece on Terrence Malick’s latest film To the Wonder appeared shortly after its release this April at New York Magazine‘s online site Vulture. Nothing about the title of the piece need grab you at first engagement—though “Radiant Zigzag Becoming: How Terrence Malick and His Team Constructed To the Wonder” is elegiac and ponderous and a bit of a mouthful, not unlike the reputation of Malick’s oeuvre. What ends up fascinating in this article—besides lines we like such as, “the film has struck some as a particularly Malick-y Terrence Malick film”—is the breakdown of that radiant zigzag becoming, which the writer traces to a scholarly introduction penned for an edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, a tawdry Stockholm Syndrome-done-good epistolary novel that shocked and awed its eighteenth-century readers. The Intro was written by our own Margaret A. Doody, the John and Barbara Glynn Family Professor of Literature at Notre Dame and a specialist in Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature.

The relevant connection to Doody’s work?

One odd but telling reference point Malick gave his editors was Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to the Penguin Books edition of Samuel Richardson’s revolutionary 1740 novel Pamela. In the intro, Doody discusses the fact that Richardson’s novel, which unfolds as a series of letters, presents an internalized narrative that appears, on the surface, to lack any and all artifice. “He loves the formless, the radiant zigzag becoming,” Doody writes, and the phrase “radiant zigzag becoming” soon became an unofficial motto for the film, representing its constant sense of movement and the fact that the characters’ relationships seem to always be in flux.

For less radiant zigzag becoming and more screwball ancient whodunit, stay tuned for Doody’s Aristotle Detective novels this spring. Until then, more info about the series can be found here.

(H/T Alan Thomas via Margaret Doody via Fred Rush)