To The Wonder

Oh, they’re in love. Terribly, terribly in love. They’re that gross couple you roll your eyes at because they think they’re the first ones to be so over the moon with each other. Ugh.

To-the-WonderThe movie opens with obligatory montage of just how very happy Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) are. It reminds me a bit of a french, pretentious (redundant?) version of how Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind begins, which immediately makes me feel like this won’t end well. Marina and her daughter move from Paris to Oklahoma and for some reason nobody suspects that this will be a jarring downgrade. I visited both within 2 months ago and yeah, not comparable no matter how much Affleck peen you’re getting. The only thing worse than her syrupy narration is his whispery one. Careful you don’t strain your eyes from rolling them deep backward into the dark recesses of your brain.

And then she burns the dinner! Oh, should I have said: spoiler aleart! Spoiler alert, the reality of every day life together starts to cool their ardour a bit. And the further apart they drift, the more she turns toward fellow exile and Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) and he gravitates toward an old flame (Rachel McAdams).

Is now a good time to mention that this is a Terrence Malick film? It was released just a year after Tree of Life (only his 6th feature in 40 years) and is also semi-autobiographical, the first of his films to be set entirely in modern day. There was no script, just pages and pages of thoughts. The actors were simply told to play the emotions without speaking and while there’s plenty of voice over, there is hardly any dialogue.

What can I say about Terrence Malick other than he’s a polarizing film maker. He’s certainly a visionary but critics can’t seem to agree if he’s  a genius or a bit of a dullard. When it played at the Venice Film Festival, it was met with both boos and cheers.

Malick must commit tonnes of footage to film. In post-production he creates and hacks in equal measure, sometimes losing entire characters (Kurylenko made him promise that Marina would remail in the film, but supporting roles featuring Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Michael Shannon all ended up on the editing room floor). His imagery is beautiful, and this particular cake is frosted with generous dollops of religion. He’s exploring love in different ways and settings. This isn’t a narrative, it isn’t a story, it’s more a philosophical treatise on love. If you know Malick, then you’re used to the stylistic montages, though this one feels more fragmentary than most.

tothewonder22Just between you and me, I think Malick’s movies are getting increasingly masturbatory as we go along. He loves his long, meandering shots, and who cares whether they’re actually pertinent to the “plot”? Plot? Hahaha. Plot. Is this meditation or pretension? There’s a lot here that can be only experienced intuitively, which makes it quite demanding of its viewer.

This was the very last movie review that Roger Ebert submitted before his death; it was published posthumously 2 days later. Ebert was in his last days and must have known it (have you seen Life Itself?). His reading of the film is a rather spiritual one:

“A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear. Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.

“Well,” I asked myself, “why not?” Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.”

 

 

35 thoughts on “To The Wonder

  1. Sean

    I fell asleep for almost the whole of Tree of Life. To The Wonder sounds like it might also make me snooze. Great review though, it makes me appreciate Terrence Malick and be glad he’s doing his own thing, while also affirming I probably will never actually enjoy anything he ever makes.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jay Post author

      Nope, and he doesn’t care if you do either!
      To The Wonder made something like half a million in box office while costing probably 30 or so to make.
      But the best art never appeals to the masses. Only average art appeals to average people 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Chris

    Tree of Life and To The Wonder are like fire and ice to me. I love the former which floored me both visually and emotionally. To The Wonder left me cold and felt like a rehash of visuals ideas.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Ashley Lily Scarlett

      I totally agree. I’m a great fan of Terrence Malick and I’ve watched Tree of Life countless times with much pleasure but To the Wonder I found very disappointing. Tiresome, in fact. Nevertheless, I think Mr Malick is one of the greats. I’ve seen all his films except for Days of Heaven, and To the Wonder is the only one I haven’t enjoyed.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Jay Post author

        He seems to have gained momentum lately, having made so few up until Tree of Life, and now working quite steadily.

        Like

    2. Jay Post author

      It’s crazy that they can have such opposite effects but doesn’t surprise me because like I said, this guy is very polarizing.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Khalid

    I really don’t like the path Malick has gone down since Tree of Life. His films have become far too meandering and don’t even hold a light to some of his earlier work like Badlands and Days of Heaven.
    Not surprised to see those actors didn’t make the cut. Apparently Martin Sheen, Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thorton, Viggo Mortensen and Gary Oldman suffered the same fate on The Thin Red Line.

    Like

    Reply
  4. movierob

    Badlands is the only Malick film Ive enjoyed, the others have just bored me because he doesn’t try to tell a story, but rather wants to visually wow us with scenes not necessarily relevant to the story itself. HATED HATED Tree of Life and have little desire to see this one based solely on that

    Like

    Reply
  5. Brittani

    I have a problem enjoying Terrence Malick films. I give him credit, he has a very specific, fly on the wall dreamlike way of filming things, but I fall into the camp of “most of his films are kind of aimless and boring.” I absolutely hated Tree of Life. The film of his I like the most is New World and I’m not sure if I really liked it at all. lol

    I wish I liked his films better, I do. I keep trying them despite having the same reaction almost every time.

    Like

    Reply
  6. reocochran

    I like artsy fartsy movies especially with character development. I would wait to get this Terence Malick, “To the Wonder.” Then, if alone, I may fast forward through some of the slower parts. Like a great book, people “skim” the details sometimes.

    I know it is not Malick film; instead is Richard Linklater who directed “Boyhood,” I loved it. Some people probably got bored but I was fascinated by the premise. Patricia Arquette deserved the award.
    Thanks for going to see this one! I did not like the popular “Gone Girl.” Ben Affleck is not as able to display emotions as other actors, you want to like him but I sometimes can’t. 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  7. Courtney Small

    I recall seeing this at TIFF a few years back and wishing I had picked something else. Malick really needed to tighten this film up some more and spend less time on Kurylenko’s twirling. This film solidified that I am just not into Malick’s brand of filmmaking the way most cinephiles are.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s