To The Wonder

Film, Drama
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To The Wonder

Terrence Malick’s ‘To the Wonder’ is another spiritual inquiry launched by this erratic poet of American cinema from the bosom of an intimate story: here it’s the troubled romance between Neil (Ben Affleck), an American in France, and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a French-speaking European. Unlike 2011’s ‘The Tree of Life’, this film may not lunge back to the dawn of time for its answers, but it guns for similar Big Questions. Its feet may hover marginally closer to the ground than its predecessor, but it’s also a more aloof, more hollow work.

Whispery voiceovers, magic-hour photography, travelling cameras, short scenes and quick cuts dominate again and offer a fluid, loose sense of time and place. But the thrust of ‘To the Wonder’ is roughly chronological. Neil and Marina’s romance begins in Paris, with an early, enchanting visit to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. The pair move to the Oklahoma suburbs with Marina’s young daughter where Neil works as a construction engineer. But the couple have trouble settling. Marina moves away; Neil has an affair with an old friend (Rachel McAdams); Marina returns, but questions of commitment and contentment continue to dog their relationship.

There’s barely any dialogue. Most talk emerges in voiceovers by Neil, Marina and a priest, Father Quintana, played by Javier Bardem. Quintana offers confused Marina some succour, but more crucially his presence helps Malick to frame his debate – already dominated by an interpretation of love as a Garden of Eden awaiting corruption and ideas of good, evil and temptation – more directly in the context of Christian belief. If ‘The Tree of Life’ felt like a deeply spiritual film with nods to the Christianity of its characters, ‘To the Wonder’ operates more clearly within the theatre of Christian thought.

Big events are buried or over quickly and we observe snippets of life from Malick’s perspective as a benign stalker. Repetition and an over-familiarity of Malick’s visual tics and style begin to grate. Neil and Marina’s love is characterised by endless skipping through gardens, fields or parks. Marina is constantly dancing – once with a broom in a supermarket. And endless skies, sunsets seen through trees, hands running through corn fields and spray from garden hoses all begin to feel like parody.

A sterile sheen does the film no favours either: interiors, exteriors, clothes and nature alike feel overly groomed and too neat and clean to be real. As if employing a counterpoint to this glossiness, Malick presents a series of grizzled local characters in Oklahoma – presumably at least some of them non-professionals – and yet their presence jars against the Hollywood finesse and good-looks of his main cast. There’s a phoniness to the film’s people and places that keeps us at a fatal distance from the big ideas with which ‘To the Wonder’ seeks to engage us.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday February 22 2013
Duration: 113 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck
Javier Bardem
Rachel McAdams
Olga Kurylenko

Average User Rating

1.5 / 5

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I loved Malick's 'Thin Red Line'.  No war film has beat it for what it set out to do.

But since then he seems to have drifted toward what I can only describe as a

narcissistic style of pseudo-poetic, self-conscious, self-indulgent art-house film.

The lack of a script is tediously obvious.  The lack of dialogue is likewise irritating.

The lack of story (of any substance) is annoying. One can only wonder why he 

doesn't respect the basic tenets of visual story-telling - filmmaking.  The big question

for me is: where does he get such willing backers to throw money at his work?

Beats me. Perhaps Pitt and Afleck regard their usual Hollywood fair as tacky and

seek redemption in Malick's bamboozling reveries.  The usual criticism of views like

mine is that I just didn't get what the artist was saying. To those critics I say bollocks!

Mallick is really testing my patience. I actually liked 'The Tree Of Life' - to some degree - especially the opening extravaganza from the brilliant Doug Trumball. But this...It just seems so distant from the brilliance of 'Badlands' and 'Days Of Heaven''s like he has given up. I hope you have something destinguishable with 'Knight Of Cups.' I remain enthusiastic, but i won't hold my breath.

First of all, I have to say that I loved "The tree of life". It was a marvellous film. Rich in metaphores. I cannot say the same about "To the wonder". In fact, I didn't like it at all. I thought it was an extremely boring, senseless film. It begins with a couple in Paris. Who are they?. What are they doing there?. We don't know because there's no story. She's just moving around him, dancing, stretching. And he's still as a dummit. They don't even talk. Theres a child too. The only one that speaks. In French. Now, they just moved to the American Midwest. We don't know why. She's moving around him, dancing, stretching and he remains a dummit. Then she's gone. There's another woman. They met. They don't talk. Then that woman dissapears and the other one comes back. Without the child. More of the same. There's a priest too. He moves around. Talking to himself. In Spanish. Then the woman has an argument with the dummit. We don't know why because they don't talk. But it's o.k, No big deal. Then the woman leaves the dummit. End of the movie. At a certain moment in the film a voice in off says in French: Why am I here?. And the answer is: YOU SHOULDN'T BE THERE. Save the money or buy yourself something rewarding.

I agree with "Time Out" review. There is no narrative, no dialogue and the images, albeit very beautiful for the first 25 minutes, in the end are not enough to keep the narrative together. Ben Affleck' s character is too shallow and enigmatic: we never really get to know him. Likewise, we never really know the real dynamics of the interactions in the couple. In the end I found it irritating.