TO THE WONDER – The Review
Review by Dane Marti
Like all the cinematic work of the renowned film artist Terrance Malick, ‘To The Wonder’ will hypnotize and beguile some folks, while causing other people to wish they had never attempted viewing the film in the first place. If they expect Malick to suddenly make a “blockbuster” movie, they are going to be sorely mistaken. Thank God for filmmakers like Malick, David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. Unlike those two other visionaries mentioned, Terrance is basically a naturalist: His films, although filled with cosmic poetry, can often appear to be documentaries.
If you’ve seen his previous, well-received work, you understand already that he’s not a writer/director who is going to try and pander to the masses. Some might say that his film is slow as molasses (Ha.), but that wouldn’t be true, of course. Like life, his movies move at their own inner, often glacial pace– much like reality itself. If you disagree with that assessment, a person would still have to agree that his films have a form, a style like no other director’s work. Form most definitely follows function.
Whether this film could be categorized (or should be categorized) amongst his best work, is not something I can adequately answer, although it is undeniably powerful and honest. While not within the confines of the documentary genre, it is one of those ‘made up’ movies, which has the vibrant clarity of the truth, whatever the truth is.
The gist of the tale is rather simple: At the start of the film, an American man is in Paris, France. He meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman with a daughter. All three come back to the mid section of our country—I could swear it was the area between Lawrence and Manhattan Kansas—but found out it was Oklahoma. It is very pretty country, but as far from the visual, historic and urban delight that is Paris France as is humanly possible to imagine.
In Oklahoma, the camera lingers on stunning wheat fields, grazing buffalo, and even dilapidated houses in need of repair. After the well-known historic blitz and razzle dazzle of Paris, this seems like a lovely, albeit sparse and rather ‘simple’ landscape in comparison to the City of Light. They aren’t in OZ anymore. Over the next hour of the film, the couple goes through severe ups and downs, conflicts that never become either cliché or reminiscent of an afternoon soap. This naturalistic story introduces a few other actors, but the core remains the couple we met at the beginning of the film. I’ve heard that many other well-known actors and actresses appeared in the film, but were excised due to the inner-aesthetic judgment of Malick. Cool.
Some might believe that the overall plot structure of the film is a tight little romantic triangle between a man (Ben Affleck), a Ukrainian woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) playing the woman he met in Paris (the opening imagery of Paris, although caught on non-sun-filled days, is beguiling and beautiful), and brings to his Oklahoma hometown with her teenage daughter. Down the line and off stage for the moment, is another woman, Jane (Rachel McAdams), which Ben’s character had originally been involved with.
There’s definitely ‘wonder’ in this film, but like actual reality, sometimes there is down and out sadness, depression and confusion as well. I think for director Malick, that is ALL just part of the magic of Being, of existence on our planet.
From his first brilliant feature film, ‘Badlands’ to ‘Days of Heaven’ to the underrated gem, ‘The New World,’ his films have never failed to amaze and delight me. I can understand that the movies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (or any beverage for that matter), but for viewers who dig deep, many interesting ideas will be discovered and mulled over after leaving the cinema.
I’ve read that this has been called the ‘biggest experimental film of all time.’ For anyone else I would agree, but if you’ve viewed any other Malick films, you know that in his cinematic universes, hyperbolic sentences like that are relative. Basically, his amazing work has elements that are beautifully, reverently poetic. I believe that this is a good thing. For the masses breast fed from the great Blockbuster Baby, this film would be considered terrible. However, we are not your average moviegoers, are we?
Malick’s films are lyrical—literally lyrical. His camera is always whirling around his characters, whether they are in a good mood or not. We hear what they are thinking, snatches of inner, emotional conversations they carry on with no one but themselves; in Malick’s universe, we are all a little neurotic whether we like it or not.
In a superb film such as his, ‘The New World,’ the connection people have with nature is also vividly demonstrated. Characters are either interacting with nature or consciously standing (dreaming?) and staring at the amazing and diverse landscapes they find themselves immersed within. To that extent, they are perhaps more in-tune with reality than the non-cinematic folks you see walking around your local Wal-Mart. Perhaps I’m just being cynical and unaware on this point. Whatever our exterior problems, Malick seems to posit that we are all animals, all creatures, all (divine?) sparks of life that move around and through the world, and whether we notice or care or not, it is effecting us in unique ways. And we are no better than the other animals and nature around us. It is a living, pulsating world. We –he viewer—can choose how we live, love and meander through it.
In his quality films, it is often the ‘childlike persona’ he appears to enjoy capturing in the film, as in the scenes in which people fall in love or experience something new, something SPECIAL.
Now, there are moments of serious conflict in his films—I think of ‘The Thin Red Line’ here, obviously, but Malick seems to be more impassioned by how the human animal spends time on the earth, regardless of whether things are going good or bad. As a Naturalist, he realizes that all people take up their time in a plethora of ways. We are always planning and analyzing things, instead of appreciating the moments that we have together in the present, things that cannot be pinned-down or trapped in a bottle—like relationships. In that respect, it is like, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’
This is a very good, very special film. It is Art. And in a cinema also filled with entertaining the masses, which contains copious amounts of violent films and pornography with no redeeming qualities other than to get the ‘viewer off,’ it is proper and wonderful that we have films like this. Thank the director by going to see this film.
4 of 5 Stars
TO THE WONDER opens in St. Louis April 19th at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater