Director: Terence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem
Running Time: 112 min
Release: 22 February
For better and worse, To the Wonder is the Terence Malick-est of Terence Malick’s films. It’s at once a gorgeous, swooning poem, and a meandering, rudderless doodle. If you get bored (and some viewers will) you could play Terence Malick bingo: Sunbeams through leaves? Check. Whispered voiceover? Check. Ponderings on religion and love? Check. Olga Kurylenko? Actually, she’s not Czech, she’s Ukrainian!
Kurylenko, a beautiful actress, plays Marina a young French woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a stoic, handsome American, Neil (Ben Affleck, man of the moment). We see the story through her eyes initially, as she and her daughter leave Paris for Oklahoma. The film then drifts between Marina and other characters, a conflicted priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) and another woman that Neil meets later (played by Rachel McAdams).
Like Tree of Life, To the Wonder is both gorgeous and frustrating. Malick’s writing can be sumptuous; philosophical dialogue with real depth and beauty: “He does not find her lovely, he makes her lovely,” says Father Quintana of the ideal husband. The film is peppered with thought-provoking, lyrical observations. There are some interesting looks at America through the eyes of a foreigner too, like the scenes in which Marina’s young daughter runs through a supermarket marvelling at how “clean” and “rich” it looks.
Malick brings some real poetry in the imagery as well—a tethered horse trying to mimic the movements of the free ones just outside his fence, for example, or McAdams and Affleck sitting on a car while surrounded by a herd of docile buffalo.
As you might have gathered, To the Wonder is also a little maddening. How much you enjoy the film depends on how many shots of sunsets you can endure, or how much you can enjoy a film with virtually no plot. It also doesn’t help that the characters are a little sketchy. All of it seems to serve Malick’s musing on love, loss and faith.
Malick will always have a place in cinema history. But lately his films have suffered from over-indulgence and lack of narrative drive. To the Wonder is minor Malick—but it’s worth wading through the thickets of oblique pondering for glimpses of his genius.