Wednesday, September 12, 2012


This movie must be special because I actually liked it right away. For a (recent) Terrence Malick movie that means something. It took me a couple of years to even warm up to The New World (and I still haven’t fully let go of the fact that it tries to legitimize a romance between a grown man and a 14 year old girl) and it took me a few months to like The Tree Of Life. To The Wonder isn't Malick's first time exploring romance or love in his work but this is the first time he’s made a film pretty much solely based on the subject (along with elements of religion, faith, etc). At this point I imagine anyone who ends up seeing To The Wonder has more than likely seen Tree Of Life (or at least heard stuff about it) so you should know what to expect when you go in to this. This film is very similar to Tree Of Life (although a bit shorter in length). It has more than its share of scenes where we see characters playing in and wandering through tall fields of grass, whispery/poetic voiceover, people frolicking on a beach and standing far apart from one another while looking off in to the distance trying to pretend they don't notice each other. Actually, you could almost say it takes place in the same disoriented, poetic, mumbly universe as Sean Penn's character in The Tree Of Life. The same thing I said about PT Anderson's The Master applies here: if you're a Terrence Malick fan (especially his work starting from Thin Red Line on) chances are you'll enjoy this movie. If you aren't a Terrence Malick fan and/or had issues with his last film it’s probably best if you don't watch this and save yourself the aggravation. I liked this very much but if you've read everything I’ve written on Terrence Malick so far (minus The Thin Red Line piece for the pink smoke) you'll see that I'm not above pointing out his faults and being honest with you about him. There's hardly any direct dialogue spoken between the characters, Malick starts a scene in mid-conversation and cuts the scene off in mid sentence (although you're given enough information to know what's going on). The up-close (almost) "jazzy" camera work might annoy the fuck outta some people and some moments in the film DO actually come off like a student film directed by someone in their early twenties (the only problem people may have with that is Terrence Malick is almost 70 which may be unacceptable to some).
Now that I've spent all this time pointing out some of the not-so good qualities, why don't I talk about what I DID like about it - I liked the poetic style of the film and I like that a director with the style of Malick made a romantic story like this. Roll your eyes all you want but that's just my thing these days. There's plenty of recent films about a relationship being put to the test or on the verge of ending (Blue Valentine, A Separation, etc). At this point we get it already: couples have a hard time communicating, they fight over pointless shit, want different things, and there's those scenes where they have a crazy relationship-ending argument at some point in the film. You can only write that kinda stuff so much before it gets tiring. Malick handled things differently. I like that he used less straightforward dialogue than any other film he's done and still managed to convey the feelings he was trying to get across like love, tension, miscommunication that feeling of being lost, etc. I also enjoyed the cinematography and Javier Bardem's presence...
If you're anticipating this film as much as I was, reading all the reviews from Venice and checking up on the IMDB page on a regular basis (maybe even lowering yourself to read the idiotic IMDB message board discussions) allow me to clear some things up - yes, quite a few actors got the axe. There's no sign of Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Amanda Peet or Michael Sheen. All their scenes were cut. And contrary to what some say, Ben Affleck IS very much in most of the film. Rachel McAdams' appearance borders on being an extended cameo as opposed to a co-starring role. And no, this film isn't more experimental than Tree Of Life. It’s pretty much the same exact style minus the CGI dinosaurs.
At its core, To The Wonder is pretty much about a strained relationship between a man; "Neil" (Ben Affleck) and his wife "Marina" (Olga Kurylenko). Shortly after moving from Paris with her daughter to live with Neil in Oklahoma, Marina has a hard time adjusting to life in boring middle America, doesn't know how to fully express how she’s feeling, so her sadness, combined with Affleck’s inability to open up, adds a huge amount of tension to their relationship to the point where they push apart from each other for a while. Marina goes back to Paris temporarily due to her visa expiring and while she’s away Neil rekindles an old flame (Rachel Mcadams) that seems to be doomed from the start. Neil & Marina eventually reconcile but go right back to pushing away from each other and fighting shortly after (there's quite a few scenes of them in the same house together in different rooms avoiding each other). The other story within To The Wonder deals with a commonly explored character in film: The priest who's losing his faith and doesn't wanna hear people's problems anymore in the form of Father Quintana (Javier Barden). Neil & Marina seek some kind of spiritual guidance from Quintana (at separate times) but just like with everyone else he’s empty inside. Because Bardem is such a great actor (and in my opinion was great in this) he makes the Father Quintana character pretty intriguing and its probably my favorite part of the film. But to some, his performance may come off like a mumbly confused guy wandering around town, scowling and thinking deep thoughts to himself. The ending left a lot to be desired as it suffered from the same problem as The Tree Of Life - it could have ended at any random moment in the final 10-15 minutes and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference (hey, I love the movie but I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I tried to pretend it didn't have any issues). At the end of the day To The Wonder really comes down to preference and how much Terrence Malick one can tolerate. It’s just as easy to love this film as it is to be cynical towards it. Personally, I enjoyed it very much and would definitely watch it again.

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