To the Wonder

Review No. 486

Don’t let the word “Wonder” throw you off.

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D

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY TERRENCE MALICK. PRODUCED BY NICOLAS GONDA AND SARAH GREEN.  STARRING BEN AFFLECK (NEIL), OLGA KURYLENKO (MARINA), RACHEL McADAMS (JANE), AND JAVIER BARDEM (FATHER QUINTANA). ALSO STARRING TATIANA CHILINE, CHARLES BAKER, AND ROMINA MONDELLO. DISTRIBUTED BY MAGNOLIA PICTURES ON APRIL 12, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH, FRENCH, AND SPANISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 53 MINUTES. INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES, DUE TO SUBJECT MATTER.

TO THE WONDER WAS WATCHED ON MAY 24, 2013.

“Newborn. I open my eyes. I melt. Into the eternal night. A spark. You got me out of the darkness. You gathered me up from earth. You’ve brought me back to life.” –Marina (Olga Kurylenko)

Terrence Malick is a strange dude. He makes a movie as outstanding as The Tree of Life, and all he can think of doing is designing a followup that makes us wonder where the hell he’s gone. To the Wonder is The Tree of Life with very small–albeit very impactful–changes. It’s shorter, but it feels so much longer. There’s a yearn for a poetic style in both voiceover and visuals, but the visuals are truly all that matter here. (In fact, if I’m not able to dissuade you from this, find a theater that is playing this, because it won’t look good on home video.)

The most major difference, however, is in how Malick approaches the story, or how successfully he does so. In The Tree of Life, he took the hardships of a 1950s family and, throughout the film, explained the story as an allegory for life and death. To the Wonder seems to be making an allegory out of its story, when the characters are so indecisive, overly emotional, and commonplace. We just don’t care that it’s trying to resemble how love becomes hate.

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Try keeping count of how many times this shot recurs. It’s like counting sheep as you fall asleep.

I wanted to love To the Wonder, but once an hour or so had gone by, I was ready to leave the theater. That’s a simple story of blind love and how it becomes realized hate, which encompasses the plot here. But it’s agonizingly boring because it’s buried under so much else. Without a doubt, both the cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and the music (Hanan Townshend) are the film’s two redeeming qualities. But there’s a lack of dialogue here, mostly due to the hackneyed narrations we hear. She’s writing a love letter to someone, he’s whining, some preacher man is pondering theology, yadda yadda yadda.

When you feel most cheated is when you actually feel you can understand the story. If it takes you by surprise, I had to Google the story. That’s not to say I didn’t feel cheated with the two, terminally boring hours I wasted watching this movie. To the Wonder is a soap opera. Nothing more, and nothing less. Why anyone would want to evoke beauty from an exasperated Lifetime Movie is beyond me. I don’t remember picking up on the characters’ names, but in case it matters, the guy is Neil (Ben Affleck) and the girl is Marina (Olga Kurylenko). He’s American, she’s Ukrainian. They want to live together, but there’s some sort of problem getting a green card. There’s the forefront to your plot. The rest is a frenetic mess of scenes that are supposed to get your emotions. One moment they’re swapping spit; the next moment, they can’t look at each other because they’ve just cheated on each other.

Perhaps you don’t feel cheated when you most understand the story. I should rephrase that statement: Once you understand the story, and you thought it had some sort of inner meaning, then you feel cheated. To the Wonder is what you get when an average couple rents a top-notch film camera, records the ups and downs of their relationship, and cuts out all “the wonder” it could ever warrant.

History of the World, Part I

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4 thoughts on “To the Wonder

  1. I really like Terrence Malick, and I do agree, this one was just boring for me. I preferred his first three films (those being “Badlands”, “Days of Heaven”, and “The Thin Red Line” all of which are some personal favourites) over this one. Good review.

    • Wait a moment, this is his sixth film then? The Thin Red Line, followed by The New World, The Tree of Life, and this? That’s like six movies in forty years. Wow.

      I have the Criterion release of Badlands on Blu-ray, as well as The New World on DVD. Guess which movie’s holding me back from jumping to another Terrence Malick movie.

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