To The Wonder Reviews
Say what you will about the stylings of Terrence Malick. He's undoubtedly a director that puts his own stamp on things and refuses to tell a story in any conventional sense. He's more interested in capturing moments and subtle glances while pondering the larger themes of love, life and religious beliefs. When you back at his older works of "Days Of Heaven", "The Thin Red Line" or "The Tree Of Life", for example, you'll find these themes in abundance. From a personal point of view, I often find Malick's approach to be highly appealing but with "To The Wonder", I was left somewhat distant and uninterested this time around.
Marina (Olga Kurylenko) is a Parisian single-mother who falls madly in love with tourist Neil (Ben Affleck) and moves with her daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) to America. Their love begins to dissipate, however, and Neil eventually seeks solace in his old friend Jane (Rachel McAdams) as Marina turns to Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is also exploring his own dwindling faith and confusion.
Opening in Paris with the focus on Affleck and Kurylenko who obviously have a strong emotional engagement, we are guided through Malick's soulful exploration of love. We hear the internal dialogues of his characters as they strive for reason and understanding. Unfortunately, as a viewer, I too was searching for these things as Malick is so elusive and overly suggestive that it becoming increasingly frustrating and depressing as we observe hugely underwritten characters that do very little to grab your attention or even evoke any level of appeal or understanding.
Malick's vision is certainly a beautiful one and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki delivers some striking work. The camera pirouettes with long, sweeping movements that again capture Malick's ethereal approach. However, after about 20 minutes, you realise that it feels like you're watching a Chanel perfume ad and after several scenes of a cool breeze rustling through the cornfields and Kurylenko dancing her little cotton sock off under an autumnal sun, it's apparent that this all we're going get. The dialogue is sparse, to say the least, and there's more nibbling on earlobes than there is any actual verbal exchanges between the characters. Affleck, in particular, says very little throughout the entire film and is only required to stand around with his hands in pockets and brood. Rachel McAdams makes an appearance of another of Affleck's love interests but all she has to do is brush her horse's main on her Oklahoman ranch and let the wind blow her hair across her face from time to time. Our religious commentary comes in the form of Bardem's afflicted priest who has began to question his spiritual fulfilment. Is god still around us? Does such a entity even exist? Would relationships be easier if we felt more of his love and presence? Do we really care?
It's not often I've find myself criticising Malick. Like I mentioned earlier, he's a director I greatly admire and "The Thin Red Line" is a masterwork in my eyes but this is strictly a colour by numbers effort that's seriously aloof and lacking in narrative. Some may revel in it's abstraction and ambiguity but, quite frankly, I found it to be tediously dull. As much as I love Malick's affinity with nature, I'd rather have watched the grass grow on this occasion.
Not so much Wonder as Wander; Malick's latest existential elegy is meandering, pretentious clap-trap that surprisingly (from a former philosophical lecturer) has very little to say and it's entirely understandable why it was met with boos at the Venice Film Festival.
Considering how all his films are basically the same, that seems a little odd to say, but there it is. I think he finally hit a rut. Either that or maybe I'm finally at a point where I can admit that maybe I'm not the admirer of artsy crap I thought I was
The simple story here involves a man named Neil who romances a woman named Marina while on a trip to France. He convinces her to move back to his native Oklahoma, but their blissful life turns sour when Jane- an old flame, comes back into Neil's life. That's basically it. There's also segments where a local priest dispenses sage advice, but the bulk of the film is about love in various forms, as seen through the lens of on again/off again relationships.
Like The Tree of Life, research tells me that this film has shades of autobiographical material from Malick's own life. That's cool I suppose, and, while I do appreciate unconventional approaches to conventional material at times, I really don't think it works here.
There are admittedly some profound, beautiful, and excellent moments here, but they're surround by a number of really mundane, tedious, and, I'll be honest, achingly boring moments. There's dull moments in other Malick films, true, but with this one, they really stick out, and there's not a enough of the good stuff to keep things working.
This is a story that perhaps didn't need to be AS abstract. It just meanders about, throws all kinds of words, sounds, and images around, and then ends. It doesn't help that with a lot of the narration, that some of what's said is just plain trite, banal, and uninspired.
For a movie about love, this is amazingly cold, detached, and emotionally vacant. I don't really care about the characters and can't help but shrug as I watch their lives unfold, which basically consists of lots of twirling, walking, and not saying much...especially Ben Affleck. Based on his performance here, I think he could have done quite well for himself during the silent era of cinema. He seriously has like no more than a paragraph's worth of lines.
I had hoped that Javier Bardem as the priest would have saved the movie, and indeed, some of the moments I really enjoyed involved him, but ultimately even he couldn't make this film any better.
Yes, the film is well shot, looks terrific, and has nice music, but in the end it really doesn't amount to much. Again with the redundancies, but somehow this film, despite being like the rest of Malick's films, somehow ends up not working.
Unless you're a Malick completist, I don't really recommend it. Even then, I'm not really sure if I'd recommend it. I mean, I love this guy's work, and even I can say this film is all that worthwhile.
Good Film! To The Wonder is a visually and aurally stunning experience but this outweighs narrative and emotional engagement, leaving it a bit cold where it tries to be all-encompassing warm. Amidst this metaphysical and highly personal journey Malick gives us not only a sense of the "wonder of love" but also celebrates our sense of wonder in general. Our ability to be overwhelmed by our emotions for another person, nature or even God. "To the Wonder" is a film about faiths in many shapes and strives for that forgiveness that elates our disappointments and resentments in order to finally love in a state of personal liberty and acceptance. A movie for a few with a theme for everybody.
Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American traveling in Europe who meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), an Ukrainian divorcée who is raising her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana in Paris. The lovers travel to Mont St. Michel, the island abbey off the coast of Normandy, basking in the wonder of their newfound romance. Neil makes a commitment to Marina, inviting her to relocate to his native Oklahoma with Tatiana. He takes a job as an environmental inspector and Marina settles into her new life in America with passion and vigor. After a holding pattern, their relationship cools. Marina finds solace in the company of another exile, the Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. Work pressures and increasing doubt pull Neil further apart from Marina, who returns to France with Tatiana when her visa expires. Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. They fall in love until Neil learns that Marina has fallen on hard times.
Kurylenko is utterly captivating, and Emmanuel Lubezki is a master of his craft; insanely good cinematography.
The film was most alive for me during the 15 or so minutes when Rachel McAdams was on screen. When the main stars, Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck, were on screen, I felt often that I was watching a perfume ad.
With a lack of dialogue and pseudo-poetic voiceover in at least three languages, all I can say for sure is that the story, such as it is, involves a man(Ben Affleck) and a woman(Olga Kurylenko) meeting in Paris. He is an oil company engineer who falls in love with the woman, from Russia, before taking her daughter Tatiana(Tatiana Chiline) with them back to Oklahoma. And everybody would have lived happily ever after but the woman is divorced which prevents her from receiving sacraments in church, much less get married again there. After a while, time runs out for them and her visa...
All of which sounds old school, perhaps too much, as Malick making his first movie set entirely in the present day, might have gotten things confused a little. Another explanation might involve the tangent involving a conflicted priest(Javier Bardem) who does his best to console the woman while tending to the needs of his impovershed parishioners which is where Malick adds a little much needed verisimilitude to the proceedings with his use of non-professional actors.
Unimpressed with his exceptionally intermittent filmography, I never understood the hype around Malick. His films looked beautiful of course but they never connected with me. His latest two works, 'The Tree of Life' and 'To the Wonder', conversely, have hit me on a gut level, two of the greatest experiences I've had in a cinema over the last few years. Ironically, I seem to have fallen for Malick at the same point most have grown frustrated with him. I find it remarkable how anyone who appreciates cinema couldn't be moved by these two movies but I guess, in an era when even comic book heroes have to be "dark" figures, modern audiences have become too cynical for a worldview as optimistic and simple as Malick's. If you want a film that makes you think, look elsewhere. This is cinema that makes you feel.
Some viewers will complain about 'To the Wonder'. They'll complain about the lack of dialogue (Affleck speaks no more than two full sentences). They'll complain about the lack of plot. Those viewers should stick to soap operas rather than venturing out to the movie theater. Stay at home in front of your T.V where you can't bother anyone with your constant texting, your constant reaffirmation of your self-importance. You couldn't possibly appreciate this film with it's central theme that, cast against the might of nature, we are all individually meaningless, because you believe you're somehow above everyone else. That's what allows you the ignorance of ruining other film-goers enjoyment with the incessant tapping of your glowing touchscreen. The rest of us actually enjoy being swept away by a screen that engulfs us, not one small enough to hold in our hands.
So what exactly is 'To the Wonder' all about? That's for you to decide. Don't worry about misinterpreting it. Great cinema is like a glance from a beautiful woman; even when misread it stirs the heart. Cast off your cynicism, turn off your smartphone, and bask in the wonder.
Needless to say, this film's pacing never strays too far away from slow... like, at all, but there are subtle shifts in momentum, at least in "plotting" structure, that you'd be hard pressed to not be thrown off by at times, for although the film is always steadily meditative, there are certain areas in which the film focuses intensely on meandering nothingness and filler, and certain other areas in which the film actually skips along what exposition there is, thinning it out and neglecting to flesh out the layers to this "story", until you end up with a film that is about as undercooked as it is inconsistent. As you can imagine, the unevenness in pacing that will slapdash development along at an offputting speed, then suddenly halt to meditate upon where the film ends up, rather than how it gets there, drives inconsistency into focus, which throws what plot there is all over the place and distances you, much like characterization, yet another area in this film that is plagued with inconsistency. I think it's safe to say that every Terrence Malick film has been something of a character piece, yet his tastes in characterization have always been quetionably stylish, and sure enough, with this film, the handling of characters is hardly smooth or consistent, often presenting genuinely believable behavior that leaves our characters to come off a buyably human, even if the aforementioned character development keeps you from getting too invested, and just as often descending into Terrence Malickisms that meditate deeply upon spirituality and distance you from the more relatable, believable and slightly more humanly superficial depths of the characters, who come off as not too much more than particularly celebrated components to the film's experimental and heavily arty dreaminess. At the very least, all of this hyper-lyrical meditation upon spirituality in the midst of deeply emotional dramatic situations calls your attention more toward the histrionics of this film, which come off a cheesily unsubtle and further distancing, thus leaving the final product to face yet more shortcomings as a messy character piece, much like most of Malick's other, better efforts, which were still able to work past their dramatic shortcomings just enough to engage as surprisingly good, unlike this film, which, from what I've been saying upon until, seems to be no more flawed than your usual Malick opus, but ends up getting a bit too carried away with a certain flaw that has always been key in Malick films: aimlessness. As good as the still mighty messy "The Tree of Life" is, its plot and conflicts are thin something fierce, and the final product would be entirely ineffective without Malick's inspired moments of compensation, and with this film, while there's a bit more conflict, there's even less plot and narrative, as Malick pays too much attention into fleshing out style over substance, which has never been too meaty in Malick films, but is, in here, especially directionless and holes-heavy, and with Malick's directorial atmosphere behind the telling of this non-story coming off as bone-dry and challengingly dull as it usually is, you end up with a final product that is too formulaic as a Malick film in some areas, too questionably distinct in other areas, and consistently more distancingly cold than it should be. Sure, the film has its golden occasions, same as any other film by Malick, except maybe his even more underwhelming early "efforts", but this product's subtle differences go a long way in making the disengaging flaws that have always kept Malick films from coming close to their full potential even more problematic, until you end up with a film that comes close to genuinely good, but just ends up falling behind as kind of underwhelming. With that said, while something like "Holy Motors" is a mighty low standard, where this film could have slipped into the frustrating mediocrity that claims other meditative pieces of its type, it does enough right to win you over as a decent film with decent dramatic beats and a stellar taste in artistry, even in the musical departments.
Terrence Malick sure knows his visuals, and you better believe that I'll be touching more upon that here in a little bit, but it should also be noted that his tastes in artistry for your ears is almost, if not decidedly as breathtakingly rich as his tastes in visual artistry, and while Malick's tastes in this film's audio value, brought to life by sound designer Erik Aadahl and supervising sound editors Craig Berkey and Joel Dougherty, really gives you a feel for the sounds of silence that exacerbate the dull atmospheric dryness, it near-hypnotically immerses you into this environment, while really letting you soak up something else in the audible artistry department that is worthy of praise: the music, because whether it be Hanan Townshend's original score or a soundtrack that features works by such legends of traditional, modern and contemporary classical music as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and so on and so forth, the musical efforts in this film stun with a rich soul that you can only get in "real" music (You've got to love rock, and you've got to love Bach). If its grace isn't exacerbating the dulling dreaminess of the film, this classical score and soundtrack is helping in breathing life into this film's spirit, drawing on and selling depths in a fashion that keeps the film going and plays a, so to speak, instrumental part in igniting high points, whose genuineness must also deliver some serious thanks to the acting department. As always, Malick puts together a limited, but impressively star-studded cast, filled with talents who have only so much to work with in their attempts at compensation for characterization issues, but still manage to do the best that they can in earning your investment, with Ben Affleck being very quietly charming and occasionally subtly engaging as a good, but flawed man who must face expected challanges and regretably questionable decisions as he explores his relationships, while the unevenly used Javier Bardem subtly engages as a noble priest, and our leading lady, a particularly very beautiful Olga Kurylenko, shockingly carries things, being too underwritten to necessarily be revelatory, but atmospherically graceful in her heartfelt portrayal of a woman whose life is shaken every which way by love. There's really not too much to praise when it comes to the performances, as they are so underwritten, but what is done right by our performers, from subtle emotional range to surprisingly effective chemistry, feels genuinely inspired, complimenting this very meditative art piece with more graceful humanity than there is in the writing and "story"telling departments, though not as much grace as the department in which this film most accels: the photographic departments. Emmanuel Lubezki returns as Malick's cinematographer after lensing "The Tree of Life", which is, at the very least, really, really high up there as one of the most beautiful films in years, and may even be one of the most beautiful films ever shot (I love Robert Richardson, but forget "Hugo" and forget the Oscars!), and while this film isn't quite as heart-stoppingly stunning as the last Malick-Lubezki collaboratation, oh man, it is, as predicted, yet another marvelously beautiful testament to Malick's at least having one of the best visual styles out there, featuring dynamic camerawork and framing scope plays that are both tightly immersive and hypnotically dreamy, as well as coloring that is breathtakingly lush, and lighting that is passionately celebratory of natural beauty in the environments in a gothically dreamy way that is never less than radiant and very often awe-inspiring. There's plenty to compliment and plenty to complain about with this film, but the visual style of this effort is difficult to fully describe and really has to be seen in order to be believed, being the highest note in Malick's direction, though not the only strong moment in Malick's efforts, for although the telling of this very Terrence Malicky tale is particularly cold and aimless, as well as as dull as Malick's direction usually is, there's a consistent charming degree of heart to this film to keep you going between the occasions in which Malick gains a firm enough grip on atmosphere and resonance to truly move, maybe not to the point of producing tears, but decidedly to the point of giving you glimpses at what could have been. If you've been frustrated with other, actually genuinely good Malick efforts for squnadering their potential on style and challengingly slow, maybe even boring meditativeness, well, you might not be particularly disappointed in this film, what with its basic story concept's being decidedly thinner than the concepts of "The Thin Red Line" or "The New World", but make no mistake, much goes unrealized in this film, same as any other Terrance Malick film, enough so that it comes off as not simply underexploratory of its full potential, but just plain underwhelming, though not so much so that you can't appreciate what is done right, for although I wish there was more to cling to here, there's still enough inspiration behind this project to get by as quite decent and reasonably worth watching, if you've the considerable patience and aesthetic eye for it that is.
In conclusion, the film hits such usual Terrance Malick flaws as structural and focal unevenness, as well as distancingly uneven, sometimes even barely genuinely human characterization, unsubtle melodrama, and, of course, challeningly dull atmospheric dryness, while being even more aimless than ever in its "plotting", until the final product sputters out as particularly underwhelming as a Malick potential-squanderer, but by a little more than a hair, being rich with such expected Malick film strengths as immersive sound work, exceptional classical music, gracefully inspired, if pretty underwritten performances, - bonded through unexpectedly strong chemistry - and a truly spectacular visual style, whose stunning inspiration reflects the ambition that is occasionally fulfilled through all too underseen moments of resonance, and sparks the considerable charm that plays a large part in making "To the Wonder" a decent, if a bit challenging meditative drama, in spite of its many shortcomings.
2.75/5 - Decent
Met with mixed amounts of laughter, applause and boos during its Venice Film Festival premiere, saying that "To the Wonder" is polarizing is quite an understatement. Perhaps some have grown tired of Malick's loose-structured style, while some may have seen through the grave pretense of his themes. As for me, "To the Wonder" proved to be quite a transcendent experience.
To state the fact, it's not, in any way, a 'movie' in the most intrinsic sense of the word. Dominantly, "To the Wonder" is more of a feature-length mood piece. And like a sweeter Alain Resnais, Terrence Malick, through the use of deeply pleading narrations and breathtaking yet fragmented imagery, explores love at its most trying and at its most pure. From a Parisian woman's (Olga Kurylenko) search for the meaning of her romance with an American man, played by Ben Affleck with a sort of detached silence, to a Spanish priest's (Javier Bardem) quest to make one with his spirituality, the film approaches the many forms of love with articulate questions and wandering thoughts that it has delivered through the profound nuances of the French and Spanish language.
By doing so, the film takes on a more personal level. As the film continues on with its various reflections, the film becomes less and less about love in general and more and more like a silently thankful prayer. And just like "The Tree of Life", "To the Wonder" is a highly personal project for Terrence Malick, as he himself, from what I've read, is basically the Ben Affleck character in the film. So in many respects, "To the Wonder's" creation is basically a form of unhindered personal expression. For an artist like him, expressing whatever he feels through written words is certainly not enough.
Like a well-wrought diary entry, "To the Wonder" is Malick's remedy to his various emotional ellipses. And although the film is as ambiguous and baffling as the next artsy fartsy film, its emotional content, as far as I'm concerned, is as coherent as it can be. The film may be branded as an utter piece of pretentious art, but what it cannot be accused of is deluding the audience's emotions. Like a beautiful romantic symphony, "To the Wonder" is a film that you just can't help but stop and hum along with.
Terrence Malick, unlike any directors of any kind out there, treats cinema as his personal poetry book, and I couldn't be more thankful about it. Ultimately, 'thankful' is the key word here. Lyrical, elegiac and also quite life-affirming even despite its perceived ambiguity, "To the Wonder" is a film that speaks more truth about love than some 30 romantic films combined. "To the love that loves us, thank you."
Known for not being much of an actors director, that is very evident in To The Wonder. Amanda Peet, Jessica Chastain amongst other towering actors were completly cut from the movie. Ben Affleck only utters one or two sentences and Olga Kurylenko looks really good on summer dresses. Javier Bardem is actually a nice presence and you can feel by his looks and pose that this man has completly lost it's faith and feels hopeless all the way.
It's the marriage between the strong images, music and actors that truly sets it apart. This is a movie that will work like others didn't in silent spaces and contemplative moments. Sure, sometimes it feels like you're watching a perfume add and human beings simply don't spin around that much in public, but this naive feeling works wonders on tackling subjects such a love, romance, relationships and so on, like few others can. It's pure, emotional, spiritual and if you're open minded enough, you will be dragged onto the feelings it's portraying on a way you didn't think it was possible.