Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Director Terrence Malick is known to be a reclusive, artistic, mysterious type of director. Over a span of his forty year career he has made six movies clearly taking time in between each artistic endeavor. It comes as somewhat of a surprise that his latest, To the Wonder, has been released just two years after his Oscar nominated The Tree of Life. This internal look into life, love, and happiness feels very much like a companion piece to The Tree of Life in tone, style, mystery, and artistry.
Unlike some of his other films, the story is entirely set in modern day. Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) fall desperately for each other against the backdrop of the Mont St. Michel in France. Marina and her daughter, Tatiana, give up their home in France to live with Neil in Oklahoma. She starts to settle in as he works doing environmental research in the community. Their mainly empty home is set in the heart of a new development with wealthy neighbors and their beautiful houses.
Despite the new life, Marina has troubles adjusting to the vastly different life she now has in Oklahoma compared to the one in France. She spends her spare time in her local church reflecting and contemplating her options. Father Quintana (Bardem) is struggling with his own vocation all the while putting on the standard content face he must share with his congregation. He spends the majority of his days helping the poor and sick members of the community often times putting his own life in jeopardy. Marina's visa expires and she moves back to France with Tatiana. Meanwhile, Neil reconnects with formal flame, Jane (McAdams). Marina cannot seem to ever stay in a happy place as she realizes back in France that she misses Neil too much and moves back to Oklahoma.
Much like his last film, Malick uses poetic narration, imagery, and a simple musical score to tell his story. There is very little actual dialogue between the characters. The narration goes back and forth between the three main characters in a poetic style feeling like they are writing each other letters. The camera never stops moving as the actors are set out to interact with each other and the space while maintaining this story through the sparse dialogue. Much to Malick’s direction and the strong work done by Bardem, Affleck, and Kurylenko they all have created a world you can easily understand. You theoretically could turn off the score and narration and still understand the through line of the story.
Malick’s films are not the most accessible to watch. They require an open mind and patience when sitting through two hours of a slow story with limited dialogue and action as you watch three characters internally struggle with their happiness and purpose in life. I was continually in awe of the beautiful nature shots captured by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who also shot The Tree of Life. Both films feel very personal and autobiographical for him. This film will by no means convert anyone into a Malick fan as these characters are continually depressed with their lives and are seen walking around town dealing with the poor, twirling around in a field, or getting into fights. The audience does not even get to hear any of the potentially good and juicy dialogue that usual comes with these fights. You just watch the two actors struggle. Having watched a few Malick movies before, I knew what I was getting into. I was able to ease in and enjoy the film for what it was. Will you? Only if you are a Malick fan. What does that say about a director that has a distinct point of view, is artistic, and personal in his work but can only cater to a small sect of fans? Does that make him all the more genius or does it turn into someone being self-indulgent and pretentious?
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)