With less than seven films to his credit, idiosyncratic director Terrence Malick’s name has become synonymous with art. His unconventional films have gathered as many admirers as it has haters over the years, with some describing his works as “wondrous and transporting” and others as “boring and pretentious”. Now comes his sixth film, To The Wonder, which aims to stir the pot even further, dividing critics and fans alike. The trouble here is that for once the haters might be right. Unlike The Tree of Life, his latest work comes across too abstract, a head-scratcher that feels cobbled together by beautiful imagery rather than story.
Marina: 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.
To The Wonder is mostly silent (only accompanied by convoluted narration) and while the story can be outlined, most of the film is left up for interpretation. Most of it seems like cuttings left over from the editing room of The Tree of Life strung together in a non-linear structure. Expect beautiful imagery of sunsets, fields, an awkward Ben Affleck (who constantly has the “what am I doing here?” look on his face), warped camera angles (shot by Emmanuel Lubezki), a lot of extreme close-ups, beautiful landscapes and silhouettes overlaid with classical music or deafening silences.
Father Quintana: You shall love, whether you like it or not.
The storyline can be simplified to… A very sad looking boy meets a girl. They fall in love. They break up. Boy meets a new girl. They fall in love. They break up too. Boy gets back with first girl. They break up again. The end. The boy is a mute American named Neil (Affleck). The girl is a French woman named Marina (Olga Kurylenko), who constantly does ballet for no apparent reason. And the second girl is an American woman named Jane (Rachel McAdams), who also often finds herself dancing and running around in nature. Mix all this in with some spirituality, along with vacant stares, and you’ll have the crux of To The Wonder.
Neil: My sweet love. At last. My hope. How I loved you…
It’s no surprise to learn that Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Jessica Chastain were all cut from the finished film. Malick has a nasty habit of changing his movies during the editing process. One has to wonder if there isn’t a complete version out there waiting to be assembled. Unfortunately, for now we have to make do with this dreary picture. To its credit, visually, To The Wonder is the most beautiful film you’ll ever see. The cinematography is perfect. It’s breathtaking really.