To the Wonder
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57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Visiting the world of Terrence Malick in many ways must be differentiated from `watching a movie' and that is likely one of the reasons there are so many honest people who love movies who find TO THE WONDER a major disappointment, `a mess', `not a movie' and other responses. That Terrence Malick has a gift of blending film and thought and philosophy and music and silence into a meditation on his views of life, of love, of the human condition is a given. The `story' is nonlinear, given in bits an pieces like the momentary light fireflies offer in Oklahoma nights or the strains of themes from the classical music with which he bathes his quiet moments, themes that begin, echo, go nowhere, and is about those very personal responses to life as it happens to us or as we perceive it has a meaning, a direction, a connection to God.

In view of that it seems a bit odd that Magnolia pictures offers a synopsis of the `plot' and that should be shared here: `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 (Tatiana Chiine) 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.'

It is possible to give each of these basically silent (voice over) characters an interpretation but instead it feels as though Malick is simply watching four people respond to the world as it affects interpersonal relationships. Father Quintana, in his painful sadness at trying to find the light that God once provided him to nurture his fellow man, appears be whispering that the reason for our breakups, for our fragmented lives and relationships, is that we can no longer see God. If we could, we would be whole again. Yet even this concept seems less important than every person in the presence of this film finding his/her own meaning: Malick seems to be providing that privacy, that distancing from making his `characters' fully credible that allows each of them to become part of our own longings and angst and faith that somewhere, sometime this will all make sense - if it is supposed to.

The cinematography is provided by Emmanuel Lubezki and the musical score is attributed to Hanan Townsend: there should be mention of the use of themes from classical composers - Wagner's Parsifal themes and Henryk Górecki's symphonic music being the two most often used. But in the end this is a Terrence Malick meditation, and as such it is the way he combines the images, the light, the locations, the music and the actors to make us ponder. Grady Harp, April 13
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2013
The movie got panned by critics who are not theologically astute but they are wrong. Terrance Malick films can't be seen just once. You have to watch them over and over again to pick up the message. I have only seen the movie once but what I took away from this film was that it was a profound, very profound actually, meditation on love but especially love in a Christian sense. The voice overs referring to "the love that loves us" are a subtle hint, as is the name of the movie. In the movie we learn that the Wonder is Mont St-Michele, one of the most beautiful churches in the world. The Wonder though at an even deeper level is this "love that loves us". While the relationship between Neil and Marina is passionate and powerful at first it eventually fades. Yet while it is white hot we see the world, through Malick's camera lens, in what reviewer Damon Linker calls a transfigured sense. Who has not felt this way when they are in love? There is a deeper point to be made about love though and that comes from Father Quintana (Javier Bardem at his finest). While Neil and Marina struggle with their love, on again and off again, Father Quintana struggles with love at a much deeper level, sacrificial love, the love of Christ. It was these scenes, the ones of Father Quintana working with the poor and the drug addicted on the streets as well as giving communion to prisoners, that really spoke to me. Father Quintana's homilies on love are deep and still have me pondering this love that loves us. Watch this movie, see it sever times, ponder God's Love.
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61 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2013
Terrence Malick's new film To The Wonder was released on the same day in select theaters across the U.S., but more significantly, on Video On Demand (VOD) and online so that you don't have to wait three or four months for it to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray, but can stay at home and watch it in HD and the comfort of your own home -- all for a mere $7.99 or $6.99 -- less than the price of a single ticket at the cinemas.

This is a radical move, to bypass a theatrical release. But this works for this type of film, I believe, because the same-day limited release in theaters generates same-day reviews across the country and could result in great VOD traffic. This could be a new strategy for independent films.

This is only fitting because this is such an intimate, personal film -- or experience -- that to share it in a dark auditorium with total strangers seems to be the antithesis of this film.

I watched it on On Demand in HD and I found it to be, like all of Terrence Malick's films, a deeply internal experience. You're and constantly being pulled in several directions:

1) You're never sure what's going on in a Terrence Malick film; yet you're assured that it's a steady hand that's riding the keel. A Malick film is a journey -- you go with it. It's the same sort of experience or sensation that you have when you're watching a Stanley Kubrick film for the first time. The story and the meaning is never obvious or written out. It's something that seeps into you.

2) I keep using the word "experience" because that's so much of what a Malick film is. He's never followed traditional linear storytelling. He has his own entirely unique voice. And that's what a filmmaker has to have to stand above the rest and be unique. It's more sensory. More emotional; and not gut-wrenching and buckets of tears emotional--internal conscious thoughts-at-work emotional.

3) It's mind-numbing and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Every shot -- every single image -- is to die for. And all -- ALL -- are shot in NATURAL LIGHT!!! Every shot backlit. To bring that final message home I found myself compelled to pick up my pocket camera and shoot these handful of photos off the screen. And these don't do To The Wonder justice.

Emmanuel Lubezki deserves a special American Society of Cinematographers achievement award for this work. (Of course, that won't happen. It will go to another all digitally composited film as it has for the past three years with Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pie.)

So often you hear filmmakers say words to the effect of, "We didn't want to talk about the subject of the movie -- we wanted to talk around it." In Terrence Malick's universe, the actors barely talk at all, unless it is in Voice Overs of the thoughts of the characters are posing in questions to themselves. This could sound absurd in another filmmaker's film, but in a Terrence Malick film it's expected. And it's brilliant!

Any other film is told in a story and you can almost see the screenplay's scene cards pinned onto the screen. In To The Wonder Malick doesn't even seem to bee shooting the scenes. Instead, he shoots everything that happens between the scenes. This could be frustrating for some traditional movie watchers. For me, however, I'm always watching movies in search of something new and different and original.To The Wonder is that film.

Yet you sense, from images that you can relate to like recognizing similar snap shots from moments in your own life of knowing happiness, love, resentment, doubt, loss.

There is a bigness and an emptiness to the film -- and this, I am certain, is intentional. Everything in Oklahoma is Big. The houses are Big. The rooms are Big. The skies are Big. The streets are wide. The rooms are spare, if not devoid of furniture. The people seem almost lost in it all, there is so much space between them. I believe that Malick is trying to say that there is an emptiness in the characters lives. And everyone is seeking love, either the love of another person or for the love of God to be returned, and that the vastness and emptiness in these places represents the space that the characters are hoping to be filled up with love.

I can't help but think of the connection between this film and Malick's film from -- years ago The Thin Red Line. While that was a film set in World War Two, at its essence was a story about people that were all strangers in a strange land. The Americans and the Japanese they were fighting couldn't be more different from each other -- totally separated by language, race, culture. The Americans fearing death and the Japanese preferring death to surrender. They could have just as easily be aliens from another planet, a variation on War of the Worlds. Also, the Japanese from the northern Pacific and the Americans from North America being brought to do combat on a harsh tropical island (Guadalcanal) in the Southern Hemisphere, which both armies were complete strangers to.

The story takes place in Paris and Oklahoma. Ben Affleck meets Olga Kurylenko in Paris and brings her back to his home in Oklahoma. Life is happy and playful, but then the realities of being back in his world and at work set in. Domestic bliss gives way to mutually dissatisfied dreams and disillusionment. Then another woman from Affleck's youth, Rachel McAdams, comes back into his life. There is rekindled love. But love, like flowers, bloom and fade.

Ben Affleck has hardly any on-camera lines in the film. Yet you always seem to know where he is in his life. He seems like a man who doesn't fit in on his home turf. Is much more comfortable being somewhere else, in this case Paris, where he can be who he really feels like he is inside or can be free to be somebody else. When he returns with his French love to Oklahoma, she no longer fits in. And he doesn't really seem to want to be there either.

He begins seeing Rachel McAdams, an Oklahoma girl who works horses on a family ranch. There is happiness there. But Affleck is a wrestless spirit.

Perhaps his character is a romantic adventurer -- someone for whom every new love is like an around-the-world cruise filled with discovery, passion, zest for life. But, ultimately, you have to return home and there is always an eventual letdown that the trip is over -- back to the real world and who you really are.

I felt that I could relate to all the characters on each of their levels. That's the genius of Terrence Malick's films: By not clearly defining the characters (I don't even think they address each other by name) they are open-ended enough to be malleable and easy to impose our own thoughts, feelings, recolections.

Mixed into this is Javier Bardem as Catholic priest who is new to a parish and trying to reach out and fit in. But he is conflicted about being a stranger in a strange land. His internal voice speaks in Spanish to God, searching for answers. He believes in God, but he seems to be asking God to tell him that He believes in the priest.

There's a poignant scene where the priest conducts a wedding ceremony, then afterwards the family and guests are rejoicing and shaking hands and talking with one another -- everyone is paired up -- and Javier Bardem is walking through them alone. He's seeking God's love and wisdom, but you sense he fears that he is walking in a Godless emptiness.

This is Malick's first film set in the contemporary world, rather than the 17th century, the turn of the 20th century, the 1940s or 1950s.

I have no idea how this film started out on the written page. I could not imagine it as a screenplay. I could see it more as being drawn from the pages of a treatment. Or a novel. Or a poem. Because this is a visual poem.
Roger Ebert's final review was for To The Wonder. If this was the last movie he saw, I think he passed away happy. And, with the underlying sense of nature and spirituality in the film, with a sense of contented grace.

After watching a Terrence Malick film, it stays in your system. You feel content not to speak. Your mind is swirling with thoughts. You see the world from the perspective of a Steadicam Point-Of-View shot. And your ears are filled with the sound of string instruments and ethereal classical music.

This all sounds quite heavy and gloomy. And . . . well . . . yes . . . heavy, it kind of is. But, ultimately, in my view, To The Wonder is a sermon. A journey of various characters who are seeking love, and forgiveness, in their own way. A man seeking the love of a woman . . . even though he may not know which woman that is. Of a woman for a man, with all his faults. That none of us are perfect. That we are all flawed creatures and we must strive to build the best life that we can with what is available to us. Of the love of a man for a God that he is not certain is listening. Yet, even though he is reaching out in the darkness, he still does not give up hope that there is a God -- of some sort -- out there. And that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves. A universal goodness. That we are all connected. Albeit tenuously at times. I came away from To The Wonder with a sense that, if there is in deed a Heaven, then perhaps, for better or worse, it is here on this Earth and within our fingertips, if we will only accept it.

(Please NOTE: I am not addressing or espousing any specific religious belief, but a great, broad, all-encompassing and extremely esoteric and non-denominational spirituality.)
And whatever you may take away from To The Wonder, if you can ever come across 112-minutes of cinema that generates this type of intellectual stimulation, combined with incomparable beauty in every single shot -- and without digital compositing -- isn't that worth $7.99 in itself?

Thank you, Terrence Malick. And thank you, To The Wonder.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2013
I am not a Christian (or a theist at all), but this film strikes me as a fascinating and movingly Christian reflection on how its author learned to love. The film's protagonist, Neil (Ben Affleck), is not a 'character' in the film but instead provides the sensibility or subjectivity through which the plot of the film develops. The plot-line is this: Neil thinks he knows how to love, it soon emerges that he doesn't know how to love, then through the course of the film he learns how to love. He learns at last how to love Marina (Olga Kurylenko) partly through consultation with Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who shares his own struggles with his love-commitment to Jesus Christ.

If you know a bit about Terrence Malick's life, you suspect that these reflections are autobiographical: the 60-something Malick probing how the 30- or 40-something Malick learned to partake in genuine love relations. But that doesn't matter much. The force of the inquiry does not depend on its status as autobiography.

The potential viewer of this film faces two questions: do you want to reflect on how you came, or might someday come, to love? and do you want to reflect on this from a specifically Christian point of view?

As I said, I don't myself share that point of view: that's not how I conceptualize my own learning-how-to-love experiences. But then I didn't learn how to love in Oklahoma either. (I did it, or tried, in Los Angeles, with a woman from farther away than France.) The film's reflections are specific to the experiences of its maker, but they explore a universal human problem.

The film is not entertainment. I aims not to sweep you away from your life for two hours but to plunge you more deeply into it. If you don't want to reflect on your life and on how you have loved or failed to love those with whom you have shared it, don't watch. But if you are drawn to such reflections, this film may help you pursue them.

(It may also help you see how film can serve as a medium for such reflection, if that wasn't already apparent to you. But this particular film is not about film.)
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2014
One beautiful shot after another...Paris, Mont Saint Michel, moody music and a French woman's voice whispering "poetic" words. Many, many shots of the woman spinning, prancing and dancing, with arms outstretched in all of the above sites. We get it....she's a Free Spirit....She's French....she's adorable....she's romantic. After a long stretch of this we see the same woman back with her stolid polar-opposite, square-jawed, decent, Oklahoma guy, a man of few words. And he doesn't spin. The woman's daughter, though, also frolics and spins with her arms out. She's adorable, too, and has an adorable name, Tatiana, in case you missed the fact that she is adorable. This goes on for quite a while. The French woman tries to spin and dance for the guy in their house, using a scarf, but he is beginning to lose interest. She does manage to frolic and giggle when he puts the hose on her but that is short lived. If only she could do something cook or make conversation or read a book? Her repertoire of tricks is limited to being adorable, spinning and sometimes biting....very feline and French I guess?

Meanwhile Javier Bardem is a Spanish priest who is having a crisis of faith. He is the most interesting character, so far and I had hopes that he might interject something of substance into this thin romance. But even his presence didn't do it for me. I was relieved when the French woman went home and the Affleck guy met a local girl. She looked amazingly like the French one...same sweetheart face, petite body and long hair....only hers was blond. And, thank God, she didn't spin around! I had hopes for that duo but when she started giving her version of the same hard-luck story that the French woman delivered, I had enough. I'll never know what happened to any of them and I'll never care.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 13, 2013
Director Terrence Malick is most certainly an acquired taste, but one I acquired early with "Badlands" (1973) and last saw in the remarkable "The Tree of Life" (2011). It's pretty rare that he follows up so quickly given his record (10 films total). Maybe that is the problem with this film. And make no mistake, it's a problem. "To The Wonder" certainly isn't a terrible movie. Mallick's use of the outdoor landscape resonates throughout the film. Set in Oklahoma, he edits quickly between everyday scenes. A setting sun, a flower, an insect. The film is sparse of dialog.

Neil (Ben Afflick) has fewer lines than you can count on your fingers and toes. He has a romantic affair in Paris with young Marina (Olga Kurylenko, "Oblivion"). She has young daughter, having been abandon by her husband. Neil agrees reluctantly to bring her to America where they are to be married and she can get her Green Card. Neil works for the state or federal EPA and is seen taking soil and water samples throughout the film. Why? Dunno.

As he becomes more distant emotionally, Marina and daughter will return to France, but eventually return. In the meantime, Neil rekindles a relationship with Jane (Rachel McAdams, "Midnight In Paris"). When she starts a discussion about marriage, Neil retreats again. Hey, the guy doesn't want to get married!

While all this is going on, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem, "Skyfall") is having his own mental issues. Is he doing all he can do for humanity? Should he even be a priest? He eventually becomes a confidant to Marina, when she returns. Marina and Neil reunite, but their bickering and emotional struggles increase to the point of being violent. Is anything resolved? Love isn't always perfect. As I look back at Malick's films, this one is certainly his least impressive but perhaps most personal.

In spite of my reservations about the film, there is nothing not to like about the Blu ray transfer. Shot using 35mm and 65mm cameras, it all comes across beautifully in the 1080p picture and with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The grey and brown starkness of rural Oklahoma comes across with excellent color and hue. The contrast is spot on and the detail is excellent. Malick's films always have great soundtracks and this one is no different. Using DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. There are numerous outdoor shots with staging in Paris and Oklahoma and the range from street noise to whistling wind come through the speakers loud and clear. I'm not sure why, but I had to raise the volume level a couple notches over my usual setting. Subtitles come in Spanish and English SDH. Here are the extras:

*The Making of To The Wonder (HD, 10:25)
*The Actors' Experience (HD, 5:54)
*The Ballet (HD, 5:59)
*Local Flavor (HD, 4:55)
*Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:59)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2013
Permeated by a sense of the sacred, Terrence Malick's latest film points us to the transience of all things. Appropriately titled To the Wonder, the film has Malick's stamp written all over it: philosophical voice-overs uttered in hushed tones to a haunting orchestral soundtrack, panoramic displays of the physical beauty of nature, a story that features little dialogue, and an untranslatable feeling for the spiritual. Released just two years after his critically acclaimed The Tree of Life, Malick introduces us to the main characters immediately but they feel more like symbols than real people and we never really get to know and understand the "why" of their actions.

Neil (Ben Affleck) is an environmental inspector traveling in Europe when he meets Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a divorcee who is living in Paris with her ten-year-old daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). As the film opens, we hear Olga's voice-overs turn the world into inner space: "Newborn, I open my eyes. I melt into the eternal night. A spark. You brought me out of the shadows. You lifted me off the ground. You brought me back to life." "What is this love that loves us? It comes from nowhere. From all around. The sky. You, cloud. You love me too." One is unclear if she is talking to Neil or to God.

Visiting Mount St. Michel, Neil and Marina climb to the top of the abbey "to the Wonder" where she sees a world "forever at peace." The camera then caresses them in the mud of the beach as they express their love playfully - glancing, laughing, gesturing, and kissing with freedom and sensuality, "two wings of the same spirit." They go to Paris and walk among its fountains, rivers, and monuments. Olga twirls like a ballet dancer with uncommon grace but Neil is expressionless, stolid, and impenetrable. When they go back to Neil's home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, however, their relationship takes a different shape, existing in a stultifying environment of polluted water, cookie-cutter houses furnished sparingly, and the feeling, expressed cogently by Tatiana, that "there's something missing," perhaps mirroring Malick's childhood in the Southwest.

Sadly, the "something missing" begins to be filled in by quarreling, lack of communication, and frustration. Like the local Spanish-speaking priest, Father Quintana, played by a soulful Javier Bardem, they are searching for something that seems just beyond their grasp. Marina seeks solace with the priest but, like the Curé d'Ambricourt in The Diary of a Country Priest, he is filled with self-doubt and a sense of failure. He tells God "Everywhere you're present and I can't even see you." He asks "Show me how to love you" and, as he tends to the poor, the addicts, the prisoners, and the sick, recites the moving words from St. Patrick's Breastplate:

"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise..."

He gives sermons to a half-empty church, hears confessions, gives communion, but the look on his face prompts an elderly woman to pray for him so he can "achieve the gift of joy." Father Quintana's alienation reflects the crisis of Neil and Marina whose conflicts result in the desire for freedom. Marina goes back to France when her visa expires, but experiences a new loneliness in Europe and returns to Oklahoma where Neil has reunited with an old friend, Jane, (Rachel McAdams), now a rancher raising buffaloes.

Enigmatic, distancing, and often infuriating, To the Wonder does not have the immediate impact of The Tree of Life, yet in its own way is a meditation on love just as mysterious and profound. A film that takes place "in a realm which no word has ever entered," it is a work that suggests, implies, and evokes rather than commands, forcing us to confront how we connect to ourselves and the world around us, to be with the images without trying to figure them out, to weave our way in and out of the silences, to let go into the acceptance of not knowing, and to be aware of the wonder around us and bathe in its light.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I really liked it, tho I think Malick will lose fans because of the lack of dialogue and what many will assume is arrogance on his part
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2013
The love story told beautifully through the lens of camera
Loved the story of child who is hopeful but then sees "something is missing" and encourages mother to leave, although mother continues to linger on
Children can sense when things are right and when they are no longer right
So much depth to this movie
A movie to watch many times
Done beautifully and not too often you come across a movie that touches your soul
Thank you, i look forward to getting the dvd when it comes out
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2014
I just wasted 90 minutes of my life that I will never get back. It was like I was in the GroungHog version of a bad Chanel #5 commercial. Good Lord don't even think about watching this movie. And for the love of God, that actress has got to be dizzy from non stop spinning.
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