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
on July 5, 2015
I have given this film 5 stars, not because it is an excellent movie in any usual sense, but because it is excellent as what it actually is. To the Wonder is of course very beautiful. Malick is in love with light and finds unusual ways to use it as different as clouds reflected on water, a candle flame, or a spinning cut glass ball. He is also famous for combining a beautiful sound track with the lowest forms of human conduct.
For those people who made comments that the film is a mess or unstructured or have tried to label it as a poem in an effort to make it conform to a comprehensible genre, I will try to show that To the Wonder is actually highly structured, but not in ways most viewers will easily be able to see. There is also the fact that Malick's films are increasingly evolving into conceptual art and very close to surrealism. Conceptual art, usually unorthodox, is concerned with expressing ideas important to the artist, but making it comprehensible to an audience is a secondary concern, if a concern at all. If Malick had wanted to make this film readily understandable he would not have used four languages, five if you include sign language. Other examples of conceptual art are Charles Ives' music and Picasso's Les demoiselles d'Avignon.
The structure of To the Wonder is a very good basic expression of Soren Kierkegaard's existential philosophy of the human condition. Very simply Kierkegaard saw people falling into three personality types. Marina (Olga Kurylenko) is the "aesthetic" type governed by the senses, impulse, and emotion. Neil (Ben Affleck) is the "ethical" type which is motivated by responsibility and social good. What job could be more ethical than an EPA inspector? Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is the "religious" type, although a failed or relapsed type. For Kierkegaard the religious personality required a total self-relating to God, and it has to be constantly repeated. This is why Father Quintana struggles all through the film with self-doubt. He thinks in voice over, "Love is a command and a duty. You say I can command my emotions. You fear your love has died." Important to existential philosophy is that every person has freely chosen his life condition and can change it. Although miserable to the point of despair, people rarely find a way out of their life condition because it requires a complete, active break with their past personality type. (Cf. "Fear and Trembling" and "Either Or.") Each character plays out their personality in spite of the conflicts and misery it causes, and each character ends the film essentially unchanged. It is inevitable that as soon as the first joys of new love fade, Marina and Neil are too different to stay together. She is soon bored with him, "don't be so serious" she says. Neil on his part is exasperated with her impulsive, irresponsible personality.
Because Malik is dealing here almost exclusively with abstract ideas, he has eliminated most of the dialogue and uses symbols instead. One is a flight of ascending stairs. It could be escape, fulfillment, hope. He shows Marina and Neil pacing around the same house, but on different floors. They can not come together, physically or mentally. He has also stripped the plot down to the barest minimum. He is trying to cover a lot of psychological ground and avoiding another three hour film like The Tree of Life. He uses a lot of cinema montage, a series of short shots of actions or people's expressions to tell the story without words. Yes, there is too much twirling, but what action better shows joy in such a quick, simple way? This type of filmmaking requires a lot attention from the audience. I didn't get it all the first time either.
The end of the film, starting with the first scenes in the airport when Marina is leaving, are the most difficult because Malick here abandons a linear time sequence. This section can best be considered a series of memories, regrets, expressions of despair, or of desire. In a voice-over Marina says, "Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves. They wait for others to do it." Pure Kierkegaard. Then she is shown committing adultery which she knows will cause Neil to leave her. There never could have been a baby or young child while she was still in Kansas. Perhaps she wished her daughter was still young and not estranged from her. The scene of Neil with his attorney explicitly states the divorce will be easy since there are no children. The scene of Neil with a young boy is his wish for a son. The last scene with Marina back at Mont Saint-Michel with the same music as the first time is her memory of lost love. This scene also brings the film full circle to the beginning, indicating that nothing in these people's lives has really changed because they have not changed.
Malick has probably thought about this film most of his life. He did post graduate study at Oxford on the human condition as expressed in the philosophy of Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger. Over laying this philosophical structure are loosely autobiographical events in Malik's own life. He left his first wife to marry a woman he met in Paris with whom he lived for a time in Kansas. He later divorced her. (Wikipedia) Malick did not make this film for you or me. He made it for himself, and it is a very personal expression of his thoughts on the human condition and spirituality. This is why Roger Ebert could write, "Malick...appears almost naked here before his audience."
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.)
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.
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.
on January 20, 2014
One beautiful shot after another...Paris, Mont Saint Michel,....plus 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 else...like 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.
on May 17, 2013
Nor is it likely to be like any other movie you see this summer.
Terence Malick, to his credit, loves women, and graceful women who for the most part know how to move in space, especially in Nebraska or wherever there are fields with golden sun. These women, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko look really nice in juxtaposition with Ben A, but the camera is usually on them, which is a good thing, These women look good with empire waists although these women would look OK in Kmart too.
Mont St Michel is really beautiful.
I wish love were like this, but it was never for me, and that is why the magic of cinema is a romantic gift that Mallick has. He has a great ear for music. Music also moves the film; in fact, the film is composed rather than shot. Each scene is a fugue.
He also clearly loves America
He has a terrific lens on his camera that can make anyplace, even a crappy gas station in the plains of the country look good, and somehow makes everything look really clean and uncluttered. THis makes the characters central.
Javier Bardem is a priest with a crisis of faith. We watch him minister while interior monologue creates his stress.
This film is for people who love cinematography, not acting, and possess a vague, universal story line with which to work. I have always liked Malick, and he has expanded the scene from Days of Heaven when Brooke Adams sneaks out to see Richard Gere and they cavort in a small stream. And the champagne glass falls underwater. Little was said then; the sin concocted.
I find it thrilling to watch a new romantic type of filmmaking come about,whether you agree with the sentiment. It is not for everybody. Especially not for someone named Pepper Potts.
on October 5, 2016
What's the point? The nature and dimensions of love? First of all, most of this movie is music and cinematography. There is very little dialogue and most of that is in French, because the main character is French and she is narrating. It's all very wispy and billowy and there is so much twirling...I skipped ahead through a lot of it and did not miss any of the plot, what little there is... Don't waste your time with this.
on April 5, 2016
brilliant insight to humanity; this is a film that gives us just enough narrative to show us that we do not live a life of narrative; but of experience, observation and feeling. I am sorry to see this film fall into an overall mediocre rating; it just goes to show how so many humans who bothered to view this film have lost touch with the very things that make up our life; much of which we simply ignore because it makes us too uncomfortable. This film is about seeking through doing; our very existence. So, if you want the I.T. film of the year where you will feel safe and predictable, don't watch it; but if you have ever taken a long walk in nature or traveled after deep loss or even triumph; then see it.
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