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Movie Review: To the Wonder

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

To the Wonder final posterTitle: To the Wonder
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: April 12, 2013 (Limited)
Rated: R

Synopsis: After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane. (Via IMDB)

Brian’s Review: To the Wonder will probably best be remembered as the final film Roger Ebert reviewed, and it’s a great review. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t. He doesn’t so much praise the movie, as ask if we, the audience, should disregard a film that evokes feelings from us, and doesn’t give all the answers? I didn’t know what to expect from To the Wonder. I fell under the spell of The Tree of Life two years ago, and have been since intrigued that writer/director Terrence Malick, famous for taking his sweet time with his movies (sometimes twenty years!), has since 2011 shot not just one but four feature films. A storyteller who always takes his time is suddenly cranking out films faster than Adam Sandler. Is this a good thing? Is this great news for lifetime fans of Malick? Who knows what his next films will be like, but I’m hopeful they won’t be quite as abstract as To the Wonder.

This film has the same striking, gorgeous cinematography that won me over in Tree of Life. The same fluid camera movements, the same unique editing style. You can take any 30 seconds of To the Wonder and make them an impressive screensaver. We don’t go to the beginning of time—no dinosaurs to be found here—but Malick manages to make Oklahoma look like wonderland. Just like every other movie he’s made, To the Wonder is a splendid visual achievement. The fault of the movie is that we never really care about what’s happening on-screen. I’m all for films that aren’t easy to explain. Mulholland Drive is one of my top three films of all time. I’ve seen it ten times, at least.


But To the Wonder is almost so simple in its abstractness that I fail to comprehend people wanting to go back again and again and again. There’s a difference, I think, between making a film that tries to evoke feelings and making a film that doesn’t even try to draw an audience into any sort of tangible story. I loved every second with that family in Tree of Life. Malick allowed those characters to come to life. The characters in To the Wonder don’t really exist so much as walk through the space of the camera lens. It may be the first feature-length movie I’ve ever watched that doesn’t have a scene. Yes, you read that right. The film is comprised of a hundred moments—mostly walking—but not one single scene that has a beginning or an ending. It’s just moments, with lots of middles.

The cast isn’t given much to work with. Ben Affleck is in at least 75% of the movie, and he says about seven words. Again, Brad Pitt, one of the biggest stars in the world, became a fully realized character in Tree of Life. Ben Affleck just plays Ben Affleck for two hours. I don’t think he even changes expression, except for one shot when he jumps out of a car and punches a side-view mirror off his car. Rachel McAdams shows up for about six minutes, then disappears. Olga Kurylenko, most famous for playing a Bond girl in Quantam of Solance, gives the best performance in the film. Her journey is the most interesting, a woman who goes from France to Oklahoma, who thinks she’s in love and then commits a not-so-surprising act of adultery—and then finally heads to an unspecified dreamscape that may or may not only exist in her mind.

I talked to more than one person who called Tree of Life the worst movie they’d ever seen. I can’t even imagine what they would think of To the Wonder. It’s not a film to be ignored, because it is a beautiful achievement on the level of the cinematography. Unfortunately, the story and characters, the little there is, failed to draw me in at any point in the nearly two-hour running time. I admired the film, but this one, I imagine even for diehard Malick fans, will be a hard one to fall in love with.

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