“To the Wonder” – Review by Mike Holtz

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To the Wonder Review

by Mike Holtz

Directed By: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line)

Starring: Ben Affleck (The Town), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)

No relationship on this planet could survive this movie. As a matter of fact it’s no easy task to endure watching a relationship this infuriating on screen for two hours. Oh no…. I hope you didn’t misunderstand me. It’s not infuriating in the shocking or controversial way.  It’s infuriating in the same way  someone tying you to a chair for two hours and forcing you to watch  MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen on loop while some teenage girl screams at her parents about how hard her life is because her new Porsche was light pink instead of dark pink would be….that kind of infuriating.

I give you Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.

Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) are deeply in love with one another. This point is endlessly driven home at the films start as they spend most of their time chasing each other like kids on a playground before touching each others faces for awkwardly long  periods of time. To the Wonder is the story of their relationship, a relationship involving a broken woman named Jane (McAdamsand the impossible problems these relationships all face. It also features the slightly intertwining side story of a Priest (Bardem) having a crisis of faith and explores (in it’s own strange way) the ties between religion and love.

The story of To the Wonder is told in typical Malick fashion with lots of whispering (Mostly coming from Kurylenko, in subtitles) and fragmented dialogue with long shots of imagery that are supposed to have symbolic meaning. This is not what is so bothersome about this frustrating film. Understanding and somewhat even appreciating at times Malick’s hard to watch style of film making (We may not like the way he chooses to tell his stories, but it’s hard to deny the excellent cinematography and camera work that comes with his films), there are still a million problems with Wonder (and The Tree of Life too, for that matter).  

Despite the film’s best intentions the only like-able character in the movie is the one that never talks. Ben Affleck looks great as a big star in an amazing looking film but his talents seem wasted as he is mostly just used as a piece of the scenery (Walking through Malick’s geographical shots or standing in the background watching Marina run through a field laughing for the tenth time).  If Neil speaks it’s extremely rare as most of the film is centered around the self concerned and over dramatic Marina. Her character is incredibly annoying and embodies what is wrong with Malick’s film entirely as she is supposed to portray some deep and unique individual but instead comes across as self indulgent and childish. She speaks her little anecdotes about love and life  in whispered code, but is impossible to take seriously as she is unbelievably spoiled and hard to connect with. Most of the film is centered on her journey and most of the film she wreaks havoc on everyone else. It’s hard to believe that this was intentional, as the film seems to oddly side with her or be empathetic for her when I could not.

At one point Marina’s friend (who acts just like her) is telling her to leave Neil because “Life’s a dream” and “In a dream you can’t make mistakes” before she points at a group of Firemen and says “There’s nothing here” she continued “Look at their faces…. false…. all false.” Marina (of course) seems to be buying this non-sense but as a spectator I was enraged. What entitlement do these women think they have that makes them so much better than everyone else? Especially a couple of Firemen with an honorable career? Even more so since neither of these Women have an occupation to speak for themselves.

This is the type of non-sense that constantly spouts from Marina, always wanting more than anyone can give her and more than she deserves. She preaches about love but does nothing to save her relationship. She talks about living free but her idea of freedom is to spin around in circles really fast or run down the street/field/forest yelling and giggling. Much like Malick’s recent films themselves; its great to have ideals, visions and dreams but when is anyone going to actually follow through on the non-sense they preach and actually explain or change anything? It’s elitism by way of laziness and calling it art doesn’t change the fact, that in the end, with no solution or legitimate change it ultimately says and does nothing. 

Father Quintana (Bardemhas the most coherent lines in the entire script and they usually come from his sermons about love and religion at the church in which Marina attends.  Bardem believably plays the priest who has lost his way through all the destruction he sees on a daily basis while helping people and attempting to do good for the less fortunate. It would have been nice to see less of Marina babbling in half-whispers and dancing around with buffaloes and more of Father Quintanas character being unfolded but alas, his story feels like it never gets it’s day and Malick chooses instead to focus on incoherent imagery.

I wish that Wonder had as much to say as it thought it did, but much like Marina, this script thinks it is entitled to way more than it actually deserves and talks too much without saying anything at all and much like Neil and Father Quintana, the camera work, cinematography and scenery deserve much better. I understand Malick wants these films to get to the heart of human natures most precious aspects, but how can he ever do that by creating characters that either don’t matter or are completely unrealistic? That no-one can relate to? I’m not sure anyone thinks, acts, or lives the pretentious way the characters in Malick’s movies do. So, if it’s human nature he’s after maybe he should start creating characters that actually seem like real people.

4.0 out of 10

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