|Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in TO THE WONDER, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.|
2013, 112 minutes
Rated R for some sexuality/nudity
Terrence Malick should stick to the one movie per half decade or so. This is Malick's first movie in only two years, the last movie being his incredible Best Picture-nominee The Tree of Life. To the Wonder follows a relationship between two people (Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko) and its ups and downs.
It goes without saying that this movie looks gorgeous, but many of the images are rehashes of The Tree of Life taking much of the originality out of them. Many images seem like they were shot because Malick decided to shoot whatever seemed nice, then assemble them with some voice-over (this may not be far from what happened as he shot without a script). The fact that the film is Malick's first set in the modern day doesn't allow for the lyrical romanticizing that Malick is known for in his period films. The modern day isn't that beautiful. The past is because much of it is a romanticization.
The acting in To the Wonder is nonexistent. Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem are featured, but it is Affleck and Kurylenko who have the most screen time. Even then they don't have many lines and all they do is embrace, touch hands, or frolic. Rachel McAdams is top-billed but is only featured for a small period of time before completely disappearing and never heard from or seen again. Javier Bardem plays Father Quintana, a priest struggling because he doesn't feel God's love anymore. He has a small part, but is the only actor who is actually allowed to do anything interesting. His voice-over is very moving. The way he says Malick's poetic lines is lyrical. The problem is that none of the characters are developed at all and many of their actions are unexplained. It is impossible to care for any of the characters. Malick seemed to be too interested in his imagery and ideas to develop his characters.
For all of To the Wonder's talk about love and religion, whatever message Malick was trying to convey is lost in the sea of nothingness. There is not enough in To the Wonder to fill a 112-minute movie. For every minute or two of dialogue, there are ten of absolutely nothing but nice images.
Another issue with this film is the sound mixing. The voice-over is infrequent, so when someone says something, it is necessary to hear. However, it is sometimes hard to make out what is being said over the beautiful musical score.
While To the Wonder certainly has its problems, it is not a bad movie because it is sincere. With every movie he makes, Malick seems to believe in what he's making. While he does seem to love what he makes, it never comes across as phony, which goes a long way in a day when many filmmakers are just in it for the money, making their films insincere.
Overall, To the Wonder is a big disappointment from one of cinema's masters. It isn't bad, but is severely boring. Some people may love this, but I didn't. That being said, I cannot wait to see what Malick has coming next, as he is one of the most distinctive and original filmmakers working today.
- Joshua Handler