Monday, April 29, 2013

To the Wonder: Movie Review


A series of images adding up to one relationship, and you get to add the meaning.
Following up the dramatic success of “The Tree of Life” (2011), Terrence Malick has gone simpler but more abstract with “To the Wonder”. Following only one relationship, we see Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) fall in love, grow apart, fight to stay together, and fight to stay apart. It’s about the resolution, or lack of resolution, of one ill-fated romantic relationship. 2012

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Screenplay by: Terrence Malick

Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko

Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in TO THE WONDER,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The key is that we see them in these various stages. This is an entirely visual film with nothing else. No dialogue. There are a few random lines of narration and even fewer lines that one character may speak to another character, but following the strict definition of dialogue – a conversation between two or more people – there is no dialogue. There are no characters either. Well, that’s not really true, but we don’t learn their names (I only got them from a plot summary), we don’t learn anything about their past, and we also don’t see them in between the turning points in their relationship.

The turning points in their relationship is likely a major factor in determining if you’ll like the film. We apparently jump back and forth in time with flashbacks and flash-forwards but there is no distinction between the scenes, so you’re just left to guess at what point of time they’re in. But for lovers of subtle works of art, it also means that you get to figure out on your own what causes the relationship to crash and burn or rise above the flames.

At first I was offended by the depiction of the failing of their relationship. It looked like Terrence Malick was depicting the extreme opposite of a misogynist and was representing women as ultimate perfection and completely innocent no matter how deplorable their actions. But then I realized that he wasn’t saying anything at all. He was just presenting us with images and we get to add the meaning and words. Like a Mad-Lib, but not very funny. The cinematography just doesn’t tell a complete story.

Take one relationship, add in some beautiful scenery – both European and stateside, add in some Christian undertones, add in children, jobs and visas to create some important societal structure within the relationship, and then remove all conversations and orientation of time and you’ve got “To the Wonder”. You can get out of it almost everything that you put into it, but there’s always something lost in the translation.

Similar Titles:

Blue Valentine (2010) - "Blue Valentine" is tragically real, beautiful, and blue.

Like Crazy (2011) - A story of love, depending on what love really is.

The Tree of Life (2011) - Life in the grandest, and almost inexplicable, of scales.

Cloud Atlas (2012) - Three hours with one bad idea and six boring stories does not add up to a good movie.