To the Wonder

“I can’t believe I just wasted two hours on that.” “There was NO plot!” “Why did they just keep walking through fields?!”

Those were the reactions I heard as I left the theater after seeing To the Wonder. Terrence Malick’s latest film left the audience angry. As the credits began to roll an audience member in my row exclaimed, “finally!” and left shaking their head. This didn’t come as a surprise to me because a lot of individuals find Malick’s work frustrating and confusing. I have to admit I used to be one of them until I saw Days of Heaven this past year and his style started to make sense to me.

Think of a cherished memory you have with a significant other, friend, or parent. Most of us don’t have a perfect memory and when we recall these cherished moments we don’t get all of it back. It’s like cupping water in your hands. You may remember a laugh, a glance, or the way it felt when they brushed your hair our of your face. The point is you remember in bits and pieces and not in perfect movie like scenes. You fill in the blanks between those bits and pieces because it’s your life and you know the connections between point A and point B. That is what it like to watch a Terrence Malick film. He doesn’t give you everything and let’s you fill in the blanks and make the connections between the characters.

To the Wonder has very little spoken dialogue between the characters, a lot of voice overs, and shots of nature. The relationship between Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) seems perfect when they are in Europe together. They look every bit in love with one another and he asks her and her young daughter to come back to America with him. The contrast between Europe and Oklahoma is striking and their relationship cools over time and Neil even rekindles things with Jane (McAdams) a woman from his past. The distance that Marina feels from Neil is similar to the distance a local priest feels with God. The priest (Bardem) travels around the city as a representation of hope and love to the broken and downtrodden and yet he doesn’t feel much hope or love himself. These characters only briefly interact but the similarities in the language used to describe their situations was fascinating to me.

Ultimately To the Wonder seemed to raise some pretty simple questions about love and connections and whether they can last. The best thing about Malick films is that I could watch it a second time and receive a completely different message. I think his films are very interactive and allow you to step into the story. At times the camera angles even make you feel like one of the characters or a close bystander. If you want a story spoon fed to you this is not for you. If you want to think, imagine, and fall into a story then go to see To the Wonder.

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