Magazine article Variety

To the Wonder

Magazine article Variety

To the Wonder

Article excerpt

To the Wonder

Terranee Malick continues to take bold risks, courting ridicule and rapture in equal measure, with "To the Wonder," his first full-on treatment of that oldest of movie subjects, romantic love. Staying in the semi-autobiographical vein of "The Tree of Life," the suddenly industrious writerdirector finds tenderness and beauty in a whisper-thin story of passion, marriage and betrayal that all but erases the line between the secular and the sacred. Those who cant abide Malick's spiritual reveries will steer clear, but flaws and all, this is ravishing, distribworthy work from a filmmaker who hasn t lost his capacity to move and surprise.

The arrival of a new picture bearing Malick's name just 15 months after his previous release is something few of his devotees would have dreamed possible a while ago, coming from a director who took a legendary 20-year hiatus between "Days of Heaven" and The Thin Red line." Yet the fleet, intimate nature of this sixth feature, set entirely in the present day (another first), feels appropriate to its shorter gestation period and production schedule.

Although far less ambitious than "The Tree of Life," a distinction that will likely be reflected commercially, To the Wonder" nonetheless feels deeply connected to its predecessor, likewise employing glancing, impressionistic imagery and prayerful voiceover to wrap its characters in an intense miasma of spiritual inquiry. Perhaps the film's most potentially divisive stroke is the direct connection it makes between romantic and Christian devotion, as Malick again draws on a chapter of his life, specifically his 1985-98 marriage to a Frenchwoman, laying personal history bare with an emotional nakedness that seems especially startling in light of his reclusive rep.

Opening with an atypical blast of rough, grainy homevideo footage, the film conjures the swooning ecstasy of a young relationship as Midwest native Neil (Ben Affleck) wanders the streets of Paris with local beauty Marina (Olga Kurylenko). Backed by Wagner, Haydn and other selections from the canon, Emmanuel Lubezki's camera swirls freely around the lovers as they kiss on a bridge over the Seine; play with Marina's young daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline); and take a side trip to the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, a beautiful tidal island off the coast of Normandy rightly known as "the Wonder of the West."

The lyrical earnestness with which Malick enshrines the glory of love may provoke a spasm of embarrassment early on, approaching a well-worn cinematic subject with the ardency and naivete of an explorer stumbling on a new world. There's beauty but also banality in aphorisms like, "You lifted me from the ground" and, "If you love me, there's nothing else I need," and Marina's breathy French-language v.o. can't help but occasionally flirt with Euro art-film parody.

But the flush of first love soon vanishes, along with any sense of vapidity, as Marina and Tatiana come to live with Neil in Bartlesville, OkIa, where the wide, flat landscapes and golden wheat tones look straight out of "Baulands." The couple's new life together is happy but not entirely fulfilled, and the film, without breaking away from its elliptical, convulsive style, complicates the situation with remarkably concrete developments: Neil isn't quite ready to commit, and Marina can't marry him without breaking her Catholic vows to her wayward first husband.

When Marina heads back to Paris with Tatiana, Neil seeks momentary solace with an old classmate, Jane (Rachel McAdams), inspiring a brief narrative digression in which Malick seems at least as interested in the horses on Jane's ranch as he is in the woman hersetf . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.