Those who were holding out hope that Terrence Malick might return to something resembling straightforward narrative filmmaking after the mysticism and patchwork storytelling of The Tree of Life will be disappointed with To The Wonder;  the film uses the same impressionistic narrative style, but in doing so fails to elevate a very slight and often clichéd story.

The film opens in Paris, where we are introduced to lovers Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). They wander the City of Lights, sometimes with and sometimes without Marina’s young daughter, clearly infatuated with each other, and Neil asks Marina and Tatiana to return with him to his home in the U.S. The setting then shifts to the flat landscapes and big skies of a suburban subdivision somewhere in Oklahoma. The romance quickly cools as Mariana and her daughter fail to connect with this alien environment, with Marina seeking solace from local priest Father Quintana (Javier  Bardem) while Neil immerses himself in his work as an environmental engineer/chemist of some sort. The expiration of Marina’s visa sounds the final bell for the relationship, and after she returns to Paris with Tatiana, Neil takes up with old flame Jane (Rachel McAdams).

Marina is not done with Neil just yet however. After writing to tell him that she wants to return to the U.S, and has met another man who has volunteered to marry her so she can do so, Neil ends his relationship with Jane and marries Marina when she returns to Oklahoma , but as is usually the case, marriage can’t repair what is irreparably broken.

Malick spares us any baffling sequences such as those involving dinosaurs or the creation of life that perplexed so many viewers of The Tree of Life, but regardless this is a small mercy as the film raises pretension to new levels. Beautiful photography and pseudo poetic voice over in no way alter the fact that this is a slight domestic drama that has nothing to say that hasn’t been said many times over in ways that are actually emotionally compelling rather than freeze-dried ; after all, a drama about love should make us feel something if it is to be considered a success on any level. The interaction between the leads is about as enticing as watching paint dry, and Olga Kurylenko’s Marina, shown mostly in either doe eyed close up or dancing around like a spinning earth mother, gives hands down the most irritating lead performance I saw in 20 plus films at this year’s TIFF.

There is a certain undeniable fascination in watching Malicks’s latest offerings, but what  this fascination really translates into for many of us is a hope that a master will return to form with engaging storytelling  that is worthy of his visual talents . It’s frustrating that his renewed burst of creativity has been characterised instead by a seeming desire to become a sort of one-man avant garde, working awkwardly within mainstream American  feature film-making.


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Ian Gilchrist
I've worked in entertainment product development and sales & marketing in the U.S., UK and my native Canada for over 20 years, and have been a part of many changes during that time (I've overseen home entertainment releases on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray). I've also written and commentated about film and music for many outlets over the years. The first film I saw in the cinema was Mary Poppins, some time in the mid-60s: I was hooked. My love of the moving image remains as strong as ever.