As a result, To The Wonder works better in that it’s not quite as grand a subject matter, therefore giving him a greater chance to conquer it, if you will. However where his latest feature suffers, is that it hasn’t got that grandiose, epic quality that was so appealing about his preceding production.
We follow the turbulent relationship between Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), and despite a memorable, romantic voyage to Mont Saint-Michel in France, the pair – along with Marina’s daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) – return to Neil’s home in Oklahoma, and it is back in America where problems arise and their seemingly formidable bond starts to break down. As a result, Neil starts spending time with an old flame, Jane (Rachel McAdams), while Marina seeks solace in local priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is also suffering from his own crisis of identity.
By dealing with romance and relationships, To The Wonder certainly allows Malick a platform to be his most grandiloquent, and the film suffers in that at times it does steer towards the melodramatic, more mawkish side to his work. Nonetheless, Malick manages to display a fair and rounded take on love with all its facets, including lust, desire, sex, anger, betrayal, guilt and outright adoration. It works well to an extent, as he analyses one particular part of life rather than its entirety, in a similar vein to his achievement in The Thin Red Line, where the focus was war and death.
In regards to displaying each and every romantic nuance, Kurylenko is fantastic, as she has this playful demeanour, almost flirting with the camera as we follow her voyeuristically dancing through open spaces. She has a beguiling naivety to her, and seeing the world through her eyes is inspiring. That said, there are perhaps too many scenes of Marina dancing three feet in front of Neil, and although it portrays the dynamics to their relationship effectively – giving him a sense of dominance and maturity, we don’t need to see it happen quite so often. Meanwhile, the other performance that truly stands out is that of Bardem, and although his character seems somewhat irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, his performance justifies its inclusion, as he simply steals every scene he is in. His soothing, assuasive voice also suits the picturesque quality for which Malick is striving.
The film does look beautiful, as Malick once again displays his ability to present scenery to its maximum advantage. He doesn’t hold many shots for a long period of time, and despite the fact certain scenes and human relations linger – such as Marina dancing, or the couple hugging – the backdrop continuously changes, as though the film is being told via postcards. Yet despite its visual ingenuity, To The Wonder lacks an engaging narrative. Malick simply loses us during the film, as we dip in and out of the story. We aren’t quite behind the director at all times, and as such it can become difficult to appreciate and comprehend what it is he is trying to portray or tell us.
If you are a Malick fan this is certainly worth a watch, but if not, then avoid at all costs, as this is Terrence Malick being, well, very Terrence Malick. What can be mistaken for horribly sentimental drivel is saved by the reputation that precedes the director, and if this feature had come from anyone else you’d want to walk out – yet where he is concerned you always think there’s something more to it than meets the eye, a deeper meaning behind the imagery. However in this case, it’s not particularly as profound nor significant as we are used to.