Wednesday, October 8, 2014

To the Wonder

Terrence Malick's To the Wonder is a movie I admire probably more than I like. I did like it, a lot actually. But I also felt that it was messy and unfocused, overlong, and just generally not up to the standard he set in Days of Heaven or The New World. But, my home state has never been filmed so lovingly (it's rarely filmed at all, in fact) and Malick shows so many of the gorgeous moments in Oklahoma nature that I try to stop and appreciate in my day to day life. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use only natural light, which makes me start thinking that movie lighting is a waste of time since this is another of Malick's increasingly beautiful films.

This movie is like much of Malick's work, meandering and unconcerned with plot. But this one is made up almost entirely of what I call stolen moments. The dreamlike snatches of conversation or fights or even making love. Malick does these better than anyone, but it's difficult for these moments to sustain an entire runtime of a movie. There are some truly extraordinary things in this movie, but around the time I felt it should be wrapping up I looked at the clock and realized we were only an hour into the 113 minutes of the movie. Malick and Lubezki say that this was Malick's most experimental movie, being SO unconcerned with telling a story in the traditional sense. But I'm not sure it totally works.

Ben Affleck says more in the 4 minute behind the scenes featurette on the DVD than he does the entire movie. Thankfully, our "main" character (as much as the movie has one) is the ethereal almost impossible beauty of Olga Kurylenko as the woman Affleck meets in France and eventually takes back home to northeast Oklahoma. The rest of the cast includes Rachel McAdams, who Affleck was friends with in high school and who he takes up with when Kurylenko goes back to France. There's also Javier Bardem's priest character, acting as a guiding light in the community while undergoing a crisis of faith inside. We hear them all in voiceover much more than we hear them in conversation. Apparently Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper, Michael Shannon and Michael Sheen all shot footage as well but were ultimately cut out, in typical Malick fashion.

Again, like with 2011's The Tree of Life, it's easy to see Malick's autobiographical elements to what story there is. He met his second wife while in France, eventually taking her back to live in Texas and Oklahoma while they were married. However, since we don't know a ton about Malick himself, I'm not sure if Affleck's aloof staring into the distance performance is as autobiographical as the "plot" of meeting a French girl and bringing her back to the US.

It's a movie I would recommend seeing only if you're already a Malick fan, as this is his Malick-iest movie yet.

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