I was so amazed by "The Tree of Life", the only movie by Terrence Malick I have ever seen, that I put it in my favorite movies list. I had a very pretentious and awe-inspiring introduction to his work and I learn that although it is not so friendly, "The Tree of Life" give me a heart-pleasing thought and experience in appreciating movies. Now that I have been waiting (and excited) to "To The Wonder", in most parts it is disappointing. "To The Wonder" is tiring. It visualizes so much but it is shallow when it comes to the story, emotions, and characterization.
“To The Wonder” is perhaps a semi-autobiographical lovestory of Terrence Malick himself. Marina (portrayed by Olga Kurylenko) is a single mother of Tatiana (portrayed by Tatiana Chiline) living in Paris. Neil (portrayed by Ben Affleck) is an American in Paris who falls in love with Marina. Neil invites her and her daughter to America where they try to build a commitment but fail. Tatiana doesn’t feel comfortable living in there and Marina also finds her love to Neil is cooling down. Both goes back to Paris, while Neil reunites with his old friend, Jane (portrayed by Rachel McAdams). In the other hand, Father Quintana (portrayed by Javier Bardem) is a Spanish priest in American who finds crisis in his faith. Neil tries to deal with the love he has both with Jane and Marina, while Father Quintana keeps searching for the true love of God in his life.
Just in the first ten minutes, I started to grouch about when it is going to end. Two hours went very exhausting because I was offered with so many beautiful scenes (that are more likely to be shot as paintings instead of motion pictures), poetic voiceovers (in three languages: French, English, and Spanish), and lovely classical score, without a solid and supportive storyline and characterization. I understand that while "The Tree of Life" talks about life as a grand design, "To The Wonder" talks about love in a global definition. But it left nearly nothing in my brain. It doesn't hook me in the heart. It barely puts emotion in its every scene. "To The Wonder" invites me to a pretty flower garden and insists in letting me walk around it without giving me any intentions and clues. Instead, it keeps whispering poems and wordplays so often that they end up making me sick. It barely has dialogue between characters; there are only narrations and inaudible dialogues.
Lucky that I was still able to catch what it tries to transfer. I am not complaining about the abstractness of it (because "The Tree of Life" has taught me well about it) but for a brief message it has, "To The Wonder" is repetitive and abundant. If I could make it short, "To The Wonder" tells me that there are times when love is found, love grows, love complicates, and love disappears. “To The Wonder” tells me that our search of true love in this life will last forever. I know it. But Malick takes a winding path to let me understand it. He doesn't develop this layer very well. It goes round and round. Spirituality is mild, philosophical thought is thick, but they don't blend well to make a perfect movie that goes beyond a common narrative style. Again, obscurity has become a trademark of Terrence Malick but in this case, “To The Wonder” is unable to deliver its big idea of love in a nice development of story. Malick insists in putting everything visually, visually, and visually but does not give enough exploration to the premise. Finally it feels like an overly spanned out short idea.
The thing I appreciate from "To The Wonder" is, again, its style. I would rather address this movie as a work of cinematography instead of a cinematic work. Emmanuel Lubezki's shots are undoubtedly impressive, and if you are to capture hundreds of aesthetic shots from this movie, you won't find any difficulties. Maybe you could even make your own hundred-page gallery book from these pictures, LOL. In this movie, camera never stops moving; it dances all the way around as a form of solemnity and high commemoration of the beauty of this life. They were edited so fast-paced, maybe there's not even a scene that lasts more than ten seconds before it is cut to the other scene (and I have this feeling that Malick re-sorted the storyline in the editing phase, different from what is written in the scripts—if there are any scripts). The beautiful classical scores are also nice and combined perfectly with the beautiful shots. Again, it is more likely to be a work of art rather than a work of cinema alone.
And Malick strikes again. He actually had some scenes involving Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, and Amanda Peet in “To The Wonder” but their scenes didn’t make it until final cut. Finally, there we have only four roles to show off two different kinds of love. Ben Afflect, Olga Kurylenko, and Rachel McAdams had to show off love in a form of inter-gender affection, while Javier Bardem's task is to show off a love to humanity—spiritual love. But, just like Rachel who came with too short duration, Javier Bardem wasn't given enough room to explore that second type of love. His part was obscure and shallow. Maybe because these two love definitions were not allocated in a good proportion; focus was more given to the love conflict of Neil and Marina. Olga Kurylenko is successful to make Malick promise that her scenes will be included in the final release—although what mostly she does in this movie is dancing. Ben Affleck is good as a cool, ignorant, but loving man. But, again, there are hardly any explanations about the characters.
Finally, "To The Wonder" is not interesting. The shots are great, the musics are powerful, but the storyline is not so supportive that it ruins the movie itself. A tiring and lengthy journey of love. Abundantly beautiful on a very cracky, fragile ground. And to be honest, "To The Wonder" is not wonderful.
▲ Beautiful cinematography and classical score
▼ Repetitive and undeveloped, roles are not characterized perfectly
TO THE WONDER | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2012 RATING Rated R for some sexuality/nudity RUNTIME 112 min GENRE Drama, Romance CAST Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline WRITER Terrence Malick DIRECTOR Terrence Malick MORE INFO