© STUDIOCANAL GmbH Filmverleih

To the Wonder
U.S.A. 2012

Opening 30 May 2013

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Writing credits: Terrence Malick
Principal actors: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline

Terrence Malick built his reputation and public admiration through telling compelling stories imbued with philosophical overtones. His masterful The Thin Red Line (1998) is a haunting yet poetical anti-war film, whereas Badlands (1973) oozes with the naturalness of evil, as audiences come closer to understanding two young killers’ judgments and moral alienation. Disappointingly writer/director Malick’s second film in as many years is more a philosophical treatise: Malick “explores how love and its many phases and seasons … can transform, destroy, and reinvent lives.” Substituting each protagonist’s thoughts in lieu of quality dialogue – spoken in French, Spanish, English subtitled in German – lacked perspicuity and passion.

On the French isle of Mont Saint-Michel, Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) romp and embrace at the abbey, obviously in the throes of fresh love. Back in Paris, Marina’s young daughter (Tatiana Chiline) is delighted at the prospect of moving to the USA. Whereas Neil returns to home turf, the reality of living in Oklahoma is, after their initial awe with wide-open spaces and the prairie ambiance, disarming. Marina seeks solace at the local church, and talks to the priest (Javier Bardem), who is experiencing personal (professional) doubts. Neil and Marina fight, wherefore Tatiana tells mom they have to leave, “something’s missing here”; off they go in a taxi.

Neil comes across Jane (Rachel McAdams) at a hospital (why was he there?); they rekindle their adolescent romance – she is divorced; Jane trusts and wants to marry Neil. Cut to Paris again, where Marina’s adrift; Tatiana went to live with her dad, so returning to marry someone in the US will, after all, give Marina a green card. She returns, marries Neil and…

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is exceptional, and Malick supplements with Lubezki’s The Tree of Life footage; Hanan Townshend’s music is equally reminiscent of that film. Malick encouraged his cast to interpretively act – Kurylenko’s continuous prancing becomes tiresome – but the editors, A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan and Mark Yoshikawa’s job had to have been consternating; we jump between so many out of sequence houses and varying locations dizziness sets in; the press notes were clarifying for me. Bartlesville, Oklahoma, was central not only for its stupendous landscapes but also for the locals, whose performances add (emotional) authenticity. This romantic drama’s message supposedly depicts how everyone’s non-action and actions impinge upon and impact others, as well as themselves. Worthy yet ambiguously conveyed; instead of the warmth associated with love and religion, Malick’s interpretation is cold and compassionless. The wonder is why Malick has foregone good storytelling and, why this film has cinematic release rather than at art houses. (Marinell Haegelin)

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