Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder an arty, self-indulgent blunder

by Mark Burger

To the Wonder (*) is the latest and least offering from acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick, who made a name for himself in the 1970s with such films as Badlands (1973) —  After a 20-year sabbatical, the reclusive Malick returned to the Hollywood mainstream (somewhat) with The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2003) and Tree of Life (2011), all of which were overrated to various degrees although Malick earned Oscar nominations as Best Director for Thin Red Line and Tree of Life. Nevertheless, Malick boasts a fervent critical following and is considered by some to be among the great American directors.

One constant in the Malick canon is the emphasis on imagery. His films always look good, even if said imagery overwhelms the narrative. That is once again the case in To the Wonder, a treatise on love, loss and longing. Visually it’s spectacular, with Malick’s frequent cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki once again in top form.

Otherwise, however, the film is a ponderous, pretentious exercise in directorial still his best film — and Days of Heaven (1978).

self-indulgence (itself a Malick trademark). Pretty pictures do not a good movie make. To the Wonder isn’t lacking for gorgeous imagery, it’s the story (such as it is) that comes SORRY, up short. NO PASSES ACCEPTED FOR THIS Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American in Paris

who falls for Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a divorcee with a young daughter (appealing newcomer Tatiana Chilene). They all move to the United States where, despite the wonder of their earlier days together, Neil and and decline.

Malick is clearly aiming for Deep Meaning here, but the film’s attempts at profundity and insight aren’t nearly as compelling as Lubezki’s cinematography. If you’ve seen Kurylenko dancing for joy once, you’ve seen it a dozen times — and, indeed, it almost seems as if there are a dozen scenes of her dancing.

Several of the film’s characters also serve as narrators throughout the film, pontificating in multiple languages — usually about how miserable they are. These include Rachel McAdams, who suddenly appears — and just as suddenly disappears — as an old flame of Neil’s who reconnects with him, and Javer Bardem, who skulks around as a disillusioned priest desperate for any sign of God in life. Ultimately, theirs are incidental characters, only tenuously attached to the principal proceedings.

Reportedly, the original cast of To the SORRY, NO PASSES Marina’s relationship begins its (inevitable?) erosion

Wonder also included Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet and Barry Pepper, but their scenes were excised from the

release version. Whether or not they would ENGAGEMENT ACCEPTED FOR have made any difference in the ultimate THIS ENGAGEMENT outcome is not known, nor is it really worth pondering – or pontificating about. The film does more than enough of that as is.

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