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With: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Romina Mondello
Written by: Terrence Malick
Directed by: Terrence Malick
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 04/12/2013

To the Wonder (2013)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Terrence Malick's sixth film in 40 years, To the Wonder has much in common with his previous film, The Tree of Life, though it's more intimate, more immediate.

It deals with some of the same themes, such as a father figure that can't open his heart, but without any dinosaurs or outer space scenes.

Oscar champion Ben Affleck (Argo) stars, but don't expect any kind of "typical" Ben Affleck performance here. Malick uses him mainly as a figure, like one of the "models" in Robert Bresson's films, almost untouchable. The camera can't seem to get a handle on him. It rarely gets a glimpse of his face, his reactions. His voice is rarely heard.

He plays Neil, an American environmental inspector. As the movie begins, he is seen with the beautiful Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in France. They're clearly in love, touching and flirting and laughing and kissing.

Marina has a daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), and it is decided that the three of them will return to America, to live together.

This brings them to Oklahoma, where Maria doesn't quite fit in. Neil becomes increasingly distant. Their relationship slowly begins to deteriorate, sometimes violently. Neil eventually reconnects with a pretty childhood friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams).

Meanwhile, a priest (Javier Bardem) struggles with his faith while trying to ease the suffering around him.

Malick uses very little onscreen dialogue, even less here than in his other films, and relies more on his loose, poetic narration. Characters let their sad, lovely, reflective thoughts tumble out, with no particular rhythm or order.

The images are filled with alternating harmonies and conflicts. Characters constantly try to connect, either with nature, or with each other. Sometimes these connections work, other times they don't. Sometimes Marina finds beauty in her new home, and other times she's alienated.

The film's different sections follow suit. The very palpable texture of air, temperature, light, and color in France clashes drastically with the open, twilight feel of Oklahoma.

Nothing here happens in any typical storytelling fashion. Nothing is explained or settled. It's a movie to be purely explored, felt, and intuited.

To the Wonder is an example filmmaking of the highest degree, placing Malick alongside Bresson, Kubrick, and Antonioni. It's open not only to the infinite possibilities of cinema, but also to the infinite possibilities of life. Its story may be about a man that can't love, but it's also a movie of unfettered, unstoppable hope.

Magnolia Pictures has given To the Wonder a somewhat cursory single-layer Blu-ray release, though perhaps they can't be blamed: the reclusive Malick could never be bothered to participate in anything as ordinary as commentary tracks or PR-oriented interviews. Regardless, the movie's true beauty comes through in high-def, and it's very satisfying. The disc comes with several such interviews with the cast and crew (but no Malick), a couple of featurettes, and a trailer. I'm honored to have been blurbed on the back cover alongside the late Roger Ebert, and my esteemed colleague Glenn Kenny.

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