- Lubezski’s cinematography
- Olga Kurylenko’s performance
- Ben Affleck
- And everything else, pretty much
If there was one director I would pay big money to see at a discussion panel, it would be Terrence Malick. The man has made some of the most impressionable films of all time, and I would love to ask what draws him — a true artist, no objection – to the film medium. However, it would be easier to bring Andrei Tarkovsky or Ingmar Bergman back from the dead than it would be to get Mr. Malick to attend any sort of media event, so all hope is futile.
That’s not to say I’m in perpetual adulation of the ground he walks on. After his last turn with The Tree of Life, I remained rather cautious to To the Wonder, which looked to be in the same vein. But while the Tree of Life’s excuse was that it was nothing short of the story of the entire universe, To the Wonder looked markedly smaller in scope. It’s the story of Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko falling in and out of love. For almost two hours.
I was not impressed.
I am somewhat selling the concept short, because the movie places heavy emphasis on internal monologues about love. But what boring and idle chatter it is. Shakespeare wrote more in 14 lines than Malick could with two hours of dialogue and pictures, and that’s saying something (save the fact that I am comparing Terrence Malick to Wiliam Shakespeare, which I do so boldly).
Maybe it remains a winner on a purely aesthetic level? Again, what worked for The Tree of Life and The New World does not work for this at all. Malick’s last two films contemplated on the metaphysical nature of our earthly existence; it’s why Emmanuel Lubezki’s marvelously natural back-lit cinematography felt important; why the textures in The New World were brought to the fore; why the menial activities in The Tree of Life were expounded upon for what seemed like forever. But now, since we are dealing with a story of spiritual commitment to one another, there is less need to see grown-up people wrapping themselves in netted drapes like three year old toddlers. There is no desire for staccato jump-cuts which remove us from what we’re watching. I feel most people on the production realized it was a bit iffy too: the only actress who shone in this movie was Ms. Kurylenko, despite acting like a ditz in a very un-Parisian manner. Rachel McAdams looked like she accidentally stumbled on set. Ben Affleck just looked like a dolt the whole time.
Javier Bardem, who plays a Catholic priest, means to hint at what Malick’s true message here. Like the Tree of Life (but also like all his other movies), this is another poetically Catholic story. I roll my eyes reading the reviews that comment this is about “love, passion, and faith”. No, it’s not. It’s about love, passion, and faith in Christ, which is why Bardem’s character is probably the most well realized, but feels so out-of-touch with the rest of the movie. Alas Terry, you’re a film too late. The Tree of Life was meant to be the film to which Jesus is overtly alluded, not the one about a sappy, cringe-inducing romance. Incidentally, The Tree of Life was a better love story.
It’s not always pleasing to criticize your heroes, but I was once told that only the most ardent and sensible people have the ability to do so. So it’s with great sadness, Terrence Malick, that I call this a pretentious, muddled, misfire.