sat 13/07/2024

To The Wonder | reviews, news & interviews

To The Wonder

To The Wonder

Terrence Malick follows The Tree of Life with intriguing, yet possibly foolhardy haste

It's exhausting being this attractive: Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko have a well-deserved rest

No your eyes don't deceive you - Terrence Malick has directed another film, released not even two years after his last offering The Tree of Life. If you've no idea why that's worth remarking on, the gaps between his last four offerings were respectively six, seven and - drumroll please - 20 years.

To The Wonder may be in the same ballpark of beauty as Malick's previous picture, and sound as if it shares the same astronomical ambition, but where that film soared this one sometimes struggles.

It starts with an attractive couple, rapturously in love. They are the Neil (man of the moment Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). Beginning with grainy, apparently self-shot images, the couple travel to the French island of Mont Saint-Michel, known as the Wonder. The film is elevated by their affection for each other, with their scenic courtship strung together by the poetry of her words: "Newborn. I open my eyes. I melt. Into the eternal night. A spark. You got me out of the darkness. You gathered me up from earth. You've brought me back to life."

Soon after, this square-jawed Superman (see Hollywoodland) scoops up his Ukrainian-Parisian paramour, taking her to begin her life anew in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, along with her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). However their relationship immediately runs into trouble; as narrators they speak of their love in the past tense and, during a period of separation, Neil rekindles a romance with Jane (Rachel McAdams, pictured above right). Javier Bardem also features as local priest, Father Quintana (pictured below left), who's tormented by spiritual doubts.

However gorgeous To the Wonder is (and it really is gorgeous - all credit to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) eventually Malick's sixth film is somewhat undone by its own narrative mundanity. Intended as a chronicle of love, eventually it starts to feel like a fairly turgid story of relationship discord - mirrored in the environmental pollution which it is Neil's job to investigate. In this it’s reminiscent of Antonioni's contrastingly masterful Red Desert, in which Monica Vitti falls apart against the backdrop of an industrial wasteland.

Affleck, playing an emotionally unavailable man, has a near total absence of dialogue and - unlike in Argo - he can't make this work. If Neil is not emotionally demonstrative enough, Marina is ridiculously so. Kurylenko intermittently shines but she's also required to do an awful lot of flamboyant gambolling and moping. As that might suggest, To The Wonder sometimes lapses into near parody. At one point Jane dreamily tells the leaden Neil, "You make me laugh", to which I wanted to cry "Really?!". When a family invite Neil and Marina round to dinner, as they sit draining life from the occasion we can only conclude they'd be terrifically dull company.

Malick cast a spell with The Tree of Life, one that made you forget such trivial matters as plot and characterisation which were plentifully present in his earlier films. A lesser Malick is nevertheless still a Malick and this is stunningly sensual, emotionally investigative filmmaking, which is never less than visually buoyant. However, in To the Wonder the magic doesn't quite last the duration, and the scales finally fall from our eyes.

Watch the trailer for To the Wonder

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Kurylenko intermittently shines here but she's also required to do an awful lot of flamboyant gambolling and moping


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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