Title: To the Wonder (2012)
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Certain directors out there make films that are an experience to watch, these films don’t subscribe to any ideas of what a film should be, these types of films are made to be taken in without any expectations; you simply have to experience them. Films like these lean more towards the artistic, the ‘avante garde’, the experimental. I’m talking about guys like David Lynch, Werner Herzog or Andrei Tarkovsky, all directors, like Malick, who will show you that the world is beautiful and strange enough on its own, without the aid of special effects. These guys don’t make films with box office numbers in mind ; if their movies make money, it’s a by-product of the thing, what they care most about is making a film that will linger on after you watch it, a film that will stir your emotions; films that will leave a lasting impression on you. I urge you to watch films by these directors, you can rest assured they’ll leave a mark on your psyche and your emotions, because directors like these care most about making you feel while commenting on the little intricacies of the human condition.
The thing with directors like these is that depending on your appreciation/tolerance for art and style, you’ll either love their films or hate them. I fall under the ‘I freaking love Terrence Malick’ category. Why? Well, what can I say, the guy makes films that move me, that speak to me even when there is no dialog being spoken, which by the way is a signature stamp on Malick films; images take over and speak. “A picture can say more than a thousand words” is a phrase that comes to mind when I watch a Malick film; what I love about the beautiful vistas and landscapes that Malick catches with his lenses is that they speak about that beauty of nature that leaves us speechless; you know how sometimes you’ll look at a spectacular sunset, or bask in the beauty of nature and you can’t help but be blown away by the magnificence of it all? About how beautiful it all is? That’s what To the Wonder is largely about, a love letter to nature and the beauty of life, which is in large part what TheTree of Life (2011), Malick’s previous film, was all about as well. But while The Tree of Life focused entirely on the magnificence of life, To the Wonder dives more into themes of relationships and faith. It is both things, a love letter to life and an exploration of the ins and outs of love.
On this film we meet Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) precisely at the moment when they have started to fall in love with each other, you know, those moments when physical attraction is the strongest and people can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves? When the smallest of caresses means a world, that time of the relationship when you feel you’re walking on air, ah, the beauty of the beginning. The film is amazing in that it focuses on those little details that demonstrate that these two individuals are really into each other, the looks, the caresses. But again, Malick doesn’t focus so much on dialog, it’s not what these characters say but what they do that lets us know what is going on. We do hear inner monologue as the characters whisper to themselves how they are feeling, so be ready for a film that doesn’t have people saying “I love you” or “I trust you”; nope, one this movie characters show these things with their actions towards each other. For example, in the film, Affleck has a fling with Rachel McAdams and she’s a horse wrangler, a cow girl every step of the way; she’s fallen deeply in love with Affleck, but he doesn’t want to settle down. She wants to marry him and she’s trying to sort of reel him into it, the same way she would wrangle her untamable wild horses. All a visual allegory to how Affleck’s character doesn’t want to get tied down by marriage. Malick does this type of allegorical thing with the images all throughout.
I’ve always thought that relationships, no matter how strong the bond is at first, have an expiration date to them. I am of the opinion that nothing lasts “forever”, to me everything changes, which is why I don’t believe in marriage. Why get tied down to someone legally, when eventually both grow tired of each other? Everything starts out fine and dandy, but around the four to five year mark you’ll start annoying the hell out of each other to the point where one can’t stand being with the other. But I digress, I'm sure marriage works for some, but what I have seen in this world, it rarely does. The film targets those first blissful moments of the beginning of a relationship and those awful moments when the magic is gone and you’re left with nothing but hatred and contempt for each other. There is a scene in which Affleck is trying to hug and caress his wife and she pushes him away, a scene in which we see that obviously, the love is gone. Why do people forget why they fell in love with each other? Why do we forget what made it all work in the first place? Then there’s the issue of freedom, which you kind of loose once you are entangled with someone. In the film, Marina is a free spirit, always dancing and basking in the beauty of nature while Affleck is detached, quiet and introspective. In one particular scene, Marina’s best friend comes from France and tells her to go back to being the free spirit that she is, to go back to France and feel alive! In this scene Malick alludes to how Marina’s relationship to Affleck has degenerated to the point where the relationship sucked the vitality out of her. She’s no longer the crazy, free spirited being she once was. So is being with somebody “forever and ever” a good thing for you, or will it end up being a soul sucking experience? You be the judge; I’m sure there’s such a thing as eternal love for another person, it’s just so damn rare. But anyhow, these are the themes the film explores in regards to relationships.
Through the character of Father Quintana; Malick explores issues of faith. It’s interesting because in the film Quintana is a person whom people look up to as a spiritual leader, yet secretly, he doubts the existence of god. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God, it’s just that he’s never had any real proof of his existence, he wants to believe but has no physical or empirical evidence to do so. This is something that happens to people who start to question faith; secretly in your mind you tell yourself it’s all feeling like a bunch of bull, but you don’t dare say it out loud for fear that someone might discover you are beginning to doubt God. In Father Quintana’s case, his doubt is starting to show on his face; so much so that his own parishioners begin to tell him he doesn’t look happy. His doubts are so strong, he feels his life as a preacher is a lie. Yet while the film does question the existence of God, at the same time it’s an ode to the wonder of the world, the beauty of nature and the planet which is something real and undeniable. There are many scenes in which the camera simply focuses on the beauty of a breathtaking landscape or some curious thing that happens in the world, like the wind blowing through the trees, or the water forming odd shapes on the sand. The way I see it, Malick sees the world the way I see it, as a constant wonder, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the event, according to this film, there’s beauty in everything and Malick wants you to see that. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful looking films of the year.
Rating: 5 out of 5