Oleg Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams star as wandering entities at the mercy of Terrence Malick in his latest effort, To The Wonder. A visceral odyssey of love, faith and human definition. Does the result meet the incredible ambition and intention? Or is it merely a collage of leaves that borders on self parody? Find out after the jump.
We meet two people on a train traveling through Europe. They’re played by Ben Affleck and Oleg Kurylenko and they’ve fallen in love. They don’t tell us, nor do we hear them tell themselves this. We observe them and their surroundings. The only dialogue to be heard are soliloquies told through voice over via the two protagonists, but chiefly from Kurylenko. We follow them from their journey in Europe, discovering the world to living in a small part of it. They decide to live together in a small home in Texas, and she moves her entire life and her daughter to be with him. Their love is not endless, and we see the slow demise of a love that was so powerful that it could only truly be described through beautiful aesthetics of the land. Meanwhile, a priest (Javier Bardem), encounters all kinds of love; the love shared between himself and his community, his faith and the individual. This character embodies love as a whole yet what defines these three souls as one is the fact that they’re all casualties to love, and like Malick do all they can to decipher and understand it.
Malick’s recent body of work including The Tree Of Life and The New World have focalised nature and a progression of the world around characters who serve more as embodiments of metaphors and various stages of human life. Essentially, Malick’s films have become studies of human existence and observation pieces on the cycle in which occurs. To The Wonder may be his most apparent attempt at this yet. The film does not tell a story, but instead the two central feelings that are inextricably linked to falling love, which are wonder and ultimate sadness. These characters don’t even have names mentioned in the film, we are guided by their physicality and their soliloquies. Malick only wants us to know what they choose to tell us.
The Performances are incredible, but there’s a limitation to addressing the actor’s efforts. Malick is infamous for cutting actors/characters out of his films, with this one, Barry Pepper and Jessica Chastain’s performances were left on the cutting room floor. The performances from the four leads are at the mercy of the editing room, we see as much as Malick wants us to, no matter what was originally written or shot; and for what’s on screen, everyone shines. With Kurylenko, we believe every feeling, word and action she expresses or describes, it’s a real sight to behold.
Does To The Wonder work entirely? No, not quite. It will prove frustrating at times, especially when you’re invested in a scene between people interacting (at times without any dialogue) and certain cuts will break from such a moment abruptly. You’ll understand the decision behind the cuts, but as a viewing experience, it can be inadvertently challenging. These moments in question are very few and far between, but for a film experience that requires one’s utmost patience, it does lessen the film’s impact. What separates it from other films attempting to epitomise love is the balance, the male AND the female share their perceptions of a relationship and the unpredictability of loving a person.
How does one describe To The Wonder? Or even recommend it to someone? It’s almost impossible – the film is one that needs to be seen, to be felt, and to be understood. Narrative is almost a distraction to the ultimate syntax of the piece. Much like meeting a potential love, if you’re willing to allow yourself to fall in, you just might see what that wonder really is.
By Chris Elena
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer(s): Terrence Malick
Starring: Oleg Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: July 4, 2013; USA: April 12, 2013