To the Wonder
By Scott Elliott
April 12, 2013
It is impossible to capture the feelings, emotions, and beauty of a Malick film and put them into a review. His films are something that should be experienced, preferably on a large screen. Malick is a master filmmaker who long ago shunned Hollywood in order to make films his way. He meticulously controls every aspect of the filmmaking process. He's known for cutting bankable actors completely out of a film or reducing their roles to get exactly what he wants. He is an artist in the truest sense. His films are not controlled by Hollywood studios. They are not commercialized in order to secure a big opening weekend at the box office. What he presents to the audience is truth and beauty the way he imagined it.
To the Wonder begins in France with Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) falling in love. They move to Oklahoma along with Marinaʼs daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), but what seems to be a loving relationship and happy family quickly shows signs of problems. Tatiana notices something is wrong even before Neil and Marina catch on. She laments that something is missing. While in Oklahoma, Marina begins to attend church where Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) serves as a priest. He gives homilies on love, but seems to wrestle with his own faith. As the relationship between Neil and Marina continues to erode, Neil begins to see Jane (Rachel McAdams), a friend he once knew.This is Malickʼs first film since The Tree of Life, which was universally praised by critics. In fact, Roger Ebert included it in his list of the top ten films of all time. It's not as quite as brilliant or as clear as The Tree of Life, but it is still an incredible, even spiritual experience. One thing these two films share is their focus on spirituality. To the Wonder features continual voiceovers of homilies, prayers, and talk of God and faith.
It has become popular in recent years to make Christian films for a Christian audience. Malick does not do this. He makes films about life, but he cannot imagine separating life from faith. Although his films are sometimes deeply Christian, they also appeal to a wide audience. Malick does not attempt to convert everyone in the theater, but instead gets at the deeper issues of the Christian faith. His films are often more meaningful and can teach a person more about the Christian faith than an overtly Christian film made with one purpose in mind.
To the Wonder is a meditation on love. It is unlike most Hollywood romantic movies involving a person finding their soulmate and living happily ever after. Malick recognizes that there are different manifestations of love, from lust to shallow crushes to deeper love which requires obedience and offers forgiveness. In this sense, To the Wonder is heart breakingly realistic. It presents the audience with failed relationships, feelings of discontent, and broken people. It presents life the way it is, but it also offers hope. It concludes with a prayer that offers not an easy way of life, but a very good one.
Not everyone will enjoy To the Wonder, just as not everyone enjoyed The Tree of Life. Some people go to the movies simply to be entertained, and that is ok. I often choose to watch a movie because I want to laugh or because it looks fun. To the Wonder is entertaining because it is full of beauty, but more than this, it is a film that challenges the audience. It asks the audience to contemplate love, faith, and trust. It wants the audience to consider deeper questions that usually donʼt get asked at the local cineplex. If you enjoy truth and beauty presented in an artful way then To the Wonder is the film you have been looking for. It is a brilliant film by a brilliant director. More films should be willing to treat the audience as mature adults, exploring the subjects this film does with its skill, courage and respect.