Negative criticism aimed at Terrence Malick’s sixth feature, To The Wonder, settles on a charge of self-parody and the peculiar notion the director has lost the function to express his poetic and philosophical ideas in a coherent, accessible fashion. Have virtues and qualities grown stale? Poppycock!
The fact Malick (never one to rush) delivered another film within months of his Palme d’Or winning spectacular, The Tree of Life, led hooligan-like critics to laugh and boo during To The Wonder’s Venice premiere. Alas, six films in nearly forty years can suggest indecision as much as genius.
Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American environmental scientist who meets Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in Paris. They wander the boulevards utterly lost in each other and swim in the warm waters of blossoming love. When Neil takes Marina (and her young daughter) back to America things slowly unravel as high hopes turn to bitter regrets.
If we assumed The Tree of Life was to be a culmination of Malick’s style of film-making (and life’s work), then To The Wonder demonstrates a director pushing his talent even further. Clearly, this irked some. Dialogue such as “I am my own experiment” is no less ‘pretentious’ than lines featured in other Malick pictures. Now, for some reason, it’s to be sneered at than mulled over.
Neil is presented as a distant figure – a ghost haunting his own story. He is clearly besotted with Marina, but does he understand the lass beyond a quixotic veneer of beguiling beauty? Her growing discomfort comes less from being uprooted from sophisticated Paris to the wheatfields of Oklahoma than the emotional distance of her man. Things fall apart even further when Marina goes home and Neil reunites with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame, but even that bright spark – and second chance – dies out. A comparison has been made to Antonioni’s Red Desert, but one need look no further than Malick’s own The New World for a more accurate contrast.
To The Wonder is as majestic as cinema gets.
Martyn has awarded the wondrous To The Wonder five Torches of Truth