Monday, April 15, 2013

A Reel Review: TO THE WONDER

Much like the elusive director himself, the films of Terrence Malick have never been very accessible. His films have focused more on themes than plot; using beautiful cinematography backed by magnificent scoring with vague narration and little storyline. The ambiguous nature of his films have caused many to wonder if the man is a certified genius or authentic wacko, with his newest film, TO THE WONDER, stirring the pot of debate just a little bit more.
Neil and Marina (Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko) are two lovers who meet in France and move to Oklahoma with Marina’s young daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). When the two begin to fall out of love, Neil renews an old love affair with Jane (Rachel McAdams), before crossing paths with Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest who is struggling with his vocation.

The storyline of TO THE WONDER is fairly straightforward for a Terrence Malick film. His two main characters fall in and out of love while another falls in and out of his faith. It’s familiar ground with characters struggling with powerful themes of faith and love, but what makes TO THE WONDER stand out is the presentation. Every scene is the aftermath of something that happened off-camera. We never get to see or hear what Neil and Marina fight and argue about, or what made them fall in love with each other, we only get to see how they react. It feels like large chunks of the narrative are missing, and it seems that Malick only wants us to see the emotions they deal with after an incident. It really is a genius approach; the details don’t matter, just the emotions.
Malick’s trademarks of stunningly beautiful photography and orchestration is ever-present. The film is not edited together, it is composed; unfolding like a classical piece of music which soars and dives at will. The fact that this film is the first for Malick to be set in modern-times doesn’t faze the director at all; he is clearly the only one alive who can make places like a strip-mine, a Laundromat, and a goddamn Sonic drive-thru look artistically beautiful on the big screen.

It’s hard to judge the acting in TO THE WONDER because no one really seems to do much acting, as Malick uses them as set-dressings more than characters. Affleck speaks about a dozen words throughout the film, and the lines by Olga and Bardem are all spoken off-camera in their native tongues; sub-titled and in the form of prose. Any semblance of acting is done physically and with the actors showing emotions on their faces instead of their words. With that said, the playful chemistry between Affleck and Olga is tremendous and a joy to watch, although their eventual demise oddly won’t bring any tears. The biggest crime committed is probably the under-utilization of Javier Bardem, whose character doesn’t do much in the grand scheme of things.
The real question is if Malick’s unconventional approach to a conventional story works for TO THE WONDER. For the most part, sort-of. The story of Neil and Marina is clear, but we can only hope the best for them to a certain extent because there is a large emotional disconnect between them and the audience; an unfortunate drawback to the characters not being allowed to be characters. The themes of love and faith are certainly there, but the film doesn’t try to answer any questions about them, or for that matter bother to ask the questions in the first place. This is a beautiful movie with unknown intentions.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.