Terrence Malick’s transcendent The Tree of Life wasn’t for everyone. I personally enjoyed it but can’t say I was as enamored with it as other cinephiles. With that in mind, I went into his latest film, To The Wonder, hesitantly. The little publicity and reactions from the film were mostly mixed, so I was a bit unsure of what to prepare for: boredom or entertainment. Unfortunately, it was the former. To The Wonder looks beautiful with sweeping camera movements and gorgeous cinematography, but it is just so laborious to get through.
Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko star as a couple traveling through France. It’s clear that Neil and Marina are in love. Neil is more collected about, while Marina is lively and affectionate. If there’s anything that keeps you watching this movie, it’s Kurylenko. She has a fascinating screen presence, and Malick films her beautifully. Neil asks Marina and her young daughter to move to America with him. They do, and we see these two French girls try to assimilate to American culture, while trying to feel reassured of Neil’s love for them.
To The Wonder is very character-focused, which is its biggest fault since I hardly cared for any of these characters. Neil was kind of a jerk; it was hard to understand any of his true feelings. Was he with Marina out of duty/responsibility or love? I’m not even sure Affleck knew himself, since he seemed checked-out of the role for half of the film. Kurylenko’s character was easier to decipher and understand, and the actress seems to make the most of what she’s given. Rachel McAdams has a small part in the film, and it doesn’t really leave an impression. The most interesting of all these characters was Javier Bardem’s character; he played a priest questioning his faith. But we didn’t get enough of him, which was a pity.
Even with the lack of a strong narrative and characters, To The Wonder is very nice to look at. Malick can make anything look beautiful, and I guess that’s the only real wonder of this film. It’s hard not to be disappointed when a filmmaker with such an eye for beauty can’t come up with a better movie.
If you’re fan of Terrence Malick, I’d say it’s worth checking out his latest work. But for everyone else, you’re better off skipping To The Wonder and just re-watching one of his previous—and better—works.
To The Wonder plays in select theaters on April 12, 2013. It will also be available to rent on iTunes and OnDemand the same day as theaters.