To the Wonder
dir-scr Terrence Malick
prd Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green
with Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Charles Baker, Romina Mondello, Jeff Anderson, Wigi Black, Tony O'Gans, Amy Christiansen, Brian Christiansen
release UK 22.Feb.13, US 12.Apr.13
12/US 1h52
To the Wonder
Crisis of faith: Affleck and Bardem

kurylenko mcadams malick

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
To the Wonder As he did in The Tree of Life, Malick takes on massive themes in this much more deeply personal meditation on relationships and faith. It's a swirling, virtually dialog-free drama that spirals out of control in the final third, but leaves us thinking in ways films rarely do.

After a romantic trip around France with her American boyfriend Neil (Affleck), Marina (Kurylenko) and her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Chiline) move with him to rural Oklahoma. Marina is scared of the strange culture, but tells him, "If you love me, I'm OK here." While they bond as a family, things deteriorate as Marina and Tatiana struggle to fit in. So when Marina's visa expires, they return to France. Then Neil turns to old flame Jane (McAdams) for company. But as their relationship gets serious, Jane realises that Neil is still in love with Marina.

Alongside Neil's two incomplete relationships is a sketchy spiritual journey for the local Catholic priest Quintana (Bardem), who has a crisis of faith when he realises that he can't sense God's presence even though he can represent it to people he meets. Malick portrays all of this in snippets of ideas and feelings; there's no narrative drive, just increasingly restless and murky sequences showing how relationships can turn from love to hate as people are weighed down by aching sadness.

Small details tie together the film's overriding themes. Neil investigates toxic waste sites. After Jane's daughter died, she found comfort in religion. When Tatiana goes to live with her father, Marina is left desolate in rainy Paris before returning to sun-baked Oklahoma plains. The problem is that these details merely provide hints to the characters, even as Malick takes a strikingly moralistic view of marriage and sex. The point seems to be that Jesus commands us to love whether or not we feel like it.

In the absence of actual characters, the real star is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who makes the most of Malick's gorgeous trademarks: sunshine through leaves, rippling water, wavy wheat fields, roaming buffalo. This dreamy, often deeply romantic imagery is accompanied by breathy, impressionistic narration from the four main characters. As they offer their philosophical musings and quote biblical texts, the film becomes moody, visceral and eerily emotional. But it's more like a moving painting than a movie.

cert 12 themes, violence, sensuality 31.Jan.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall