‘To the Wonder’ marred by nonsensical plot
Terrence Malick film struggles to connect with audience
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 00:04
“To the Wonder” can only be described as pretty. The film made it seem like Terrence Malick had received a new Steadicam rig as a gift and had tried to use it for every single shot in his film. Sometimes used to keep pace with the dancing spirit of Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and other times wastefully used to spin around the silent presence of Neil (Ben Affleck), the flying camera reflects the torrent of poorly connected ideas pouring out of Malick’s soul. After thirty minutes, however, you’ve had enough and it just makes you dizzy. This film is almost a satire of a Terrence Malick piece; where some felt like “The Tree of Life” (2011) tried too hard, audiences will now appreciate it as a popcorn family flick in comparison. He really outdid himself with this one.
To describe the plot of this film would do both the film and audiences a great disservice. It simply can’t be boiled down to its plot points. Still, an attempt to do so would unfold as follows: A man moves with his French girlfriend (Kurylenko) and her daughter to America, where he meets a new woman (Rachel McAdams) and falls in love with her. Any plot summary would likely mislead the audience into thinking that this is a standard love triangle romance film, and would undermine all of Malick’s efforts to create a subversive and metaphorical tale. Pre “To the Wonder” viewers might also be misled by the cast of Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and Olga Kurylenko, whose presences in this film make no difference. It is no wonder that the actors made no effort to publicize this film, as these high-profile actors probably aren’t used to having ten lines in a film or to being overshadowed, both literally and figuratively, by trees. To put things into perspective, Marina’s daughter had more screen time that Rachel McAdams.
This is what Malick does, though; he does not sacrifice the meaning of his films so that stars can have their moment on screen. The bigger picture isn’t about these people; it’s the environment and the culture that surrounds them. That’s also why the film makes extensive use of voiceovers. The disembodied voice creates an anonymous presence which the viewer can insert their image into. The story is a personal one for Malick, as he too married a French woman with whom he moved to America, and then fell in love with an American woman. The beauty in the words seems very personal, as if he had been meaning to say these things for a long time. The intimacy of “To the Wonder” and its artistic qualities are unfortunately its only merits.
There is a very fine line between using a few metaphors to get a point across and making a completely nonsensical “story” for the sake of being deep. Unfortunately, Terrence Malick crossed that line five minutes into the film when, in the form of a voice-over, while sitting on a train staring out the window, Marina says in French “what is this love that loves us.” The film just doesn’t try to cater to any audience, aside from maybe those pretentious few who pretend to understand the film’s bigger picture; it stands on its own touting its nose above everyone else, as if to say, “you’re too shallow to get what I’m saying.” This is all very sad because Malick’s debut after a six-year break, “The Tree of Life,” was beautiful but also spoke to a much broader audience. “The Tree of Life” seemed to be a return to form after the disappointing “The New World” (2005). He has, however, kept himself very busy lately, and is scheduled to release three more films within the next two years. His next project stars Christian Bale in a story about celebrities and excess, which sounds like a different path for Malick. Here’s to hoping he can regain his composure, and can dig himself out from under “To the Wonder’s” hundreds of metaphors.