My Week With Malick #2: To the Wonder

The dog days are over…?

No, not really. The opening scenes of To the Wonder focus on Olga Kurylenko’s Marina narrating, in Ukrainian, her first meetings with an American named Neil played by Ben Affleck. It consists of them floating around in churches and landmarks, doing nothing in particular as she intones that they went together into the titular feeling. Except there is not much wondrous going on here. Now and then there is a shot worth looking at but it slips away as the two fondle each other atop churches while occasionally music that doesn’t seem to fit plays. The shots don’t inform each other and it took far too long to realize that this was a meeting rather than, say, an affair. Maybe that’s on me? Or maybe it’s on Malick, for the story turns into Marina and her daughter hating Oklahoma when they come to live there, but he is not suited to creating characters and we simply get vague shots of them looking sad. It’s a less extreme version of the many problems within Knight of Cups, or perhaps that movie’s complete refusal to have a narrative taught me how to watch this in a certain way.

So many questions about my reaction to this film, but one thing I do not question is that Javier Bardem’s priest fits right into this world, one filled with vague ideas about the nature of humanity’s relationship to God (this review is being written by a complete atheist), with sorrowful looks that seem to sum up my reaction. Is my lack of interest in God preventing me from engaging? I do recall Tree of Life fondly, at least, but something within the silences and endless ellipses feels like it has great potential, and what to do with this movie’s fat is frustrating. Does it need to be trimmed out entirely? Replaced with a different kind of supplemental material? Just rearranged entirely in its structure? Whatever the case, it feels inevitable that this and Knight will be reclaimed as misunderstood (it’s already happening on Letterboxd, led by all the worst reviewers), and I welcome the Wonder renaissance far more for its attempts to grab something transcendent right down to the title. It’s a grasp that frequently slips but for all the tattered difficulties in grabbing onto a sense of character in a movie that unintentionally treats Affleck and Kurylenko as models, there is bliss buried very deep in the frames. Or maybe it’s just relative after the minor torture of Christian Bale wandering aimlessly.

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