More gloss than substance
Information on reclusive director Terrence Malick includes his degree (on Heidegger, from Harvard) and the fact that he taught philosophy at MIT. Is this knowledge essential to approaching his latest film "To the Wonder"?
Should it be? Summoning the problematic spirits of Heidegger’s advocacy of pre-theoretical being, Malick plunges into the story of an American (Affleck) in Paris who falls in love with Marina, an exotic foreigner of presumed East European extraction (a rather vacuous Kurylenko).
The couple’s initially credible passion takes them to Oklahoma, where Affleck’s character works as an environmental site analyst whilst Marina (and a daughter from an earlier relationship) struggles to assimilate. Seeking solace in faith, she comes in contact with a local priest (Bardem) dealing with his own commitment demons.
Mirroring this dilemma, the couple separate, then rejoin in an effort to affirm ineffable, anti-rational love.
Malick reaches hard at presenting passion that’s both transcendental and elemental but his means, although exalted, are counterproductive. The use of poeticised voiceover monologue excludes much-needed explicative dialogue whilst long shots of a natural world seem to mock rather than celebrate the human condition – and signal confusion rather than redemption.
To The Wonder | Directed by Terrence Malick (USA 2012) with Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem. Starts May 30
Originally published in issue #117, June 2013.