Posted by: ckckred | June 10, 2013

To The Wonder

Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams star in Terrence Malick's newest film

Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams star in Terrence Malick’s newest film

There’s a sense of spirituality and piety that inhabits the films of director Terrence Malick.  The legendary filmmaker is known for his lengthy productions; Malick has made only six pictures in a forty-year career as well as spending much of his time in the editing room cutting down rolls of film (the original version of The Tree of Life stretched over six hours).  Malick worships nature in his movies and in his work depicts themes instead of creating linear narratives.  For some audiences, watching a Malick film is disorienting, confusing, and dull.  For me, seeing a Malick picture is an eye opening experience, an emotional roller coaster that I never want to get off of.

Malick’s previous movie, The Tree of Life, was my clear favorite of 2011.  It was a joyous movie that is just simply stunning and breathtaking.  To The Wonder, the director’s newest picture, does not achieve the perfection of The Tree Of Life, but it’s as celebratory film as Malick has ever made.  While To The Wonder isn’t as large as The Tree of Life was, which acted as an extended metaphor comparing the creation of the Universe to the life of a family, it’s just as complex and ambitious.

The storyline of To The Wonder is told in classic Malick fashion.  The film is about a couple played by Ben Affleck (as Neil) and Olga Kurylenko (as Marina), who meet in Paris and fall instantly in love.  Neil, an American, encourages Marina and her daughter to the infinite plains of Oklahoma.  Marina agrees, but soon the relationship between the two starts to sour.  Neil soon meets an old fling of his played by Rachel McAdams and Marina attempts to assemble her new life in America.

Critics of To The Wonder have complained that the film is empty centered on nothing, a fair sentiment but one that I disagree with.  The central theme of To The Wonder is love and the limits of it.  Neil and Marina’s love is frequently tested throughout the film as they try to keep what they have.  A priest played by Javier Bardem also judges love.  He visits the poor, the ill, the jailed, and examines what justice has been brought upon them.  His faith in Christ is tested throughout the film as he questions his own individual spirituality.

To The Wonder gets involved in its complexities more so than The Tree of Life.  The film unwinds and by each passing minute becomes more ambiguous.  The film ends on a note that seems somewhat anticlimactic, but I felt satisfied with the film.  What matters in To The Wonder, or any Terrence Malick film in fact, isn’t the storyline but the themes and imagery.  Malick cranks up his surrealism to a whole new level, engaging the audience like nothing before.  Unlike any of Malick’s other movies, To The Wonder takes place in contemporary times, but it’s still rooted in the past and perhaps even on a personal note for the director.  Some of the motivations of the characters are not revealed, but I believe that Malick is challenging viewers to think for themselves about their ambitions.  Subsequent viewings will surely reveal more of Malick’s intentions, but I found myself admiring in his goals.  Perhaps To The Wonder becomes overbearing at times, and a few scenes are repetitive and almost parody-like (how many shots of people dancing and grass flowing and narrations can Malick take?), but despite its flaws, I found myself taken away by the picture.  Malick can convey emotion in his movies as well as Francis Ford Coppola could, and he engages the audience in scenes of happiness and sadness.

To The Wonder is (please forgive me for saying this) a wondrous film, a thoroughly crafted, stunning piece of artwork.  Perhaps it has set its ambitions too high and is on the brink of pretentiousness but with its beauty and majesty I found myself entranced in Malick’s world.

Editor’s Note: Roger Ebert’s final review (the last one he wrote, he published other ones posthumously) is on To The Wonder and really defines the film.  If you have not read it yet (click this link to), I implore you to read his thoughts.


  1. Great review, Malicks films tend to divide opinion but they are always visually breathtaking.

  2. Excellent, I know your passion for Malick is strong. Mine is as well. You get him and what he’s trying to do. I’m really thrilled you liked it.

    • Thanks! I think this has received harsher reviews than it deserved. It isn’t a perfect movie but I really loved it.

      • I ignored all the bad press it got, most people don’t get it.

  3. Awesome! Glad to read you liked it too. I loved the film and it really holds up after a second viewing. It’s one of my favorites of the year for sure!

    • I think it’d be between this and Mud as the year’s best film. I really liked it and think it got worse reviews than it deserved. Not a flawless film but still a great one.

      • 100% agree! If this continues our top 2 films of 2013 may be exactly the same!

  4. Oh I really wanted to see this one when it came out, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me! I refuse to watch Malick films on my computer, because last time I did that I felt like I was getting ripped off. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to see this, but your review makes me feel better about it. All of the bad reviews it was getting and the fact that he made it so quickly after The Tree of Life had me a bit nervous!

    • I was hoping it would expand into theaters nearby but I eventually just watched it off my Apple TV. It really looks beautiful and has gotten worse reviews than it deserves. I recommend seeing this but it’s very surrealistic and nonlinear. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Malick’s films have always puzzled me.

    On the one hand, he began his career with films like Badlands Days of Heaven, two films highly rooted in the typical “new-agey” American style of the 70s, but they also contained very deep (and very strict) metaphors not dissimilar to the subjects in his more recent (this one included) films. Now, however, he seems to reject all conventional notions of filmmaking, but unlike Kubrick, who traded style and skill (Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory) for depth (2001)–I don’t see why Malick had to make the trade. (He already possessed both and now he is getting rid of the other.)

    Then again, I can’t really complain with not complaining to film form; my favourite director, Godard, made a career of it.

    • Thanks for the comment. That’s a great analysis of Malick. I feel that his newer movies are more personal to him as they explore themes like love and loyalty within families. He’s definitely creating a new art form and expanding the boundaries of cinema. What did you think of To The Wonder?

      • I personally loved it–and I think it’s as every bit as good as Tree of Life, another masterpiece. Malick has always been one of my favourites, and I’ll always be interested in his films. I’m really interested to see what he’s gonna do next. Will he stick with the style or will he continue to reinvent?

      • Glad to see you loved it as well. I think The Tree of Life was a stronger movie since it was less repetitive, but To The Wonder’s still an excellent film. I heard Malick has a few more projects out for the next few years.

  6. I missed out on this one because of its limited release, but I really can’t wait to see it. The Tree of Life was by far my favorite film of 2011 and The Thin Red Line is one of my favorite WWII films.

    • I highly recommend watching it. It’s available on demand, and you can rent it off of iTunes.

  7. Good review. It’s as beautiful as Malick can get with his movies, but the story is repetitive and over-stuffed at times. The cast does what they can, but I don’t quite remember anybody doing anything really remarkable here other than staring, twirling, and, well, twirling again and again.

    • Thanks! That’s a fair criticism and at times it feels that a majority of the movie is just people dancing and giving narrations but I found myself taken away by the film

  8. Nice review! I’m like several others here and couldn’t get to it because of the limited release. Then sadly I forgot about it for awhile, but thanks so much for bringing it back to my attention, can’t wait to check it out.

    • Thanks! It’s available on demand right now and you can rent it off of iTunes.

  9. I think you pretty much nailed it. I thought it was an amazing film. Flawed but still one that has to be seen in the big screen. I’m looking forward to anything Malick does.

    • Glad to see someone else loved it. It was an amazing movie, maybe a bit repetitive, but still a great one. I saw it off Apple TV but it would be great to see in theaters.

  10. Nice! It’s good to hear you praise this one, man. I have very high hopes.

    • Thanks! It’s a great movie, even if it is flawed. I think Malick’s one of the best directors working today.

  11. I’m trying to avoid basically anything I see on this film. It’s my most anticipated release of the year but I’m not even sure it has a release date as yet out here. But I did read with great pleasure your last paragraph.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s available in the US on demand, but I don’t know about its outside release. It’s a film best seen in theaters and even though The Tree of Life is a better movie, To The Wonder is a great film.

  12. […] Cinematic review  Roger Ebert review […]

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