Thursday, April 18, 2013


You could never accuse filmmaker and master craftsman Terrence Malick of oversaturating the marketplace. There's never been any less than a five-year interval between the six films he's made in the last 40 years (and usually much longer)—until now. Hot on the sprockets of The Tree of Life, from 2011, comes Malick's latest, To The Wonder. And now we know once and for all why he should never, ever be rushed.

To the Wonder plays like a series of outtakes from the previous film. Once again, there is a young woman with lots of hair (Olga Kurylenko) given to twirling round and round bathed in sunlight, often with lengths of windblown sheer chiffon billowing across her face.

Once again, she is partnered by a stoic male presence (Ben Affleck), who, although less dangerous than Brad Pitt's father/husband in Tree of Life, gives every appearance of being quite the killjoy. Yet again, they are stranded together somewhere out on the lone prair-ee (in this case, suburban Oklahoma), trying and mostly failing to sync up with each other.

It's as if Malick didn't have time to invent new characters, so decided instead to recycle the same elemental female vs. uptight male dynamics from the last film. It's meant to be an impressionistic tone poem about the ebb and flow of love, I get it, but these cardboard figures in a landscape we know or care nothing about seem incapable of so strong an emotion.

(It's up to the stirring music of Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part to provide any emotional context.) (Read more)

I still say Malick's 2005 film, The New World, was the best movie of its decade. But in that tale of English Puritan settlers and Native American tribal societies encountering each other for the first time in the first European colony in Virginia, the chaotic impressionism and interior monologue devices worked brilliantly. With two cultures unable to communicate with each other verbally, the viewer was plunged into the eerie strangeness of first contact, exactly as the people involved must have experienced it—sensory, frightening, rapturous and exalted.

In a modern context, like To the Wonder, when characters stubbornly refuse to talk to each other? Not so much. Such a disappointment.

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