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Home » Culture and Criticism

To The Wonder: Malick Pixie Dream Girls

Submitted by on December 17, 2013 – 10:00 AM4 Comments
Redbud Pictures

Redbud Pictures

Terrence Malick's storytelling style is so valuable; it creates so many opportunities and points of view. It opens things up. But it opens itself up to parody so easily, and it's difficult for any other filmmaker to do what he does, the way he does it, and not get accused of derivative pretention. In fact, it's difficult for Malick to avoid that accusation at times, and in the case of To The Wonder, it's warranted.

Marina (Olga Kurylenko) meets Neil (Ben Affleck, overmatched) in Paris. After a courtship consisting largely of Marina dancing from place to place in various full skirts and stroking pretty nature while Neil watches, or the two of them standing at windows or field edges hand-in-hand and staring at a world that can scarce contain their paired destiny, Marina and her daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) move with him to Oklahoma. Then Marina moves back. Then Tatiana goes to live with her father. Then Neil has unsexy R-rated-Tinkertoy-assembly sex with Jane (Rachel McAdams). Then Marina comes back. Shuffled in amongst the fragments of the end of the affair, Javier Bardem as a priest wanders about questioning his faith while the women play with sheets, hide in curtains, squint into the sun that backlights their feminine mystery, fondle tall grasses, but nothing distinguishes them as people, not even the name "Marina" and the recollection of another, also European, also fetched up in the middle of the huge country with nobody much to talk to. It's all very beautiful and portentous, for about ten minutes, until you realize you could just as easily watch Days Of Heaven again, a film that had something to say about three-dimensional people. To The Wonder is the bong-hit verse you're supposed to scrap the next day instead of acting like you discovered the spring breeze.

Kurylenko and Affleck's chemistry doesn't work, partly because he spends the bulk of his time onscreen looking intimidated by his director and partly because Kurylenko, though charismatic, is written as a slow girl without access to cable — so much chasing birds and examining her hands. We're meant to find her kooky dances and naps on the bedroom floor charming, or see how Neil might, but it doesn't really stand for anything, so it ends up feeling like sophomoric filler.

Malick seems genuinely to believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I support his efforts to narrate and reflect experience in that headspace. That said, the words "sunset" or "nuzzling" repeated a thousand times each doesn't add up to anything. A gorgeous, dour failure; avoid.

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4 Comments »

  • attica says:

    There is no filmmaker working today that inspires in me the rage that Malick does. I understand that his way with a visual is beloved among many whose opinion I admire, but: rage. All rage, all the time. Flames on the sides of my face, haaaaate.

    So it's not like I needed the advice to avoid, but I'm glad to have it anyway. Hee.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    "After a courtship consisting largely of Marina dancing from place to place in various full skirts and stroking pretty nature while Neil watches, or the two of them standing at windows or field edges hand-in-hand and staring at a world that can scarce contain their paired destiny"

    HEH. Yes… we, the world, can barely handle the pretty, pretty people look at the beautifully lit landscape.

    Hate. Glad I missed this one. (Oh, wait… I didn't miss it… I deliberately avoided it.) Love the review, though.

  • Missicat says:

    I fell asleep during the trailer.

  • Jaybird says:

    Heh. Your description of their "courtship" reminds me of when you wrote about how much you hated it when teenaged boyfriends sang to you, and you had to pretend to be all shy and happy but you really wanted to barf. It's the only time I ever ran across anyone else who hated that as much as I did. So now I think I'll avoid Malick's twee lurveliness, because if you got the singy-cringe thing, I can understand the "No. Just…no. Get off the floor and do something grownup" bit.

    That…all made more sense in my head, I think.

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