Sunday, May 19, 2013

TO THE WONDER (2013) - Terrence Malick

Since his late '90s comeback, the cinema of Terrence Malick has progressed to a nearly wordless place. There is dialogue, but it is minimal. There is the ubiquitous voiceover, but even that seems to have become less and less. It's mostly down to beautiful images and haunting scores now. After watching his latest, To the Wonder, I'm hoping he goes whole hog (or whole buffalo) on the next one. I'm hoping he goes 100% wordless. Because with goofy, pseudo-profound lines like "What is this love that loves us?" blipping across the soundtrack every now and again it kinda kills the scenery. And, honestly, how much do we really need to hear from Ben Affleck?

To the Wonder is a meditation on finding and then losing love, losing and finding your religion. It's also the world's longest, most gorgeously shot Calvin Klein ad. Olga Kurylenko is a Parisian woman with a young daughter (and seemingly no gainful employment) who looks radiant in every possible setting, moves to tract housing hell in the States with her new American lover (Affleck). She proceeds to dance around in fields a lot and brood over her lover's occasional standoffishness when she's not pirouetting (rarely). Affleck mills about like a good face-man, watching her dance, later having a fling with old flame Rachel McAdams. He occasionally does environmental testing work that is generally irrelevant to the story other than providing stunning backdrops involving soil formations and running water. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem lopes around the poor sections of town in a priest's outfit doing the Lord's work. Also, there are some buffalo. And a quick cameo of the wheat from Days of Heaven.

The net effect of all this dancing and milling around? Hypnotic yet underwhelming. Admittedly, I didn't hit the pause button once. There's just something about the way Malick moves the camera (and the Daniel Lanois score) that keeps you riveted, despite having very little investment in the people he's Steadicamming behind. As he gets bigger and bigger actors for his films, their roles and inner lives seem to have become increasingly diminished. This is conceptually interesting but practically kind of a waste (at least in terms of Bardem). The actors become props, something to plop in front of a gorgeous sunset or place strategically in the confines of a sparsely furnished split-level. But then you get shots like the one below, and find it churlish to complain.

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