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To the Wonder

Year: 2012
Production Co: Brothers K Productions
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem

Now Terrence Malick leaves just a few years instead of a few decades between films, we get a chance to see what he can do with other ideas. In this case his aesthetic might be misplaced, but lovers of his style will be swept away by the sense of – yes – wonder.

The story is nothing so earth-shattering than a relationship that won't work no matter how hard the participants try, and still Malick manages to make every frame a piece of art, whether it's a slow pan across the high grasses surrounding a housing estate in rural America or the dress of the endlessly twirling Marina (Kurylenko).

Neil (Affleck) and Marina fall in love in Paris, then he takes her back to America to live in a place that must be hell on Earth to someone bought up amongst he culture and bright lights of Paris – a rolled-out, cookie cutter, purpose built suburb in the rural American Midwest.

Neil appears to be an investigator or reporter looking into poisoned waterways, and Marina shortly discovers she has no life in her new home. She tries to keep things happy and carefree for her sweet daughter (whom Neil was lining up to be a father to), but eventually after fighting that's as full of passion as the romance they've experienced, she goes back to Paris.

At the same time, the local parish priest (Bardem) is having a crisis of faith as he moves amongst the poor, drug-addicted and down and out, asking Christ why he can't see him and can't feel him.

Neil has another relationship with childhood friend Jane (MacAdam), but Malick's sparse approach to dialogue gives us even less of a clue why that doesn't work. Suddenly she's shoving him away as she leans against a tree crying, and it's over between them too.

Marina is miserable in Paris and comes back to America to try again with Neil, but after more bouts of fighting and spontaneous dancing in spinning dresses, she leaves again. The subtext of the story seems to be that love is an illusion and everyone – including the man of God – ends up alone.

None of which makes To The Wonder sound narratively rich, and as a Malick film, it's not. You watch his movies for his mastery of the image, his love of sweeping visuals. Hardly any of the in-camera dialogue is even audible most of the time, his characters doing what they usually do – reciting poetry about God, love, dreams, spirits, shining and rising that seems only partially related to what's going on.

Malick writes poetry and uses the camera to paint pictures. He's less as storyteller than he is an artist, which is why if you're a fan of his, it will never strike you as unusual how a supposedly unhappy woman spends so much time spinning in circles and dancing.

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