A poetic and lyrical piece about lovers flowing and sliding in and out of love is what is screened before you in such an atmospheric tone you feel you are literally swimming in it. Terrence Malick’s new film “To the Wonder” is a story of love, faith and the relationship of people who are lost culturally and emotionally. Neil (Ben Affleck) is an Oklahoman who brings his lover Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter from France to suburban America. The couple is soon torn apart after Neil falls for an American woman named Jane (Rachel McAdams). Marina loses faith in her love for Neil and finds companionship with the town’s priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) who is also in a country that is not his own and who is also loosing his faith. The story develops into an almost dream-like way that makes it feel like we are exploring someone’s memories, dreams and nightmares while at the same time, still maintaining a more or less linear storyline. The film’s beauty and splendor is supported by masterful editing and a skillful cinematography work where the camera slides through space and time. Each of the shots in the film relate to each other purely through emotion sometimes playfully jump cutting or even having the same action repeated in several shots. The film in its totality however, fails to support its philosophical themes. It soon becomes repetitive and dull. It seems as if the beautiful shots of Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck running and teasing each other through gorgeous landscapes and American supermarkets are exploited throughout the film. Sometimes it even comes very close to have the emotional value of a perfume commercial. Aesthetics and poetic lyricism is all that’s left of Malick’s “To the Wonder”, failing completely to go further than the beautiful image.
Malick’s previous film “The Tree of Life” (2011) was an ambitious and visually breathtaking film about childhood and coming of age. It was received with cheers and boos at festivals and yet it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. This film however, although it caused the same kind of mixed reaction, it falls far from The Tree of Life which had grown my expectations in such a way that perhaps this film has disappointed me by contrast. It wouldn’t be fair to say that “To the Wonder” is a bad film yet the disappointment was such that it made it feel (at least for me) as if it was the case.