'To the Wonder' Review: Terrence Malick Notions 'Nothing New'

To the Wonder Olga Kurylenko Terrence MalickTo the Wonder in the Terrence Malick canon (image: Olga Kurylenko)

[See previous post: “To the Wonder Review: Terrence Malick Lyrical, Redundant Poem.”] Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life is the obvious seed stock for To the Wonder. These two Terrence Malick movies are fraternal twins both thematically and stylistically – though, admittedly, they are also related to the filmmaker's entire canon. From his iconic efforts Badlands and Days of Heaven (1978), Malick's underlying interests have always carried through. These include what one might call a “wonder” at all things not created by Man, and therefore likely created by God, in addition to a philosophical pondering over those things created by Man himself, among them disharmony with nature and both external and inner conflicts.

The New World (2005), for instance, presents little if any historical facts, but the film features much wonderment at nature and pondering about the clash of cultures that led to the creation of the New World – which, needless to say, wasn't new at all. Also, in Malick's epic adaptation of James Jones' World War II novel The Thin Red Line (1998), indigenous elements press on even as Man (and only men), destroy each other on shores and in jungles that will eventually swallow them all – and forget they ever existed. (The Thin Red Line is a brilliant film; the best from its period. Better and more important than Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.)

Terrence Malick 'out of touch' in To the Wonder

In To the Wonder, those notions are once again presented, but for a film set in the present, particularly one that treats women as though they've escaped from a Mad Men episode, Malick's ideas feel at worst chauvinistic and at best the mark of a director woefully out of touch with modern sensibilities.

To that end, the sweeping strings of composer Hanan Townshend, swirling ever heavenward alongside cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's floating camera and its side-on glimpses and “deliberately unintentional” lens flares, cannot obscure the fact that To the Wonder is less about an existential crisis of faith than it is about Man's lust, brooding, regret, and fear of dying alone in a godless universe. Nothing new about any of that either.

To the Wonder (2013). Director and Screenplay: Terrence Malick. Cast: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Romina Mondello, Tony O'Gans, Charles Baker, Marshall Bell.

Note: The performances of To the Wonder cast members Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Michael Sheen ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Olga Kurylenko in Terrence Malick's To the Wonder photo: Magnolia Pictures.

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