Film Review: Terrence Malick’s ‘To the Wonder’ Nearly Drowns in its Own Beauty

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CHICAGO – Deservedly renowned as one of our greatest living filmmakers, Terrence Malick has a reputation for taking his time with each project. He won’t make a picture unless he feels a burning desire to make it, and will put directing on the back burner for two decades, if necessary, in order to pursue other interests. He’s never made what could be conceivably considered a minor work—until now. Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

At first, it struck me as exciting news that Malick’s revitalized creative juices on the heels of his breathtaking 2011 triumph, “The Tree of Life,” had inspired him to tackle three new projects in a row. But when faced with “To the Wonder,” the first chapter of his post-“Life” trilogy, it appears that Malick and his ever-growing team of editors would’ve benefited from more time in the cutting room. For an artist of such staggering ambition, there is very little on the screen that could be considered potently provocative. Instead, there’s lots of twirling and sniffling and “all things shining.”

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “To the Wonder” in our reviews section.

Even in his early masterpieces, “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” Malick favored wide-eyed female protagonists whose stories unfolded in the past tense. There was a bittersweet tinge to their voices as they recalled the vivid memories that flooded the screen with heightened immediacy. Yet whereas those films actively involved the viewer in the characters’ cherished reminiscence, “Wonder” never earns the audience’s investment. It’s too busy wowing us with gorgeous imagery to linger long enough for individual moments to deliver palpable impact. Some viewers have praised the film for focusing its story on a linear narrative devoid of lengthy abstractions, but I’d hardly call that a praise-worthy achievement. The most spellbinding stretch in “Tree of Life” was the extended sequence depicting the evolution of the cosmos, which was preceded by a grieving mother looking to the heavens, wondering how god could’ve allowed her son to die. This was absolutely perfect framing for this sequence, evoking the earth-shattering moments that cause us to ponder the meaning of existence. Nothing in “Wonder” comes anywhere near rivaling the audacity and unbridled ecstasy of that scene, but then again, neither has any film in the last decade. What it does offer is bountiful narration recited by a Ukrainian woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), one of four pivotal characters experiencing a crisis of faith.

‘To the Wonder’ stars Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Rachel McAdams and Romina Mondello. It was written and directed by Terrence Malick. It opened at Landmark Century Centre Cinema on April 19th, 2013. It is rated R.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “To the Wonder” review.

Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck star in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.
Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck star in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

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