TIFF Review: To the Wonder

'It’s Terrence Malick’s He’s Just Not That Into You.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Dude, I think you’re misframed here. You’re cutting off the actress’s head. All you’ve got is a shot of her feet. Just trying to help.

Ben Affleck was wrong when he implied that To the Wonder is more abstract than The Tree of Life. It’s actually Terrence Malick’s most linear film. It’s still poetic and beautiful in the scenes, but it has a clear beginning, middle and end. It’s a portrait of a relationship, all the ups and downs.

First of all, it’s Ben Affleck as a guy who doesn’t want to get married, so it’s Terrence Malick’s He’s Just Not That Into You. Which is a really awesome prospect if you think about it. Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurlyenko) cavort around France. I’m getting their names from IMDB because I don’t remember hearing them, and I don’t know if they met there or were already a couple before, but that’s not important.

When Marina has to go home because her Visa expires, Neil has a diversion where he dates Jane (Rachel McAdams) but he does marry Marina so she can get a greencard. A priest (Javier Bardem) gives them support during the trying times. 

You get the story of this relationship in impressionistic Malick style. You know how this works: The camera always has a subjective point of view, bobbing around the characters. There’s a lot more narration than dialogue, and the dialogue you do hear is kind of overheard indirectly. When Marina and Neil are fighting, you don’t know what they’re fighting about. It’s just the emotional state.

Identifying a Terrence Malick formula might be sacrilege, but he’s getting consistent. This style is actually most appropriate to a relationship drama, way more effective than the contrived plots of most romantic dramas. It doesn’t matter what the circumstance is. We don’t need to know why someone is angry or why a certain character is cheating. We understand it.

Malick still gets his beautiful shots of nature but this is the first time I’ve seen his approach document our commercial world. I mean, he’s shooting his subjective shots in a supermarket, an airport, even an Econo-Lodge. And damned if it’s not still beautiful.

I’ve got to call out one motif though. Any shots during happy time show Marina dancing around the frame, whether it’s at the sights in France, in her backyard at home or even in a supermarket. Come on, that’s not the only expression of happiness you’ve got, and frankly it’s a simplistic expression. Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life too, so you’ve got enough shots of happy women dancing now.

I find To the Wonder much more relatable than The Tree of Life. I like interpretive art as much as the next guy (okay, maybe not quite as much as the next guy but I still like it), but a linear relationship is something clear and universal. Or maybe, if he made a movie that’s easily digestible in one viewing, Terrence Malick failed.