As we were leaving the theater I said to my two friends, “That was my first Malick. Are they all that shitty?” And both my friends and an elderly couple leaving the theater ahead of us stopped to assure me that no, To The Wonder was an unusually shitty entry in his ouvre. But it’s one I found so lacking, I may never be motivated to give him another shot.
In my eyes, Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder was a cloying masculine power fantasy that thought itself a tender rumination on love and loss. Ben Affleck’s character, the male lead, is a fully abstract cypher who is nonetheless subject to the passionate devotions of Olga Kurylenko’s and Rachel McAdams’s characters, both of whom are treated leeringly by the camera in their every scene. Neither woman behaves in a remotely human fashion, as they are equally prone to infantile behaviors like playing coquettish games of peek-a-boo and randomly spinning in place to communicate contentment. They treat Ben Affleck’s affections as the world’s only desirable thing, and when he eventually spurns each one for the other, they both treat the event not as a betrayal, but as a tragic loss that they’ve somehow brought on themselves. After Kurylenko finally convinces Affleck to marry her (by, it is somewhat implied, giving up custody of her daughter) they grow increasingly unhappy. An Italian woman shows up to tell Kurylenko that she should just leave him and take control of her life. This woman is then characterized as unstable and dispensed with entirely. Kurylenko does eventually have an affair, so Affleck physically intimidates her and then divorces her. They cry together that the marriage has to end, and she decides to keep his last name. She goes home to France and wanders the woods licking trees, returning finally to the place where the relationship began and reflecting that it was all worth it because it was love for love’s sake.
So, to recap: an identity-free man is universally beloved by gorgeous, fetishized, frequently naked women. His transgressions against them are internalized by those women as personal failures they must strive to overcome, and their transgressions against him can brook no forgiveness. Ah, l’amour.
There is also an almost unrelated thread in which Javier Bardem is an ambiguously faithful priest who goes about his days meeting parishioners and ruminating on his relationship with Jesus. This thread is better in that it is not constantly offensive, but not a lot happens.
And that’s all. The music was nice. The cinematography was lovely. The editing style was distinctive. But the actual narrative content of the film ranged from boring to atrocious. I’m extremely unimpressed.