Brief: To The Wonder
To The Wonder
To The Wonder is Malick's first contemporary film, and in part, it seems to work as a condemnation of modernity, and specifically, of modern America, a place where the nature that is so central in Malick's filmography is tamed, paved over, and replaced with fast food chains, laundromats, grocery stores and motels. Through this modern landscape, his characters search for peace, joy, and deeper meaning, for love, connection, or companionship. Malick works less in characters than in broad archetypes, and his examination of relationships thus becomes less a question of compatability and more a constant clash of worldviews. The film draws parallels between Javier Bardem as a priest who's lost his faith, and with it, his connection to transcendence, and Ben Affleck, an environmental inspector enraptured by nature even as he presides over its destruction, but its center is Olga Kurylenko, as this film's connection to what The Tree of Life called "the path of grace."

Kurylenko is a bit of a problematic character, insomuch as she is a character more than a vaguely sketched idea where one should be. She's childlike in her approach to the world, viewing it all with a sense of awe. She's also the film's most direct representation of its greatest idea: the constant yearning for transcendence and the fleeting nature of true joy. Yet her lack of characterization ultimately hurts the film when it wants her to be more than an archetype, and it leads to moments that might have worked with a fully formed character but feel discomfiting with this spectral construct.

There are times when the film goes too far into its abstractions, where its musing stray into pretension (a sequence involving a friend of Kurylenko's visiting is grating in the extreme), and in these stretches, it lost me emotionally, even while the beauty of each sequence (again presided over by Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki, a cinematic treasure) kept me enraptured. It would be easy, ultimately, to read To The Wonder as that condemnation I referred to it as earlier, but its not, really, at least no more than any of Malick's previous films have condemned mankind for its disconnect from nature. At its best its a tragic, pondrous film about the way we endeavor to achieve bliss, and the way perfection slips away from us as we are lost in the sea of time, caught up in day-to-day living until we are missing the forest for the trees. In the film's opening moments, Affleck and Kurylenko climb to the top of Mont Saint Michel. the tragedy of the film, and of life more generally, is that they have to come back down.

Read more of Jordan's Film Criticism here
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