“He doesn’t give us things on purpose. I kind of know what’s happening, but I’m not sure. I was doing something not knowing exactly where it leads, and maybe that’s good, because in life, we don’t know where we’re going.”
That’s about as fine an encapsulation of Terrence Malick’s new moving poem of a film, To the Wonder, as we’re likely to get. The quote was said by the film’s star, Olga Kurylenko, and, to me, brings the entirety of the film together.
But love fades. Whether it’s Neil’s indifference or Marina’s hinted-at emotional instability, the two are driven apart. A new love enters, and is nursed accordingly. Jealously takes hold, indifference reappears, reconciliations are discussed, then disregarded, then considered again. Though, this being a Malick film, nothing is as direct as I might be making it sound. Very little dialogue motivates the story, and just as much is inferred as is made clear. The film flows round and round, shifting seamlessly and inexplicably to new moods, abrupt tones, and fluctuating ideas. Not all of which, it must be said, are welcome.
Malick famously overshoots his films, routinely resulting in several actors having their work taken out of his final pictures. Had Bardem’s slum subplot been cut, I’d be tempted to label To the Wonder as masterful. But as it sits now, I’ll consider it a great film with faults.
I stand as an ardent enthusiast of Malick’s films, but it’s clear that the man has his fair share of detractors. For one, Malick’s films make us uncomfortable. I watch a lot of movies – new, old, whatever – and I would estimate that 90 percent of the films made (especially today) have a firm beginning, middle, and end. They introduce characters, bring about a conflict, and have the characters resolve said conflict. And that makes people comfortable; that’s what they’re used to. They enter a film knowing that they’ll leave with a definite understanding of what happened to the people on screen.
With Malick, you watch, you take in, you discuss, and you decide whether or not the film was worthy of your time. But maybe it grows. Maybe its opaque ideas become more rooted in truth. Maybe you understand. I have yet to see a Malick film that is best taken at face value – they all get better with time and repeat viewings. It’s not in my nature to dissect a film, but with Malick, I love to let his work tease me – to bait my most innocent questions. His films are puzzles that may or may not be missing some pieces. To the Wonder may not know where it wants to go, possibly because its characters don’t know where they want to go. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone and you knew for certain how and when it was going to end? Me? Never. A-