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To the Wonder

October 14, 2013

To the Wonder (2012)
Director: Terrence Malick
Actors: Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem


Synopsis: Neil (Ben Affleck), an American, has an affair with a European woman (Olga Kurylenko) in Paris. She moves back with him to the US along with her young daughter, but a dissatisfaction and sense of dislocation grows between them.

Review: Do you ever have those moments where you wake up mesmerised after a light sleep and your senses are disorientated? And sometimes that disorientation lingers over a handful of seconds, and for that fragment of time your perceptions of life seem so fragile and transitory – that it’s all just like a passing dream, full of half-memories, echoes, whispers and shafts of light? Maybe it’s just me, but Terrence Malick’s lovely film To the Wonder conjures that state perfectly.

The film also made me ponder on a recent relationship, and helped me realise that the landscape of a relationship is configured as much through the ephemeral (touch, bodies, light, mood, environment, geography) over mere relationship politics and social hegemony. Some commentators will no doubt argue that a Blue Valentine, Before Midnight or coruscating Woody Allen piece are the ‘truest’ cinematic exposés on relationships, but I think the opening half-an-hour or so of this film is. In fact, it’s one of the best expositions of cinema period, and Malick somehow succeeds in crystallising the precarious sentiment and burgeoning of emotion in the early stages of a relationship.

Another interesting facet of To the Wonder is how it offers a nice inversion of the New to Old musings of his previous dalliance with aspects of the ‘American Dream’, The New World. Of course, I’m not naive enough to ascribe empirical interpretation to such a rhapsodic film, but I think it’s interesting how Malick makes the architecture and vistas of France and Paris quite beautiful, and though I don’t think it’s a negative comment on America per se, the sheer vastness, newness and culturelessness of the open plains of the US is a jarring and somewhat desolate space. That desolation offers a blank canvas and ‘new start’ allure to Olga Kurylenko’s immigrant (and even Javier Bardem’s troubled Priest), versus a form of fail-safe, historic, cultural rooting that Europe provides. (October 2013)

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