To The Wonder - Blu-ray Review

'It doesn't feel like Malick has anything to say here, and his camera tells the same tale'

I'll defend and enjoy Terrence Malick films most of the time. I liked Tree Of Life, for all its sympathetic dinosaurs, and, for me, The Thin Red Line is a Top 20 film. There is though a limit; a limit to how many waving hands through grass you can watch, how many abstract views of people wandering through parks, pulling pirouettes with abandon. To The Wonder is this limit.

The objection to Malick has always been an argument along the lines of the fact that watching one of his films is like watching a perfume advert with slightly more plot. In To The Wonder Marina (Olga Kurylenko) actually sprays perfume as Malick's soft-focus camera dances around her, changing point of view, spying airy vapours floating towards skin. Malick has finally reached self-parody and essentially shot the nuts and bolts of a perfume advert. That Sir, is the limit.

Aesthetic gripes aside (some people love perfume adverts) there's a spectacular lack of anything to latch on to in Malick's latest, even by his standards. Tree Of Life was positively a narrative goldmine by comparison and the multi-layered, multi-protagonist storyline of The Thin Red Line, edited to perfection, feels light years away. Neil's (Ben Affleck) relationship problems with Marina, further complicated by the presence of Jane (Rachel McAdams), have little import when you don't know either of them and Father Quintana's (Javier Bardem) musings on faith feel incalculably detached from anything else in the film. To The Wonder has an inherent question you come away asking: has Terrence Malick forgotten how to tell a story?

Part of the tension feels like it is to do with the setting. Malick's style doesn't resonate with contemporary America and his camera doesn't float through cold modern rooms, waiting to be furnished by Ikea, like it does through ash-laden 1950s abodes. It doesn't feel like Malick has anything to say here, and his camera tells the same tale, picking out a consistent level of unattractive imagery; elements of cold faceless modernity. When it's not doing that, it's off in search of something that doesn't look contemporary, yet Malick can get away with including; Mont Saint-Michel in France or the laid back towns of Oklahoma, the director probing for period detail that isn't here. There are still plenty of shots that I would be happy to have on my wall, but, unlike previous Malick efforts, I began to question whether I wanted to sit and watch a stream of ready-made poster art.

There's also a problem with Neil, whoever he may be. The insinuation is clearly there from Malick that perhaps Neil hasn't been faithful, or loving, or has otherwise let Marina down in some way, but because of his style we never see it. Abstract postulating, things left unsaid, can of course be a powerful film-making weapon, but in Neil's case it feels as though he gets away scot free, Malick letting him off the hook for any ills rendered. There's not even chance to gauge reactions because you hardly ever see Neil and Marina looking at each other, the director preferring gazes into the mid-shot distance. It's endemic of the film's wider problem: like an advert, for perfume - or anything really - the characters just don't matter, and there's only so long you can continue to push that level of film-making, before something, somewhere breaks. Some will love it, and I can see, to a point, their arguments, but this was the point where I got off.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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