MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Lee Daniels. Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey.
After enjoying writer-director Terrence Malick’s 2011’s beautiful and spiritual The Tree of Life, I was excited to see that To the Wonder was available on demand from my cable company. This director usually takes years and years between films and here was a movie released just a year and a half since his last one
He should have waited longer. To the Wonder is beautiful to look at but painful to sit through, with characters that failed to engage my interest. As the film opens we meet Neil (Affleck), in love with Marina (Kurylenko), a beautiful French divorcee with a young daughter. They travel to the top of Mont St. Michel, a beautiful French cathedral, and enjoy the wonder there.
Neil takes Marina and her daughter back to his home to Oklahoma, and the bleakness of the prairie contrasts with the signs of consumerism and prosperity. Neil lives in a big, beautiful house with little furniture. His job is an environmental inspector of the pollution created by oil production. Although Malick never tells us who Neil works for, I was inclined to think that he was hired by the oil company to go through the motions of caring
In this town is Father Quintana, a lonely priest (Javier Bardem) who is having a crisis of faith, since he sees so much suffering around him. This character reminded me a bit of the leading character in Robert Bresson’s 1951 Diary of a Country Priest. In spite of his doubts, Quintana can do nothing less than reach out to the least and the last in his community. Toward the end of this film, we hear him recite the prayer of St. Patrick. This is a sympathetic and caring minister.
After just a short period of time in the States, Marina’s daughter is bored and Neil and Marina’s relationship is strained. They separate and move apart; each of them has an affair with another person. In time, they reconnect with each other
That’s the basic story, but Terrence Malick has never told linear stories in his films, preferring to represent the relationship between nature and humanity, moving his actors to the sidelines as he shares music and images. His 1998 World War II drama The Thin Red Line is the most beautiful depiction of Guadalcanal you will ever see, but it’s not much of a war movie
To the Wonder reprises too many images from The Tree of Life with diminishing returns. Marina is a bit of an airhead and Neil is just a handsome guy staring off into space. It’s disappointing to see Ben Affleck, who has done such a great job moving away from these kinds of roles (including last year’s Argo), turning in this performance. But, to be fair, most of what the actors bring to Terrence Malick film ends up on the cutting room floor
You may find yourself discovering God while watching To the Wonder, but it will probably be because you’ve fallen asleep.
Two halos :A beautifully filmed and lovely scored trifle.
Two pitchforks: For brief nudity, intimations of sexual activity, and scenes of pollution.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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