To the Wonder (12A)

Directed by Terrence Malick
Screening at FACT
22nd February - 7th March 2012

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Love The One You’re With
Pretentious rubbish or profound masterpiece?

Following on from his abstract and esoteric The Tree Of Life Terence Mallick’s outing here is also not an easy watch. Utilising extensive flashbacks it charts the highs and lows of relationships that are unable to stand the test of time.

Ben Affleck plays Neil, who materials out of the ethereal imagination of Marina (Olga Kurylenko) as they speed through the French countryside to the blurred kaleidoscopic backdrop of a train window. Later the wistfully saturated greys of Mont Saint Chapelle’s shoreline has the pair chancing an inching incoming tide. What does it portend? Back in romantically shot Paris all is not straight forward. Marina has a young daughter from a failed marriage. Unable to marry, Neil arranges for them to go to Oklahoma. The transition does not last and the ten- year-old quickly turns sour without her friends. Visas expired, Neil is left alone in limbo. Home building thwarted, he concentrates on his job of environmentally cleansing blighted and polluted communities. The doleful heaps of spoil and poisoned streams mirroring his heavy demeanor.

He moves on to a chance re-union with ex-flame Jane (Rachel Adams), once again caught up in the spiral of desire: all gold-red fields, wistful herds of bison and caged herds of horses champing for release. Will it work out this time? It doesn't and again minimalist gradations of disaffection tilt the balance. Marina comes back for a second bite of the apple, Paris having turned to dust after the daughter leaves to live with her father and his new partner. Worries of an hysterectomy are averted and they eventually tie the knot in a shabby ceremony with hand-cuffed prisoners for witnesses. Not how to remember your happy day. A baby is on the horizon as the situation again approaches breaking point. Marina spends a seedy afternoon in a roadside motel and their love – hate polarisation is cauterised for good.

Running throughout these, at times, irritating ecstasies and heartbreaks another theme is introduced centred around the priestly duties of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem). Ministering to a dystopian congregation on the edge, his sermons on love are given beneath the magnificent permanence of the stained glass windows that adorn his church. The paradox of the film is this. Beautiful people with the luxury of the chance of everlasting love do not have the psychic stamina to do it. Conversely, those less fortunate can have someone who spiritually loves them but reciprocity is denied. Unfortunately, while couples have the innate irrationality to tear themselves apart, the system, in the form of a transfer of parish for a priest, can rip a whole community to pieces. To The Wonder utilises elemental panoramic photography, idiosyncratic and startling camera angles, unconventional use of dialogue, (the visuals often speaking for themselves) and an enigmatic soundtrack. Mallick demands that you stay the course, but not necessarily enjoy his film. There was a lot of muttering and sighing at the end of the viewing I attended, but for those who can think outside the box the cogency of what is being signified here cannot be understated.

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