Neil meets Marina while visiting Paris. The two fall in love and Neil (a stone-faced Ben Affleck) invites Marina and her daughter to join him back in the United States. The rest of To the Wonder consists of melancholic music, elliptical editing, gorgeous images, and trite poetic voice over (often in French with subtitles). I’m convinced Terence Malick is much more suited to the occupation of painter than filmmaker.
Full of visual poetry and beautifully captured images (Emmanuel Lubezki makes banal Americana look profoundly ethereal) but To the Wonder goes no further. It is expressionistic and moody, attempting to encompass love in all forms (spiritual and romantic) and uninterested in traditional narrative. Malick’s visual eye is unquestioned by even his most ardent opponents and To the Wonder is unquestionably one of the most beautiful films of last year.
But visual poetry, melodramatic voice over, and existential staring can only go so far. Javier Bardem plays a disillusioned priest trying, and failing, to see God in the everyday. There’s a string of story to hold onto with Bardem’s character that elevates the expressionistic images accompanying him. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the film. The pervasive image of “women twirling and dancing in fields” becomes parody towards the end of the film, Malick’s visual style wearing thin and melodramatic with no real story to ground it. Ultimately To the Wonder is nothing more than a trailer. A gorgeous, evocative trailer, but a trailer nonetheless, hopefully teasing a film far better than this.