To The Wonder (2013) ****

As I have seen more and more movies, my love for storytelling and cinematography has grown. When I was younger, I only cared for action, comedy or awesome actors. I failed to see what made a film “good” and didn’t know what to look for in a film. Recently, such films as Avatar, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Only God Forgives and The Tree of Life have all sucked me in, due to their astoundingly gorgeous cinematography. Now, from the same Director and Cinematographer of the phenomenal The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick & Emmanuel Lubezki), comes To The Wonder!

Olga Kurylenko basks in the skies colorful light. Truly, a beautiful shot.
Marina basks in the skies colorful light. Truly, a beautiful shot.

If you’re younger, like me, you may not know who Terrence Malick is. If you’re older, unlike me, you still may not know who Terrence Malick is. Malick is a Director who has always stayed out of the spotlight and chooses projects that usually have a deeper, religious meaning. He works with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but has a habit of editing them out of his movies, because their scenes don’t work well for him. It’s not that the actors themselves were bad, their scenes just didn’t fit Malick’s vision. As unfortunate as that is, Malick has still told some incredible stories and has a fantastic cinematographer at his side. While this film may lack dialog, it provides depth and beauty that you can appreciate. To The Wonder begins with a voice-over from Marina (Olga Kurylenko). She tells us how she loves her partner and how he completes her. On a train ride, we see Marina interacting sillily with her boyfriend,Neil (Ben Affleck). As they make their way to a castle in the picturesque country of France (in Paris, I believe), Marina goes deeper into her relationship. She speaks in French whispers (with English Subtitles) about her love for Neil and how she is concerned that he may not feel the same way.

Neil and Marina are driving towards a castle in the beautiful country of France!
Neil and Marina are driving towards a castle in the beautiful country of France!

We then cut to Oklahoma, where Neil has moved back to his home with Marina and her daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). We get some incredible shots of Oklahoma and the fields, as we hear Neil explain his love for Marina. He struggles with Tatiana’s reluctance to see him as a father figure and he feels as if his love for Marina is wavering. As we learn more about Marina and Neil’s pasts, we’re introduced to Father Quintana (Javier Bardem who speaks in Spanish and English), as the two begin attending church. The Father talks about how the love of God must come before the love of another. Neil, struggling with his love, ultimately finds himself detached from Marina when he runs into Jane (Rachel McAdams), a girl from his past. As Neil and Jane reconnect, Marina moves herself and Tatiana back to Paris. Neil, now working as an environmental inspector, struggles to find something to live for. After a while, he begins seeing Jane, who tells us about her past with Neil and her love for him, all in whispers. Their love almost seems forbidden, as Neil seeks out Father Quintana for help and Jane speaks of Neil being bad for her. Although out of the picture, Marina manages to find her way back to Oklahoma, where Neil must first find God, before he can love another person.

Neil and Jane stand quietly in the fields of Oklahoma.
Neil and Jane stand quietly in the fields of Oklahoma.

On the surface, this film’s story seems pretty simple. As you watch it, however, there is so much that isn’t said or explained. Every look and motion that each character makes, tells us more about what they can’t say with their mouths. Their movements are left for interpretation, as they too, tell as story of their own. As far as spoken dialog goes, there isn’t much in this film. The dialog that there is, is either in French when Marina speaks, or is spoken in faint whispers. You will want to turn your speakers up and may even want to turn subtitles on. Keep in mind tough, that this film’s incredible score may get very loud at certain times. I’m just looking out for your ears! Acting-wise, Kurylenko and Bardem steal the show. Affleck and McAdams are fine, but they’re overshadowed by the passion and emotion that is put into the characters of Kurylenko and Bardem. Both speak in foreign tongues, yet, you will find it so easy to see what they mean as they speak. The lingering pauses and the hints of emotion in their voices will give you a better understanding of who they are and what they mean. Javier Bardem has a monologue that, in reality should take less than a minute, is drawn out for six minutes. His soft and slow words echo throughout your ears and the imagery at hand will have your eyes glued to the screen. It’s a very powerful scene that is one of my favorites this year.

Father Quintana struggles to preach faith, as he himself is still searching for it.
Father Quintana struggles to preach faith, as he himself is still searching for it.

To The Wonder is not a perfect film though, as it does run rather longer for the lack of dialog it contains and it has some underdeveloped characters. We spend the least amount of time with McAdams’ character and we never see much of the relationship between Marina and Tatiana. Also, as beautiful as they are, the many nature shots in this film are completely irrelevant. The film does feel like a long time, mainly because Malick focuses less on the story and more on the visuals. He gets carried away from time to time, so the jumping back-and-forth between acting and visuals does get tiresome. While I don’t think that To The Wonder is as good as Malick’s masterpiece, The Tree of Life, I still believe that it’s one of the years better films. It’s definitely a film that you’ll have to pay close attention to and, being an arthouse film, it’s not for everyone. If you do decide to watch this film, you’ll, be greatly rewarded by a powerful story that works because of the actors and their emotions. Plus, it’s always nice to see a wonderfully shot film. I can’t stress enough how beautiful this film is. It’s one that has stuck with me for a while and is one I would consider revisiting because of the powerful storytelling.

To The Wonder Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTAzcTZTY1g

4 STARS!!!

4 / 5 stars     

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