'To the Wonder' is another wonderful Terrence Malick film

Courtesy PhotoBen Affleck and Olga Kurylenko appear in the poetic new film “To the Wonder.”

Courtesy PhotoBen Affleck and Olga Kurylenko appear in the poetic new film “To the Wonder.”

“To the Wonder,” Terrence Malick’s sixth film in 40 years, has much in common with his last film, 2011’s “The Tree of Life.”

Dealing with some of the same themes, including a father who can’t open his heart, it also is more intimate and more immediate, without the dinosaurs or outer-space scenes of “Tree of Life.”

Oscar winner Ben Affleck stars, but not in a typical Affleck performance. Malick uses him mainly as a figure, like one of the “models” in Robert Bresson’s films, almost untouchable. The camera can’t seem to get a handle on him. It rarely gets a glimpse of his face or his reactions. His voice is rarely heard.

He plays Neil, an American environmental inspector. As the movie begins, Neil and the beautiful Marina (Olga Kurylenko) are in  France. They’re clearly in love, touching and flirting and laughing and kissing.

Neil, Marina and her daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), return to America to live together.

But in Oklahoma, Marina doesn’t fit in. Neil becomes increasingly distant. Their relationship slowly begins to deteriorate, sometimes violently. Neil eventually reconnects with a pretty childhood friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams).

Meanwhile, a priest (Javier Bardem) struggles with his faith while trying to ease the suffering around him.

There is little dialogue, even less here than in  other films by Malick, who relies on loose, poetic narration.

Characters let their sad, lovely, reflective thoughts tumble out, with no particular rhythm or order.

Images are filled with alternating harmonies and conflicts. Characters constantly try to connect, either with nature or with each other. Sometimes the connections work, other times they don’t. Sometimes Marina finds beauty in her new home. Other times, she’s alienated.

The film’s different sections follow suit. The very palpable texture of air, temperature, light and color in France clash drastically with the open, twilight feel of Oklahoma.

Nothing happens in typical storytelling fashion. Nothing is explained or settled. It’s a movie to be purely explored, felt and intuited.

“To the Wonder” is an example of filmmaking of the highest degree, placing Malick alongside Bresson, Kubrick and Antonioni. It is open not only to the infinite possibilities of cinema, but also to the infinite possibilities of life. While the story may be about a man who can’t love, “To the Wonder” also is a movie of unfettered, unstoppable hope.


To the Wonder ????

  • Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem
  • Written and directed by Terrence Malick
  • Rated R
  • Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes


artsBen AFfleckentertainmentMoviesTerrence Malick

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Howard Golden places an order with server Dragos Pintlie at John’s Grill as indoor dining resumes on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Food services industry sees significant drop in employment opportunities

San Francisco’s job market has contracted sharply over the past year in… Continue reading

Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, on Monday said “We truly wish we could return to in-person learning for everyone.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD reopening plans still leave out most secondary students

SFUSD announces April return to in-person learning after reaching contract deal with teachers

San Francisco Giants catcher Joey Bart (21) swings for a strike against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on August 25, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Up-and-coming players show glimpses of future greatness at Giants Spring Training

By Nick Zeller-Singh Thousands of baseball players across the nation have one… Continue reading

“Calder-Picasso” juxtaposes sculptures and paintings by 20th century masters Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso at the de Young Museum. (Courtesy Gary Sexton/2021 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society, New York)
‘Calder-Picasso’ showcases modern masters side-by-side

Artists explore empty space in representational and abstract works

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

Most Read