To The Wonder

To The Wonder

The newest film by Ter­rence Mal­ick, To The Won­der, with Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko as two lovers, has become some­what leg­endary for all the twirling it con­tains. Kurylenko twirls in Mont-St. Michel and in Paris, in France, while Affleck watches and holds her ten­derly; he is an Amer­i­can and brings her and her child back to Okla­homa with him. There, she twirls also, while he watches and holds her ten­derly, but he also begins to won­der if he did the right thing bring­ing her over to the States, to the ugly Mid­dle Amer­ica where he works as an envi­ron­men­tal inspec­tor, and she does too. The Tree of Life, Malick’s pre­vi­ous work from 2011, was full of twirling (although not as much if I remem­ber cor­rectly) but Jes­sica Chas­tain did so as the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of nat­ural grace, and it made sense in a movie that was both beau­ti­ful and alive. That film star­tled you. When the cam­era fol­lows Kurylenko drift­ing down the wide streets of her new neigh­bor­hood, grasp­ing her shawl tighter around her thin body and glanc­ing around like a lost child, you can tell she’s feel­ing alien­ated and alone and I felt sorry for her; when she caresses and kisses Affleck through the white translu­cent cur­tains of their win­dow, even writhing around on the car­pet, you can tell she’s very much in love and I feel happy for her. But that’s the extent of my emo­tional involve­ment in this movie—others will be enrap­tured, cer­tainly, and oth­ers will give up. I was nei­ther exactly bored nor moved by the onscreen pro­ceed­ings of To the Won­der. The music and the visu­als together make it an attrac­tive film. Per­haps because I noticed things that seemed odd—take for instance, the couple’s house, which could be called taste­fully and sparse­fully dec­o­rated except that the bet­ter word to describe it would be empty. It’s a large thing perched on the cor­ner of a very wide, open street in a hous­ing devel­op­ment some­where in Okla­homa that resem­bles an aggran­dized sub­urb. Inside, Affleck sits on a chair in the mid­dle of a room and reads a book while Kurylenko looks out the win­dow; the cam­era lingers on cut­lery, coldly gleam­ing on the coun­ter­top, when they do the dishes together. It seems emo­tion­ally aloof and put-on. That’s why I was happy when Rachel McAdams appeared to steal Affleck away for all too brief a time, as a for­mer child­hood flame and pro­pri­etor of a ranch, she appears in golden wheat fields and among snort­ing horses, and brings more life and real flare into the pic­ture. You feel as if she knew what to do when the cam­eras started rolling, and she didn’t have to twirl as much to con­vey emo­tion. With Javier Bar­dem, who, with a thick accent, pro­vides much of the philo­soph­i­cal God-querying voiceover as a local priest with a cri­sis of belief. From 2013. B–