To the Wonder

5.81 h 52 min2012X-RayR
Neil is a man torn between two loves: Marina, the European woman who comes to the United States to be with him, and Jane, the old flame he reconnects with from his hometown. Neil’s doubts about his life and loves are reflected in the crisis of faith experienced by Father Quintana.
Terrence Malick
Olga KurylenkoBen AffleckRachel McAdams
English [CC]
Audio languages
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Supporting actors
Javier BardemTatiana ChilineRomina MondelloTony O'GansCharles BakerMarshall Bell
Sarah GreenNicholas Gonda
Magnolia Pictures
R (Restricted)
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3.1 out of 5 stars

837 global ratings

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AvidReaderReviewed in the United States on June 13, 2013
5.0 out of 5 stars
Give yourself over
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"To the Wonder" (À la merveille) is an extraordinary film that must be taken in full on its own terms. It is tempting for those who know much (or even a little) about Malick to focus on some of his familiar techniques and devices, make comparisons with earlier films, and ponder what it is he is trying to say this time (especially coming after "The Tree of Life"). It also is tempting for all kinds of viewers to puzzle over the scarcity of dialogue and the paring of the scenes in the drama. Yes, this movie demands attention, of all kinds, and, of course, if one wants to study and critique it after multiple viewings, then by all means, do so. But I fear that those who might begin by holding the film at arm's length, puzzling, judging, or simply waiting for explanations, may end up missing the wonder it really is.

My advice, therefore, is take it all in, give yourself over to this film, and do not get distracted by what might ordinarily strike you as missing plot details. Drink in every bit of the screen shots you can, let the music wrap around you, and imprint the few words you see and hear on your forehead (not unlike what Tatinia does in the movie) so you'll remember them later.

I know that this is not necessarily how many will approach a film by a director like Malick. I probably would have viewed it differently myself if I had not stumbled upon it by accident, after having been somewhat disenchanted with "The Tree of Life." I just happened to find "To the Wonder" on cable PPV one day after returning from a trip to France, which just happened to include a day's drive to see Le Mont St. Michel ("La Merveille," as it is known in France) and was curious about what Malick had done with it.

Somewhat to my surprise, my first viewing of the film left me breathless. I was immediately drawn into the sights and sounds of each scene and driven by the director's extraordinary way of melding cinematography, music, characters, emotion, and setting into a single vision. Yes, I missed a few details from the script (hard to see the subtitles or absorb the spoken words, especially on a small screen) the first time, and I have absorbed more and more with each viewing (several more at home and one at a movie theater). But it was not as though it was difficult or inaccessible the first time. It worked, I think, because I let the direction make the coherency for me from the beginning.

I realize that others may have different experiences and opinions, but I would urge anyone who may be inclined to see this film to try it first by plunging in, by seeing France and Oklahoma and the characters from the inside, and letting it all sink in, reach your heart and mind and all your senses. There is an honesty and freshness to all that is portrayed -- the pain, the sorrow, the beauty, the wonder, the poverty and despair -- which makes whatever transcendence comes through as if in real time, place, and memory, rather than superimposed. And while there may be all kinds of prices to be paid in making films like this, at least this time I think Malick came as close as anyone can to making it all work beautifully together, paring film down to its barest essentials, yet creating a wondrous feast in the end. I cannot recall a film that has moved me so much (with the possible exception of Kalatozov's "Letter Never Sent").

A few words about the Christian elements in the movie. As Michael Carroll pointed out in his Amazon review, Malick's films are first and foremost experience. Part of the experience conveyed by "To the Wonder" are the words and actions that are a call to God: Marina's experiences at mass and confession, Jane's reflections on what she is told the Bible says about the loss of her child; Marina and Neil's marriage (a Protestant ceremony, as we know Marina must be denied the sacramental rite because of her prior marriage and divorce); Neil's occasional attendance at mass, his spoken rejection of Jane's request to pray with him; and, of course, the actions, sermons, and thoughts of the priest -- just to name a few. None of these calls are met with direct, or arguably, even indirect answers, and all are part of a larger whole that conveys remembered experience of people, places, and things through images and sounds.

The film is, indeed, a deeply personal and deeply Christian view of life, love, pain, sorrow, regret, and joy. But it is not a sermon, and it is not necessary to subscribe to Christianity or any other faith in particular to take part in the experience. Anyone who has experienced the slings and arrows of romantic love (and regretfully taken arms against its troubles), struggled with the demands of commitment, and doubted one's ability to make and sustain family and/or partnership, will know the pain, the guilt, and the possibilities for forgiveness and redemption, of one sort or another. Malick does indicate that there is something "missing" if we do not finally connect with others and the world around us, if we do not try our best to love and care for people and the natural world we live in. But he's not preaching this -- he's showing us the slow, painful, and often confusing experience of learning it bit by bit.

While some may find the final scenes (and the denouement that precedes them) bewildering, or at best, susceptible of multiple interpretations, I do not think that it is meant to be inconclusive in the way we might expect a "serious" film to be. Nor do I think it reflects sloppiness on the part of Malick trying to wrap up a film created in what appears (at least to the actors and outsiders) an ad hoc fashion. There is redemption, but not the kind that progresses towards a concluding epiphany. It comes instead from remembered experience and a sacramental vision of all of life, which puts brushing one's teeth, putting socks on, quarreling, lovemaking, fishing in a lake, kissing the buds on a tree, dancing, swimming, sampling for tar sand, struggling with drug addiction, poverty, and pollution, all on par with the rites of Holy Communion, confession, and matrimony.

The film tests us all, sees if we are willing to touch and feel the sunlight warming the stained glass window and walk with and among, the poor and the elderly, as well as the main characters. We can choose to hide in our homes, behind our windows, with the world outside knocking to get in, or we can see, hear, and feel what is wondrous, as well as painful, frightening, and confusing. "Christ be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left. Christ in the heart." This is not a call to faith but a deep expression of what the experience of faith is. Whether one understands or shares such an experience in Christian terms, it is still a wonder to not just behold but to live for a time.

I can hardly wait for this film to come out on DVD in August. I see it is still playing in selected theaters through July. I would strongly urge anyone who wants to seriously give this film a chance to see it, at least first, on as large a screen as possible. This is NOT a film for IPad or laptop viewing. And thank you Amazon for already making the soundtrack available -- it is hauntingly beautiful.
12 people found this helpful
George F. TaylorReviewed in the United States on July 5, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
The what, how and why.
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I have given this film 5 stars, not because it is an excellent movie in any usual sense, but because it is excellent as what it actually is. To the Wonder is of course very beautiful. Malick is in love with light and finds unusual ways to use it as different as clouds reflected on water, a candle flame, or a spinning cut glass ball. He is also famous for combining a beautiful sound track with the lowest forms of human conduct.

For those people who made comments that the film is a mess or unstructured or have tried to label it as a poem in an effort to make it conform to a comprehensible genre, I will try to show that To the Wonder is actually highly structured, but not in ways most viewers will easily be able to see. There is also the fact that Malick's films are increasingly evolving into conceptual art and very close to surrealism. Conceptual art, usually unorthodox, is concerned with expressing ideas important to the artist, but making it comprehensible to an audience is a secondary concern, if a concern at all. If Malick had wanted to make this film readily understandable he would not have used four languages, five if you include sign language. Other examples of conceptual art are Charles Ives' music and Picasso's Les demoiselles d'Avignon.

The structure of To the Wonder is a very good basic expression of Soren Kierkegaard's existential philosophy of the human condition. Very simply Kierkegaard saw people falling into three personality types. Marina (Olga Kurylenko) is the "aesthetic" type governed by the senses, impulse, and emotion. Neil (Ben Affleck) is the "ethical" type which is motivated by responsibility and social good. What job could be more ethical than an EPA inspector? Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is the "religious" type, although a failed or relapsed type. For Kierkegaard the religious personality required a total self-relating to God, and it has to be constantly repeated. This is why Father Quintana struggles all through the film with self-doubt. He thinks in voice over, "Love is a command and a duty. You say I can command my emotions. You fear your love has died." Important to existential philosophy is that every person has freely chosen his life condition and can change it. Although miserable to the point of despair, people rarely find a way out of their life condition because it requires a complete, active break with their past personality type. (Cf. "Fear and Trembling" and "Either Or.") Each character plays out their personality in spite of the conflicts and misery it causes, and each character ends the film essentially unchanged. It is inevitable that as soon as the first joys of new love fade, Marina and Neil are too different to stay together. She is soon bored with him, "don't be so serious" she says. Neil on his part is exasperated with her impulsive, irresponsible personality.

Because Malik is dealing here almost exclusively with abstract ideas, he has eliminated most of the dialogue and uses symbols instead. One is a flight of ascending stairs. It could be escape, fulfillment, hope. He shows Marina and Neil pacing around the same house, but on different floors. They can not come together, physically or mentally. He has also stripped the plot down to the barest minimum. He is trying to cover a lot of psychological ground and avoiding another three hour film like The Tree of Life. He uses a lot of cinema montage, a series of short shots of actions or people's expressions to tell the story without words. Yes, there is too much twirling, but what action better shows joy in such a quick, simple way? This type of filmmaking requires a lot attention from the audience. I didn't get it all the first time either.

The end of the film, starting with the first scenes in the airport when Marina is leaving, are the most difficult because Malick here abandons a linear time sequence. This section can best be considered a series of memories, regrets, expressions of despair, or of desire. In a voice-over Marina says, "Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves. They wait for others to do it." Pure Kierkegaard. Then she is shown committing adultery which she knows will cause Neil to leave her. There never could have been a baby or young child while she was still in Kansas. Perhaps she wished her daughter was still young and not estranged from her. The scene of Neil with his attorney explicitly states the divorce will be easy since there are no children. The scene of Neil with a young boy is his wish for a son. The last scene with Marina back at Mont Saint-Michel with the same music as the first time is her memory of lost love. This scene also brings the film full circle to the beginning, indicating that nothing in these people's lives has really changed because they have not changed.

Malick has probably thought about this film most of his life. He did post graduate study at Oxford on the human condition as expressed in the philosophy of Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger. Over laying this philosophical structure are loosely autobiographical events in Malik's own life. He left his first wife to marry a woman he met in Paris with whom he lived for a time in Kansas. He later divorced her. (Wikipedia) Malick did not make this film for you or me. He made it for himself, and it is a very personal expression of his thoughts on the human condition and spirituality. This is why Roger Ebert could write, "Malick...appears almost naked here before his audience."
21 people found this helpful
septimusReviewed in the United States on April 19, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
A miracle on film
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_To the Wonder_ is almost as perfect as Malick's _Days of Heaven_. I have seen it maybe 10 times now and am still surprised by its intricacy, richness, and the details I have missed.

The first 15 minutes are pure bliss. Scenes with different camera movements angle into one another to create a startling rhythm. (Five editors collaborated to achieve something that rivals the best of Alain Resnais.) The music is heavenly, and is a rebuke of critics who are still hawking their "diegetic sound" dogma.

Many musical, visual, and verbal motifs are used exactly twice, sometimes to evoke fleeting remembrance, sometimes to enrich or subvert the meaning of their first appearance. Neil and Marina seems to walk on water at Monte St. Michel, but he is knee deep in muddy ponds back in Oklahoma. The prisoner running round and round recalls Jane's wild horse. Marina's soliloquy about the dreaming Queen in the tapestry at the Louvre is echoed in the Italian woman's "dream" speech, where she urges Marina to leave Neil. Since the film is unscripted, these cosmic convergences must have been ecstatic discoveries, created during editing.

The story is elliptical but like in recent Malick films the main theme is announced early on. The Catholic Priest (Bardem) contrasts romantic and divine love, and criticizes those who fail to commit. Neil (Affleck) is exactly that; he is his own empty house. He lets his relation with Marina (Kurylenko) go stale and flirts with Jane (McAdams). Marina is volatile and very emotional, made of water. Jane is the queen of earth, grounded; she owns a ranch and sees right through him. His memories of Marina lingers but Jane is forgotten once she exits the film. Marina returns, he marries her, and even buys her a washing machine (!). (Neil is based on the young Malick, which makes the film a harsher self-critique than most films by Ingmar Bergman.) But love fades. The priest rediscovers his faith while helping the couple and others in need. Neil lands on his feet but Marina remains unbound to the end.

The dichotomy between divine and romantic love recalls the tension between nature and grace dramatized in _The Tree of Life_. In a sense, Malick always tells the same story -- days of heaven on earth corrupted by human finitude. _To the Wonder_ represents the epitome of this narrative embodied in a "small" subject. There is no denying _The Tree of Life_ and _Knight of Cups_ are the giants in terms of scope and experimentation. But _To the Wonder_ is more prismatically focused than its sprawling cinematic siblings. It is a perfect gem; I urge everyone to experience it.
10 people found this helpful
Transcendental ThomistReviewed in the United States on April 13, 2014
3.0 out of 5 stars
Terence Malick erring on the wrong side of minimalist excess
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In one of the brief "making of" clips that complement the theatrical trailer on the extras of this "To the Wonder" DVD, the film's stars (Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem) join its technical crew in acknowledging that they filmed most of their work here without a script of any kind. They boast about reading Heidegger and Dostoevsky to prepare for their roles, clearly enthralled by the idea that they are making a Really Important Movie for Terence Malick, of whom they speak (he is never actually interviewed for the making-of feature concerning his own film) in terms of adulation. As one might therefore expect, the movie itself turns out to be an example of Malick's worst excesses as a filmmaker, proving to be an exercise in superficiality masquerading as deep insights about human nature.

As the actors reveal in the documentary, they were pretty much figuring out their characters as the film went along, and it shows. The film's narrative is so minimalist, so full of silent montages set against Parisian and Midwestern backdrops of brilliant natural lighting, that it almost fails to qualify as a film in any traditional sense. It sometimes feels more like an advertisement, full of attitudes and postures rather than an actual story. Malick's obsession with capturing the authenticity of human experience through the artificiality of film results here in a series of documentary-style sequences with portentous voiceovers that appear to go nowhere. Malick is clearly trying to say something important about the ambiguity and uncertainty of human existence, but his characters are so bereft of motivation or plot (Ben Affleck barely speaks throughout the entire film) that it just falls flat. Affleck meets a girl and her 10-year old daughter in Paris, brings them back to the American midwest, marries the girl in a Catholic parish, watches her get deported, and then takes up again with an old flame before the French girl returns. But the characters are so inscrutable that we fail to become terribly involved with any of it, leaving the film as an interesting experiment that doesn't quite succeed in being good.

Although I enjoyed the surreal vision of World War II in Malick's "The Thin Red Line," I have never been an unqualified Malick fan, as I find many of his self-conscious flourishes of authenticity to be more pretentious than meaningful. I haven't yet seen "The Tree of Life," but I'm sorta losing my endurance for Malick films. This one has some nice moments, and Javier Bardem's Father Quintana character was particularly intriguing in his Mother Teresa-style portrait of disinterested love battling against spiritual dryness, but there's just not much here to relish. As always, Malick's style is more memorable than his substance here, which is perhaps a reflection of his Episcopalian love of aesthetics. "To the Wonder" may be worth seeing, but it's not great, and it won't stay with you very long.
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AnonymiceReviewed in the United States on August 12, 2021
2.0 out of 5 stars
I Love Malick
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But he does lay some terrible eggs and this is one of them. Much he has done since the 90s is just too obvious now. The symbols are tired. Yeah, we get hearts, clocks, lures, emptiness, love, god, death... I really became annoyed with the little pixie child woman (often French) archetype. Maybe that was the point, IDK, but probably not. She is so lovingly photographed (like a fashion shoot) and for most of the film, that I think Malick really thinks this was/should have been any kind of love, if not hard of heart, wandering souls, and all that. For how long could a man love such a twirling child (or the twirling child Affleck)? There is no there, there. Why is she kissing trees and pulling her clothes? Is she 5? A whispering French child, at that. I've never met a French woman like that. Or really any adult women.

Or perhaps she is nature, the goddess, love herself, but brought down by earthly matters? Better then not to have a juiced Affleck (who looks like a cave man from behind) as counterpoint to this nymph. Better to let her express whatever it is alone or with different characters. But why does love or nature have to be whatever male director's fantasy? Self-indulgent and eternal in film, though, sigh. Malick, like most every director, manages to get some female nudity on set. Yeah, we get the endless pervy director symbolism. I don't see Affleck bare anything here, so yeah.

The daughter and Bardem are the only bright and well cast lights here. Bardem can just read me the phone book, for that matter. They are the only ones with true dialog and there isn't much. These two are infinitely more deep and interesting than the main characters, who are just boring and insipid personified.

OMG, I get it! All this is exactly what Malick was trying to convey, I just didn't get it. Yeah...right. <end sarcasm>
3 people found this helpful
Mellifluous1Reviewed in the United States on April 7, 2021
1.0 out of 5 stars
Meaningless attempt at profundity
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The whole time I watched this film, I was waiting for some profound messages about love to be delivered that never really arrive. The scenery, landscape, empty interior rooms of houses, bright sunlight, and philharmonic orchestra all give you the anticipation that the film writer is about to deliver something utterly profound. But, the moment never arrives, leaving this viewer completely disappointed and dissatisfied. The film doesn't say anything profound at all. Just suburban/small town failure of romantic love x 3, along with disconnected suburban small town issues of poverty, illness, addiction, and environmental pollution that lurk in the shadows of the glorious sunlight. NO ONE is happy here, including the priest who ponders the meaning of love and God. The whole mood is utterly depressing and ordinary, in spite of the movie's poor attempt to be a surreal commentary on love and life. I was literally expecting someone to jump off a building near the end of the movie!

The style of the movie is also incredibly annoying. Over 95% of the movie is delivered in the form of narration by a few different voices, and there is very little dialogue between characters. As far as actual spoken non-narrative dialogue, most lines of it belonged to Rachel McAdams, who was likely instructed to whisper all of her lines. She spoke everything in a deliberate soft whisper, which was very annoying and unnatural. Another very annoying aspect is that the main couple never seem to fully move in to any home. The rooms are always empty, and they look like they just moved in, even after what appears to be months or seasons. It's all thoroughly depressing actually, and you never quite understand what the main reason is for their unhappiness. (Maybe if they bought some furniture for their big empty house they'd feel more at home and get happy, LOL. They never "settle in" to life and love. Maybe that is the symbolic point of the empty house. The empty house and frequent scenery of wide open, empty landscape seem intentionally depressing, much like the couple's empty, shallow hearts, especially the dull, lifeless leading male character played by Ben Affleck.)

The scenery, narration, and perennially empty houses occupied by the couple all create a sense of high melodrama but with very little substance connecting the scattered plot. There is very little plot actually, and the story is about 15 minutes worth of plot dragged out painfully slowly over 2 hours. It was certainly a waste of my time, for which I have only myself to blame. I kept waiting for something truly meaningful and worthwhile to blossom, but I should have given up on the prospect of that by the middle of the film.
12 people found this helpful
JOHN NYCReviewed in the United States on May 18, 2013
4.0 out of 5 stars
To the Wonder is not Iron Man 3
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Nor is it likely to be like any other movie you see this summer.

Terence Malick, to his credit, loves women, and graceful women who for the most part know how to move in space, especially in Nebraska or wherever there are fields with golden sun. These women, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko look really nice in juxtaposition with Ben A, but the camera is usually on them, which is a good thing, These women look good with empire waists although these women would look OK in Kmart too.

Mont St Michel is really beautiful.

I wish love were like this, but it was never for me, and that is why the magic of cinema is a romantic gift that Mallick has. He has a great ear for music. Music also moves the film; in fact, the film is composed rather than shot. Each scene is a fugue.

He also clearly loves America

He has a terrific lens on his camera that can make anyplace, even a crappy gas station in the plains of the country look good, and somehow makes everything look really clean and uncluttered. THis makes the characters central.

Javier Bardem is a priest with a crisis of faith. We watch him minister while interior monologue creates his stress.

This film is for people who love cinematography, not acting, and possess a vague, universal story line with which to work. I have always liked Malick, and he has expanded the scene from Days of Heaven when Brooke Adams sneaks out to see Richard Gere and they cavort in a small stream. And the champagne glass falls underwater. Little was said then; the sin concocted.

I find it thrilling to watch a new romantic type of filmmaking come about,whether you agree with the sentiment. It is not for everybody. Especially not for someone named Pepper Potts.
12 people found this helpful
Lola JonesReviewed in the United States on November 24, 2016
2.0 out of 5 stars
Nilishtic perspective of love***spoilers
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This movie has nothing to do with Christianity or love. The director/writer express hatred and disdain for both. Rule one- relationships are not built romantic love. The priest should have told Ben: Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?' The main female character who believes in romantic love and desires spiritual love of a husband to a wife is embodied in this woman with an undiagnosed mental illness. Ben Affleck's character, an expression of physical love, is represented by a man suffering from some low level depression having great stress dealing his job an environmental inspector talking to and seeing the lives of the impoverished desperate people being poisoned in town(s) by faceless corporation(s). So Ben Affleck's character finds this child like woman to play with for a while as a means of escape. He abandons her when this method of escape starts to wear off and/or not work, and picks up with a childhood friend. This woman is more grounded but has too much real life personal sadness for him to be bothered. He drops the new chick for the old chick with a marriage proposal so void of love (almost casual interest) that a mail ordered bride would think twice about before accepting. Affleck's character goes through the motions of emotional, romantic love, but he doesn't know how to be in love or give it. French woman (Marina) abandons her own daughter to the biological father after being dumped by Affleck the first time. Who would still want to marry a woman too unstable to care for a kid because you dumped her? This movie is an indictment against family, love, responsibility, integrity, womanhood, manhood and really common sense. This movie embraces mental illness by normalizing the juvenile thoughts in this woman's head by making it sound like pretty romantic poetry. Let's not forget about the priest who is having a crisis of faith, as you do when you're a Catholic priest in a Hollywood movie. This priest needs a sabbatical or new profession. This movie has nothing to do with adult love or people struggling to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or incorporating divine love in their relationships. This movie is beautifully and artistically shot. The director tells the story more with the scenery to compensate for the limited dialogue and does it very well. The score is as impressionistic and the scenes, the silence and lack of dialogue are poignant and revealing. The visuals are romantic and sometimes the scenes are tragically saturated in sharp greys near black and white lighting to express bleakness--Ben's character. If you are a student of film making this a good movie to watch, but better yet research this director's influences.
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