To the Wonder 13/05/02 3:08
His latest film is called To the Wonder, and it displays all the patterns that I've mentioned—but whereas Malick's films up to now have been like symphonies, this one is smaller in scope, more like a sonata. We follow a young woman named Marina, played by Olga Kurylenko, a single mother living in France with a 10-year-old daughter, who is in love with Neil, a visiting American played by Ben Affleck. Marina is a rarity, someone who retains a complete childlike innocence and who seems to live only for love, like a heroine from a 19th century romantic novel. She and her daughter move to Oklahoma to be with Neil, and of course her romantic innocence can't last. She goes away, then comes back, experiencing ecstasy and inevitably coming down to reality. Her agony, her great question, is: Why can't we always be in love?
The little Midwestern town is also home to a priest played by Javier Bardem, whose spiritual desert mirrors the restless seeking of Marina for love. The priest's inner dialogue is with a God that he desperately wants to see or feel, in the face of the poverty and suffering that he sees around him.
And this is the thinnest wisp of a story around which the film's quiet meditations gather. Also during an interlude when Marina goes back to France, Neil reconnects with a childhood friend played by Rachel McAdams, and her desire for him, in voice-over, registers in a somewhat lower key. The film is a continual flow of passion and longing, with almost no dialogue. The usual gorgeous photography by Emmanuel Lubezki heightens the contrasts of some subtle ironies—chiefly in the frozen emotional state of Ben Affleck's silent character, whose thoughts we only briefly get to hear, and who seems more like a screen on which the two women can project their desires than a complex person. He works as an environmental inspector, which supplies another irony—in the midst of the film's contemplation of stark Midwestern natural beauty, we are aware that something in the water and soil is making people sick.
I can't help think that Malick has gone as far as he can go in this direction. The vision of female innocence from The New World and The Tree of Life proves here to be elusive and incomplete. Yet there's something very touching about that—it's as if this great artist is reaching out for something else through this film, and his vulnerability in doing seems like a special kind of courage.