A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
“To the Wonder”
Oklahoma-bred auteur Terrence Malick offers up a gorgeously poetic but challengingly chaotic cinematic contemplation on the complexities of love and faith with “To the Wonder.”
The notoriously enigmatic Malick, 69, who is conspicuously absent from the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes interviews, grew up in Bartlesville and filmed “To the Wonder” in and around his hometown, Pawhuska and Tulsa, as well as in France. His visually stunning depictions of Oklahoma’s big-sky sunsets, green-gold grain fields and particularly the stately bison herds on Pawhuska’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve are simply luminous in high definition, even outshining France’s famed Mont Saint-Michel monastery.
“You have to allow the chaos to be the chaos of life,” star Ben Affleck advises in one of the three short and rather repetitive making-of featurettes, which detail how Malick opted to forego many conventional filmmaking trappings, including a formal script, in creating his latest esoteric post-narrative drama.
The film opens at Mont Saint-Michel, the island off Normandy, France, considered “The Wonder of the Western World,” where Neil (Affleck), a reticent American tourist, is enjoying a blissful affair with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a lively Eastern European single mother living in Paris.
Neil invites Marina and her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), to move back with him to Bartlesville. She may twirl free-spiritedly across the gorgeous Oklahoma landscapes, but Marina soon discovers that the idyllic love that came so easily on holiday is much harder to maintain once it is uprooted to a subdivision in a strange land.
As their relationship disintegrates, Marina finds some solace worshipping in the spanking new Catholic church, where Father Quintana’s (Javier Bardem) faith feels old and worn down, while Neil rekindles his romance with a dazzling old flame, Jane (Rachel McAdams), a flaxen-haired rancher who has recently been widowed.
With “To the Wonder,” Malick uses a freeform story and sparse dialogue to ruminate about the complexities of preserving romantic love and religious devotion amid the life’s tedium and troubles. The three-time Oscar nominee has clearly edited away copious amounts of words and plot to leave the film a largely sensory experience, and for some film fans, his cuts will prove too drastic.
For those willing to go along with his musings and meanderings, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s immersive imagery and the movie’s bewitching score, which blends Tchaikovsky, Haydn and Wagner with Hanan Townshend’s original music and natural sounds of wind and water, effectively evoke deep emotions.