Oklahoma-bred auteur Terrence Malick offers up a wondrous cinematic poem that ruminates on the nature of love with “To the Wonder.”
The rare truly experimental art filmmaker to gain mainstream acclaim, the famously mysterious Malick, 69, grew up in Bartlesville, and he filmed “To the Wonder” in and around his hometown, Pawhuska and Tulsa, as well as in France. Per the norm for Malick, it is largely a visual experience, and Oklahoma's natural beauty, especially the bison herds roaming the golden plain of Pawhuska's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, are every bit as beguiling as some of France's best-known landmarks.
While the film has an autobiographical bent — Malick was once married to a Frenchwoman who moved with him to the United States, where their union ultimately fell apart — “To the Wonder” mulls over universal themes.
Malick maintains his signature esoteric post-narrative style with the romantic drama. There's not much story and even less dialogue, leaving it to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's immersive imagery as well as the movie's entrancing score, which melds Tchaikovsky, Haydn and Wagner with Hanan Townshend's original music and nature's own soundtrack of moaning winds and whooshing tides, to evoke much of the emotion.
Ben Affleck ostensibly plays the main character but utters no more than 20 words in the two-hour runtime, and half of those are muffled. His co-stars Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem do most of the talking via rather lofty voice-overs.
Admittedly, I've not always been open to the director's cinematic meanderings, but “To the Wonder” delves into a topic I find fascinating: romantic love in the context of the mundane.
After all, it's easy to fall and feel transcendentally in love amid the ancient monastery and vast beaches of Mont Saint-Michel, the island off Normandy, France, considered “The Wonder of the Western World.” That's where we first meet Neil (Affleck), a taciturn American tourist who has embarked on a passionate affair with Marina (Kurylenko), an Eastern European single mother living in Paris.