Best of… Series – 2012 – To the Wonder

To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2012)

Love’s whimsical and romantic side is generally the focus of a Terrence Malick film. So when we are dropped into the middle of a working romance full of soft glances, tender touches, and poetic renderings of characters’ innermost feelings, this felt right at home. But in as jolting a transition as you’ll see in a film, when we find ourselves in the presence of a local priest fighting the struggles of God’s silence in his life, a dark direction and tone become the focus. We spend time with the priest and his disconnect with God. And we spend time with the central couple as their relationship stutters, ends, becomes replaced, but eventually continues in loveless fashion. Beautiful yet heartbreaking parallels exist between the two types of relationships and their propensity to similar emotional turmoils, and Malick presents it all in his most non-traditional form yet.

to the wonder

Abandoning a standard narrative almost entirely, he uses his trademark voiceovers and the gorgeously captured images as the sole means to tell the story. And truthfully, he’s gone too far. His more balanced approaches are more successful and actually create the greater emotional impact I think he expected to be had here. There are still endless encounters of poignant sensitivity, but at times they don’t come as naturally as they should. When people complain that a Malick movie is just a long perfume commercial, they now might have a slightly valid complaint.

to the wonder 2

Without a doubt, though, the film’s final ‘poem’ does everything right in closing the door with grace and tenderness in the most beautiful way. Words lifted to God float in the background as images of confession of guilt, reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace dance across the screen. Both relationships turn from sorrowful and even ugly and begin to mend to a place of content. The beautiful reminder of hope in hard times, and that love is something you have to work at (and that sometimes what you think is love is not, and that it’s okay), is a more demanding theme than what Malick usually works with, but it’s just as rewarding.  9.5/10

to the wonder


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