• Between 1973 and 2011 Terrence Malick made five films in thirty-eight (38) years. Between the five films, he took an average of 8.5 years to make his next movie. In 2012, he made To the Wonder just one year after The Tree of Life. Be careful what you wish for with an auteur with a typical long gestation period between films.
  • It looks slightly different from the start, Malick starts with his trademark voice-over (here from Olga Kurylenko- nothing surprising there yet) with this lo-fi, grainy footage. We are not accustomed to ugliness in Malick’s world. He would quickly go back to the 35mm photography and it is a handsome-looking film overall (with some notable exceptions)—but from the beginning it is odd to see Malick’s instincts betray him with the Blair Witch-like footage.
  • The troupe voice-over style of his is here as mentioned. Kurylenko to Ben Affleck to Javier Barden and Rachel McAdams and so on. There is a fair amount of sumptuous magic hour photography,

this is certainly auteur cinema, a fair amount of magic hour photography

Emmanuel Lubezki whisking the camera along, and magnificent low-angle shots up towards the sun.

  • It is very elliptical– just about two hours of ellipticality. I mentioned on the page for The Thin Red Line, but Malick’s style is now almost entirely the Ben Chaplin and Miranda Otto sequences. These sequences used to be spliced cutaways, and now it is the entire film.
  • Malick’s first film set entirely in the modern day
  • Kurylenko has the voice-over for the first 10-minutes in France, and then when she and Affleck move to the US he gets the voice-over. There are glorious shots of the pink Oklahoma sky, but here, for the first time in his career really, he stumbles. He shoots a Sonic fast-food restaurant, a grocery store, a laundry mat, an EconoLodge motel. In 2012, he has failed to make one of the most beautiful films of the year and that is hard to believe given that this is Terrence Malick.

There are glorious shots of the pink Oklahoma sky– years before Chloé Zhao in The Rider or Nomadland

  • The playfulness and improvisation is there from his earlier films. There is no plot, there is no script. Affleck’s character sprays Kurylenko with a hose, she jumps on the bed.
  • Bardem’s character is introduced 20-minutes in. Malick has now used voice-over in French, English and Spanish. Given his history of leaving entire characters on the editing room floor, I cannot believe poor Bardem’s character was not cut out. There is nothing here to keep in.

The best portions of the film are those at Mont Saint-Michel. That is a sublime setting. Malick, smartly, chooses to end the film there.

  • Malick is starting to get the “perfume commercial” criticism here in 2012. Antonioni received this back in the 1960s so it, in itself, means nothing. These are gorgeous-looking actors, well-dressed, there is endless ennui. Malick is trying to capture the misconnects (they often walk past each other in the house) in these relationships. They can come off as cyphers. For example, there is really not much of a look into Affleck’s motivations. Lines like “an avalanche of tenderness” do not help.

Malick is trying to capture the misconnects (they often walk past each other in the house) in these relationships

  • At the 45-minute mark there is a great Antonioni-like frame. These are two bodies, in the same frame, failing to relate. This was the great Italian master’s trademark. Rachel McAdams is praying in the foreground left pointed towards Affleck in the background right while he faces in her direction.

a stunner from Malick’s flickering photomontage towards the end of the film

  • For whatever missteps we have here with To the Wonder, it is still comforting that Malick has not sold out, or changed feathers. This is auteur cinema, it is just a much lesser result, and you begin to wonder (no pun intended) if Malick has faltered because his style has become grinded down into such a fine powder… or if he just needs more time, more preparation, more footage to choose from for his final collage. Either way, the results are disappointing.
  • Recommend but not in the top 10 of 2012