Why "To the Wonder" Is One of Malick's Best Works

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures
January 4th, 2013

Why "To the Wonder" Is One of Malick's Best Works

"To the Wonder," starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdam, is the well-received companion to Terrence Malick's 2011 film "Tree of Life." It is a lovely movie that, like many of Malick's works, is filled with dialogue about love and spirituality. What makes Malick such a great director is that he generally casts actors and actresses who have the uncanny ability to fully capture the feelings of love and faith that he expresses in his writings, and this movie is no different.

"To the Wonder" is a story about a relationship that is full of love and headed for failure. Neil, played by Ben Affleck, is a kind, handsome, easygoing engineer who has a tough time displaying his emotions. While in Paris, France, he meets an upbeat, positive, sensual free spirit named Marina, played by Olga Kurylenko, and the two embark upon a passionate affair. Neil and Marina end up falling in love and are extremely happy together. Marina has a ten-year-old daughter from a previous relationship who she introduces to Neil, and the three of them get along great. Neil is a good-natured man who ultimately decides that he wants Marina and her daughter to move with him to the United States. Because they are fully committed to one another, Marina agrees.

Marina begins to realize that the family is not being warmly received by members of the community. The couple eventually realize that this unwarm welcome is due to Neil's work. Part of Neil's job as an engineer is to investigate possible problems with the soil and water in his neighborhood and in surrounding neighborhoods. Any uncovered problems could affect the viability of everyone in the district, which causes him a lot of conflict with people in the community. His relationship with Marina also begins to lose its spark as well, and Marina's daughter's fascination with Neil diminishes each time she thinks about the fact that he is not her biological father. Also, Marina has a temporary visa that will eventually expire, and she and her daughter will have to return to France if she does not get married, which places additional pressure on Neil.

Neil's emotionally reserved persona drives Marina crazy, and she gets tired of trying to work on her relationship with him. She eventually decides to leave the United States with her daughter. Shortly after she leaves, Neil runs into Jane, played by Rachel McAdams, a childhood friend who seems much more rational and grounded than his previous love, Marina. Jane is vastly different from Marina. In fact, the two women are complete opposites, making Jane incredibly intriguing to Neil. The two ultimately fall in love, a romantic love that is so endearing that the two actually run through long blades of grass holding hands in one of the movie's scenes. Eventually, the romance between Neil and Jane fades, leaving Neil to contemplate his life on a spiritual level. The voice of spirituality in this film is Father Quintana, played by Javier Bardem. He is a priest who offers spiritual guidance but also questions his faith in God.

The movie contains intense scenes of love and conflict that were beautifully captured by Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer of this film. The entire film has a dreamy, romantic feel that is somewhat hypnotic but definitely suitable for this movie. There are also many poetic and wordless interactions among the characters in this movie, which is typical of Malick's works. Marina is the most animated character, and the majority of the film is actually narrated by her; however, it primarily focuses on the relationship from Neil's perspective.

In "To the Wonder," Malick portrays the idea that people in loving relationships can still feel alone. He also implies that even good people can find it very difficult to find their place in the universe. Like many of Malick's films, "To the Wonder" has many long silent periods where nothing moves, nothing is said, and there are no sound effects. Malick is known for his ability to capture feelings of solitude, and it was captured greatly in this film.

"To the Wonder" is a movie that is all about the ups and downs of being in an intense relationship. In the movie, the characters take risks, make sacrifices, deal with betrayal, and make mistakes in the name of love. The end result of falling in love is not always desirable, as shown in the film, but Malick shows through his characters that love generally causes people to examine themselves and the world around them.