To the Wonder


I remember when To the Wonder came out a little over a year ago. It was surprising that director Terrence Malick, known for a long spaces between his projects, would turn around a film so quickly after 2011’s Tree of Life (which I still have yet to see). I remember it being criticized pretty strongly; most everyone came out against this movie for being too Malick-ey even for Malick. I’m sorry to say that I’ll have to agree with that sentiment.

The story, such that it is, is of Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck). They fall in love in France and then move back to Oklahoma where Neil is from. Their romance is rockier than it was at first, and when her green card expires, Marina moves back to France. However, she finds life empty their without Neil. Neil, on the other hand, has taken up with someone he knew previously, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Their romance goes south as well, but Marina comes back and they get married. Love is not without its struggles, and the story of a priest (Javier Bardem) struggling with his faith is woven in between the battling lovers.


Now, even though I don’t always understand his films, I’m generally a fan of Malick. I really think he went too far here though. He amplifies his usual style, giving us shots of people frolicking through wheat fields gratuitously. Yes, it’s all very beautiful, but there’s only so much this can say about a relationship. These types of shots give us the what of the situation, but not the why. It’s easy to see that the characters are in the love, but you have no idea why. You have no idea why every relationship of Neil’s ends up in chaos and you don’t know why Marina can’t put Neil behind her in Paris.

Regardless, the point of the movie is still pretty clear. Love takes work. It’s not all frolicking in wheat fields and marveling at nature; for some undefined reason (we don’t know it because Malick won’t give it to us) they always split apart when things get harder in their relationships. It’s important to keep going otherwise your life is going to feel empty. And apparently this is always true, because their are no individuals in this movie, except for the priest. The two relationships (Neil and Marina and Neil and Jane) happen in almost exactly the same way, just some of the details of their surroundings are different.


I know I’m missing the whole point of the movie. I know that Malick is going for very basic truths here, not necessarily these characters and their problems. The problem is I think the whole thing got too general. It’s hard to fill a two hour movie with generalizations that take up about two sentences, without a story with actual characters and motivations to help us arrive at the those themes. It’s a movie only with themes and imagery, and not much else. It just didn’t work for me; I wanted to know more specifics.

To the Wonder just didn’t work for me. Malick’s films previous to this have enough style to last his whole career, but here I just think he went overboard. Call me old-fashioned, but I just wanted something as simple as to know why (or at least some clue) as to why the characters were doing what they were doing. Instead I got wheat fields, and lots of them.

javierbardemlookpuzzled_tothewonder “You shall love, whether you like it or not.”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Cinematic review 
Roger Ebert review

12 responses to “To the Wonder

  1. To the Wonder didn’t work for me either, in fact it took me three days and several sittings to actually finish it. It’s sad really because I loved Malick’s first three films, I even double-dipped for the Blu-ray of The Thin Red Line, but since The New World Malick’s movies have been a case of diminishing returns for me.
    Interesting review, as always.

    • About 20 mins in my sister and I were getting pretty antsy. We did manage to finish it in one sitting though.
      I still need to see Tree of Life and Thin Red Line, but I love the rest of Malick’s films. I just think he went way too overboard here.

  2. I’m curious about this one but Malick’s films are so hit and miss as he tend to be so overindulgent. I feel the same as you about a movie having some sort of plot instead of being treated to visual poetry no matter how beautiful it may be.

    • I don’t necessarily need a plot, but if a film doesn’t have much plot I at least need some characters. You never really got to know anybody in this film, and that’s what was really getting to me. The characters moved around but I never had any idea why they were doing what they were doing.
      If you’re not a fan of Malick in the first place I’d probably skip this one if I were you. I’ve loved all of his other films that I’ve seen but I didn’t really get this one.

      • That’s such a missed opportunity! I mean Malick hired all these actors that either wasted on screen or end up in the cutting room floor! I like some of Malick’s work but not IN LOVE w/ them because of that reasons. I do love A New World tho, esp the last 20 minutes w/ Christian Bale as John Rolfe.

        Btw, I got my Rebecca review up now 😉

        • Yeah I have your review open in another tab right now, just about to read it!
          I remember reading about a bunch of actors who got cut out of this movie; that was insane. I love A New World too; I still put Days of Heaven above it but A New World is my second favorite Malick film. Christian Bale did a wonderful job as did the rest of the cast.

  3. It’s a beautiful movie, but like most of Malick’s other flicks, there’s just hardly a story to be found here. Good review.

  4. Nice review. I’m one of the few who actually really loved To The Wonder (I even thought the endless strides in the fields of grass were well-done). The story’s not as concrete as Malick’s other works but I loved the stylish imagery and landscapes.

    • Thanks! I was really hoping I would like this one, but in the end it just wasn’t working for me. Too many wheat fields. Glad you enjoyed it though!

  5. “To the Wonder just didn’t work for me. Malick’s films previous to this have enough style to last his whole career, but here I just think he went overboard.”

    Exactly how I feel. Except I HATED this film. I kept waiting for it to be over so I could escape the theater! I was so excited to get to the local art theater to watch it, given that it was Malick, that it was Ebert’s last movie reviewed, and that he gave it 3.5/4, but I was bored…to…death. I think I gave it a D+, which would be a 1.5/4 on my newer system. Good review here, even if you’re very generous to it. 🙂

    • I can definitely see your point of view. I wouldn’t say I was bored really, more like mildly disinterested. Mostly I was frustrated at the lack of information Malick was handing out. But I totally see where you’re coming from.

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