Since 1954 the world of cinema has had a definition for filmmakers who use the medium to generate “high art”. The Auteur Theory has been championed by directors like Francois Truffaut, Jean Renoir, and Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The theory asserts that an auteur makes films that share a common aesthetic and break through the wall of studio interference to generate a work of moving art. Terrence Malick is perhaps the best example of an auteur in present cinema. With only five films under his belt Malick is responsible for some of the most important films in the last few decades. In 2011 Malick released Tree of Life, reinventing his style with a more angelic approach to story-telling. His latest effort, To the Wonder, takes all the style of Tree of Life and none of the brilliance.
To the Wonder is the story of the love that binds Marina, a Ukrainian woman living in Paris played by Olga Kurylenko, and her American partner Neil (played by Ben Affleck). The couple move to the United States with Marina’s daughter and settle into life in rural Oklahoma. Soon Neil falls for an old fling (played by Rachel McAdams) and drifts in and out of his previous love while battling his ability to do the right thing, a common theme of the movie. Javier Bardem shows up as a priest feebly staving off the loneliness that comes with being a man of Christ. Bardem’s scenes don’t connect to the main plot, though they are easily the most compelling parts of the film. Everyone in To the Wonder is fighting off their natural instincts in order to get to a truer form of love, even if it might not exist.
Malick has become known for his editing practices. He is notorious for editing a film’s dialogue to the bone and replacing it with imagery or performances that tell the message of the film better than words.To the Wonder is no exception. There is little dialogue from the many famous actors in the film which may come as a shock to those not familiar with Malick’s style. Unfortunately, To the Wonder does not pull off the silence as beautifully as Malick’s previous films, and especially feels like a failure to people who loved Tree of Life. Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, and Jessica Chastain all had large parts in To the Wonder and are not present in the film whatsoever due to Malick’s unforgiving editing process. Ultimately, the To the Wonder could have used a few more actors help pull it out of a dull narrative and its own preciousness.
It’s hard to describe exactly what makes To the Wonder fail where so many of Malick’s other films have succeeded. The film’s dialogue is mostly told in narration and becomes massively redundant after the first act. The gorgeous cinematography is worth noting, but again falls flat when compared to Malick’s other gems. Even a talented group of actors are unable to save the film. To the Wonder pays the price for Malick’s auteuristic nature in ways that his previous films never have by simply being a boring film. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and boring. 6/10