Posted by: Ian Briggs on 25th February 2013 at 10:51 pm
Where to start? Following on from Terrence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, I thought I knew what to expect from To The Wonder. Or so I thought.
Tree of Life offered an ethereal view on the origins of life, including the now infamous scene of merciful dinosaurs. This was fine in some respects as the film also made a reasonable attempt at a cohesive plot to glue together the various scenes which punctuated the storyline. It felt as though the film had an overriding theme, and although it was undoubtedly strange, you could kind of understand what Malick was hinting at.
With To The Wonder, I felt Malick was following on where he left off two years ago. The ethereal feel to the film was very much in evidence. Throughout. Annoyingly so. Did the film have a theme? Well, yes, but it was difficult to see how all the random shots of people wandering through wheat fields added much to this story of love.
Filmed almost entirely at sunset, the film had a golden hue throughout, with camera flare appearing in almost every shot. This just became grating, and when added to the constantly moving camera, coupled with characters who couldn't walk in a straight line and had to meander and spin through life rather too obviously, it became an odd parody the longer it went on. It felt like a badly filmed Chanel advert at one point. You could hear people laughing and sighing every time another shot appeared of a child-like woman aimlessly spinning through a field! At least ten people walked out of the screening I saw; the most escapees from the cinema I have seen since Dogtooth, which was at least genuinely controversial.
And then you have the characters themselves. Emotionless, naive, they appeared almost as bored as the audience were. Ben Affleck had nearly a dozen words throughout as he staggered and stuttered through a remarkably wasted appearance which, most of the time, involved him staring sullenly or awkwardly using gestures instead of speaking.
Overall, the film had a feel of a concept piece: something which was artful in its own way, and which would probably stand up well as a piece of art. But there are numerous European directors who provide a beautiful, cinematic, artful experience as well as a damn good story, without being pretentious (Ceylan, Kieslowski and Tarr spring immediately to mind). To The Wonder was obnoxious in trying to deliver art for the sake of it.