To the Wonder is a great...and

To the Wonder, Terrence Malick's second movie in two years, is ridiculous, pretentious as hell, and in places laugh-out-loud funny. "Newborn. I open my eyes. I melt. Into the eternal night..." With dialogue like that, in voiceover and in French, who needs satire? But for all the absurdity, there's also something strangely touching about it, maybe because for once Malick has allowed himself to be unsure. This is a sketchbook of a movie. A man and a woman—it would be better if Malick had gone all Chris Marker and refused to give them names—have met and fallen in love in Paris. The woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), is besotted with the man, Neil (Ben Affleck), and at first the feeling is mutual. There are many shots of the glamorously morose-looking Marina whirling ballerina-style for Neil to appreciate. You might want to know that there's almost no dialogue in To the Wonder, beyond the voiceover narration of the characters, including Father Quintana, a priest played by Javier Bardem, who stumbles moodily through the movie, the repository for Malick's usual "What is the meaning of life? I know not!" patter and pondering. To the Wonder might be more experimental, but it's still all Malick, a filmmaker who can't see the forest for the craftsmanship. For much of the film, his men and women aimlessly dance around old stereotypes. But Malick's dancing, too, and the strain means something. He hasn't made a great movie — but at least he's made a human one.


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