Terrence Malick is a celebrated director whose films are regarded as some of the very finest around.
Born in Texas, the 68-year-old auteur has written and directed acclaimed films such as Badlands, The Thin Red Line and 2011′s The Tree of Life, a highly regarded feature that went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and earn three Academy Award nominations.
An ambitious filmmaker, Malick is already hard at work on a selection of upcoming features — tentatively titled Voyage of Time, Knight of Cups and Untitled Terence Malick Project – boasting several big names including the likes of Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman and Ryan Gosling.
The reclusive director’s next film, however, is the romantic drama To The Wonder.
As with all Malick films, To The Wonder has been wrapped in a veil of mystery for a long time, the secretive nature of the project piquing interest from all around. Malick’s decision to cut several scenes and star names (Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet) also generated serious intrigue, leaving cinema goers all the more eager to watch the much talked-about picture.
Premiering in Italy, To The Wonder finally did away with the smoke and mirrors and invited the world to enjoy Malick’s latest work in all its beauty and uniqueness. Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko and Charles Baker, To The Wonder tells the tale of a man who falls in love with an old friend from his hometown after his marriage falls apart.
A press release for the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere provides a full synopsis (replete with spoilers!):
To The Wonder, written and directed by Terrence Malick, is a romantic drama centered on Neil, a man who is torn between two loves: Marina, the European woman who came to United States to be with him, and Jane, the old flame he reconnects with from his hometown. In To The Wonder, Malick explores how love and its many phases and seasons -– passion, sympathy, obligation, sorrow, indecision -– can transform, destroy, and reinvent lives.
As To The Wonder opens, Neil and Marina are together on the French island of Mont St. Michel – known in France as The Wonder of the Western World (Merveille de l’Occident) – and invigorated by feelings of being newly in love. Neil, an aspiring writer, has left the United States in search of a better life, leaving behind a string of unhappy affairs. Looking into Marina’s eyes as the Abbey looms in the distance, Neil is certain he has finally found the one woman he can love with commitment. He makes a vow to be true to this woman alone.
Marina, quiet and beautiful, with flashes of a mischievous humor, is divorced and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana. At 16, Marina left the Ukraine for Paris without a cent to her name. There, she married a Frenchman who abandoned her after just two years, leaving her alone with Tatiana in a studio apartment. Marina was forced to work a variety of temporary jobs to make her way. Having nearly given up hope, Marina is overcome with joy to be in love with Neil, her salvation from an unhappy future.
Two years later, Neil and Marina are living in a small town in Oklahoma, close to where Neil grew up. Neil, having given up his hopes of becoming a writer, has taken a job as an environmental inspector. Neil is happy with his work, but his love for Marina cools as she, for her part, is frustrated by the holding pattern she feels she is in with Neil. She fears her youth – and happiness – are slipping away. In spite of her anxieties about Neil, Marina initially feels at home in Oklahoma, embraced by the open space and sky, and soothed by the sounds that come from the wind harp that animates breezes into songs.
Seeking advice, Marina turns to another exile in the community, a Catholic priest named Quintana. We learn that Father Quintana has come to grapple with his own dilemmas, as he harbors doubts about his vocation. He no longer feels the ardor he knew in the first days of his faith, and wonders if he ever will again.
Professional life throws Neil into conflict as well, when he discovers that a smelting operation in town is polluting the soil and water and threatening the health of future generations. His concerns fail to persuade his neighbors, who depend on the smelter for their livelihoods. Under pressure to keep quiet, Neil must once again weigh the consequences of his actions.
Neil’s doubts about Marina intensify. This, coupled with the fact that Marina’s visa is soon to expire, leads her to return to France with her daughter. In her absence, Neil reconnects with Jane, an old friend. As the two of them fall deeply in love, Neil finds this new relationship far less complicated. Yet when word comes to him that Marina has fallen on hard times and her daughter has gone to live with her father and refuses to have anything more to do with her, he finds himself gripped by a sense of responsibility for her wellbeing, and arranges for her return to the United States.
Neil’s entanglements with the two women in his life, and Father Quintana’s struggle with his faith, force them both to consider different kinds of love. Should the commitment they each made be undertaken as a duty, sometimes full of effort? Or should we accept that love often changes, and doesn’t always last? Can sorrow bind lovers more tightly than joy?
The initial screening drew a variety of responses, with some critics lauding it and others baffled by it.
The Guardian praised the film as “bold and beautiful,” awarding it four stars out of five.
The Independent described it as “an utterly original film from a director reinventing his medium as he goes along.”
The Hollywood Reporter, on the other hand, criticised Malick’s film, stating it ”seems drained of life and ideas rather than sustained by them.”