Imagery emphasized over plot in 'Wonder'

2013-04-25T00:00:00Z Imagery emphasized over plot in 'Wonder'Calvin Wilson St. Louis Post-dispatch Arizona Daily Star
April 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) fall in love in France, commit to staying together and settle into life in Oklahoma with her young daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline).

At first things go well, with Marina twirling whimsically, Neil smiling at her sweet abandon and Tatiana inquiring as to when he might get down to the business of marrying her mom.

As it turns out, there's a reason for Neil's hesitance: Jane (Rachel McAdams), a woman he has never quite gotten over. As much as he desires Marina, he's also drawn to Jane. And he can't have both.

In contrast to Neil's romantic dilemma is the spiritual malaise of a priest who also calls the Oklahoma flatlands home, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem). His faith is wavering, but he must keep that a secret. Too many people come to him for comfort.

What Neil and Father Quintana both want is happiness. Whether either of them can attain it in such an arbitrary and often pitiless universe is an open question.

"To the Wonder" is the latest film from writer-director Terrence Malick, who has been hailed as a genius even by people who admit to not necessarily understanding his films - particularly his previous one, "The Tree of Life" (2011).

In a Malick film, imagery takes precedence over plot, atmosphere over acting. Apparently, his goal is to create an immersive experience for the moviegoer in which not everything needs to be spelled out.

That worked in his early films "Badlands" (1973) and "Days of Heaven" (1978), which were just conventional enough to give folks who don't think of themselves as art-film aficionados something to hang on to in terms of a story. But "To the Wonder" teeters between experimentation and incoherence.

Does it deserve to be seen? Absolutely. Just be aware of what you're getting into.

Review

To the Wonder

***

• Rated: R for sexuality and nudity.

• Director: Terrence Malick.

• Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams.

• Running: 112 minutes.

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