So when is a movie review not all that helpful? Plenty of answers to that, but for today and this review it is when the review describes a film that expects a lot of the audience and further expects them to interpret the film in their own way, based upon their own experiences. To the Wonder is just such a film. The latest film from Terrence Mallick, who’s previous film Tree of Life was very highly regarded in many circles. I thoroughly enjoyed it myself. As an aside, I had read a story about Ben Affleck who had said that after directing and starring in Argo and doing all of the activities around it, that he had fully intended on spending some quality time with Jennifer Garner and his kids. Then along came this project and he decided that he could not pass up on the chance to work with Mallick.
Here we have a movie that has very little dialogue. In fact Ben might have had less than 30 words to say in the entire film. Instead there is a steady stream of voiceover, and much of it is in French. This is a film about images and pictures. Strung together with a soundtrack that is instrumental and conveys theme. Much of it is subtle and melancoly. It also has very little in the way of plot. Much like life, things just sort of happen with no particular plan or long term view. This is the part where the audience participation comes in. You will fill in the gaps and spaces with your own life experience. It then will be interpreted. This is not a film for 18yo young people. They would find it empty and boring and elusive with no message being spoon fed to them on what to think. It may grow on them in twenty years.
Ben in this movie plays a guy who is in Paris and in love with this young woman with a daughter from a previous relationship. He is American and she from France (or at least built a life in France). Ben invites woman and daughter to come live with him in the US. Oklahoma to be specific and the environment changes dramatically. From cosmopolitan to rural. Urban to suburban. Then a series of experiences occur which are exactly that; experiences. Life happens. Decisions are made and a couple other characters are introduced. Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem. The latter being a priest who is struggling with his faith. There it is. Things happen. Roll credits.
I like this film, and liked it more when I thought about it. There are some incredible images here. Almost worthy of making stills and framing. Images of water, and streams and ocean and beach. Sun and sky and fields and streets. Film truly is a medium of moving pictures and this movie takes it to heart. Frames here are quite remarkable in their own right. I did enjoy Tree of Life more, as there were moments in this film where I was shifting in my seat. Some images were repeated to the point of being superfluous and added very little. For example the pictures of the young woman dancing and jumping in front of the camera and looking back with a smile. I saw enough of that and got it the first few times.
There are no action sequences. Nothing blows up. No humourous quips and no tight little package at the end. But it is still powerful and engaging and interesting. And isn’t that what we go to the movies to have happen? Suffice it to say that I liked it. You may not. Everyone’s filters can interpret this differently. It may bring back long ago buried feelings that you didn’t want to resurface. I simply cannot anticipate that. And what I can do is explain a feeling I came away with and then let you decide the next step.
P.S> As the credits rolled I was thinking that I had taken the same date to see another Place Beyond the Pines story. We both took time to process this one. As in “What did we just see?” But as we spoke, and talked and processed we both liked this film. Place Beyond the Pines was never that lucky. Nor did it deserve to be. This I can say is worth seeing. The other isn’t.