Terrence Malick’s new film is distinctly more accessible than his three-hour epic The Tree of Life. To the Wonder comes across as a stream of consciousness, more poetry than film. Told mainly from the point of view of Marina (Olga Kurylenko) the film explores love in its many forms.
Many reviews have spoken of this as a “B side” to The Tree of Life, however I see it as more of a companion piece, the female counterpart of The Tree of Life. Mothers and daughters are estranged, sex is explored through vulnerability as opposed to lust. The cinematography is light and free, totally immersive. The film communicates almost entirely in voiceover, characters share their thoughts as scenes either related or contrasting play on screen. The secondary arc of a priest searching for God (Javier Bardem) plays nicely into the main plot; even divine love is difficult, enlightening and destructive, full of hope and anxiety.
Emotionally the film is confusing, the resounding message to simply love seems at odds with the turmoil experienced by all those characters who try to love. However it seems that true rapture is only accessible through this pain, the colours of the film reflect the hope and despair respectively, golden cornfields and sunlight contrasted with night scenes that seem utterly desaturated highlighting the total loneliness. Both Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams give virtuoso performances, tender and subtle, both are engaging in their own magical ways.
The multilingual nature of the film takes a while to get used to but in the end becomes a soothing presence, the message can be understood entirely visually and so the voices almost fade to the background as if you were watching a music video rather than a film. You leave the cinema feeling refreshed and enlightened, yet all the while unsure of what you just watched.