“To the Wonder”: Terrence Malick's Beautiful Pondering

“The magic hour” is a cinematography term for the day's final stretch of sunlight, when the light has certain glowy emotionality. Terence Malick made extensive use of the magic hour in 1973's Badlands, 1978's Days of Heaven, 2005's The New World, 2011's The Tree of Life, and now in To the Wonder. That's the vast majority of his intermittent career, and for as gorgeous as the images always are — Malick's camera can find beauty in the most mundane settings, hence To The Wonder's many Kubrickian tracking shots inside fluorescent-lit supermarkets — his love of the magic hour is bordering on schtick. It's poetic and breathtaking schtick, no question, but still schticky. Inasmuch as there's a narrative, American man Neil (Ben Affleck) and French woman Marina (Olga Kurylenko) are lovers who alternatively mope and cavort while voiceover-pondering This Thing Called Love. They fight and they mend, they split and they reunite, but mostly they ponder. Kurylenko cavorts almost as much as she ponders, often veering into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory with her endless cavorting. To the Wonder is Malick doing as Malick does, and what he does is beautiful — but it would also be fun to see him do a remake of High Noon. Maybe he'd find a new schtick.

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