"Arty, Ambiguous Romance"
What You Need To Know:
The relationship and emotions portrayed in TO THE WONDER are incredibly honest. Malick breaks from traditional storytelling technique more than ever with this tale, leaving the movie too ambiguous and giving the audience little to take away from the story. That said, the priest provides a lot of Christian and Biblical wisdom on love, even quoting a lot of Scripture. Sadly, Neil hardly ever exhibit any of the qualities that the priest preaches so often, which is why Neil’s relationships end in a passionate mess. TO THE WONDER also has brief extreme nudity, sensuality, and implied adultery.
(CC, BB, Ro, V, SS, NNN, D, M) Strong Christian and Biblical elements with a priest preaching multiple times, priest prays to God for the closeness he had when he was young, priest teaches on love as an action and command rather than just an emotional response, 1 Peter and Romans 8:28 are quoted, the Lorica of St. Patrick is quoted “Christ with me, Christ before me,” priest spends much of his time serving those in need, but main character’s relationships tend to be based on emotions rather than love, so there’s some light Romanticism that contrasts with the priest’s actions and dialogue; no foul language; a couple fights and throw some things; lots of implied sex that is nearly depicted, lots of sensuality and kissing, implied adultery; brief full female nudity, some upper female nudity, upper male nudity, and woman wears revealing night gown; no alcohol; light smoking; and, unmarried couple lives together and fights often.
TO THE WONDER is a romance from acclaimed director Terrence Malick (TREE OF LIFE, THE THIN RED LINE). Though it’s not a masterpiece, it’s likely his most personal movie yet.
Ben Affleck plays Neil, an American spending time in Europe who falls deeply in love with a French single mother, Marina. The movie follows them as they explore different French landscapes, only catching snippets of dialogue here and there. Marina decides to move herself and her daughter to Oklahoma to live with Neil. Oklahoma is a big change for Marina. Everything is flat and largely unpopulated, so what seemed like a good idea clearly wasn’t.
Marina and Neil begin to divide and fight. Interwoven in between the dramatic clashes between the couple are moments at church, where Father Quintana preaches on love. In the midst of the couple’s interactions, Father Quintana’s excerpts on love and his prayers to God are heard through voice over.
“You love, whether you like it or not. Emotions come and go like clouds. Love is not only a feeling, you show love. . . Love is a command”
Father Quintana himself struggles with his faith. He’s seen meandering around his empty house, clearly lonely, praying for the closeness to God he once had, but his loneliness doesn’t stop him from doing ministry. If he’s not preaching to his parish, he’s in the community helping those who are less fortunate.
Neil and Marina’s dispute escalate to the point where Marina decides to leave and go back to France. After Marina leaves, Neil reconnects with Jane, an old friend he grew up with in his youth. A new romantic relationship begins between them.
The relationships and emotions portrayed in TO THE WONDER are incredibly honest. Malick breaks away from traditional storytelling technique more than ever with this tale. Everything in the movie feels authentic and real. The beautiful visuals of both grand and small landscapes, mixed with the powerful orchestral music, help bring out the story’s emotion. Ben Affleck in particular gives one of his best performances as the reflective and deep thinking Neil, even though he says very little.
Father Quintana’s voiceover provides an abundant amount of wisdom that’s both Biblical and convicting. He quotes Scriptures like, “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the Church.” Sadly, Neil fails to exhibit any of the qualities that Father Quintana preaches so often, which is why Neil’s relationships end in a passionate mess.
What Malick fails to do is give the audience any sense of closure or fulfillment, either in the narrative or emotionally. Some positive lessons of love and faith can clearly be gleaned, but the story is overly ambiguous and ultimately not uplifting. TO THE WONDER also has brief graphic nudity, sensuality, and implied adultery, so the movie is excessive.