To the Wonder

What a load of self-indulgent drivel, writes HANNAH QUINN.

hannah quinn Javier Bardem Terrence Malick to the wonder

Newborn. I open my eyes. I melt. Into the world. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking The Tab had taken a strange new direction and given a platform to an angsty sixth former trying their hand at poetry, but actually that is a direct quote of the first few lines from Terrence Malick’s new film. Actually, it’s a quote from the subtitles: the voiceover is in French, probably because it’s more arty. It was at this point that I had the first of many qualms, but I pushed it deep down. I tried to appreciate the arty camera angles, and I assured myself that the voiceover was deep and meaningful. In short, I tried not to be cynical. It didn’t work.

To the Wonder is a story about a French woman (Olga Kurylenko) who moves to the USA to be with her lover (Ben Affleck) and the subsequent disintegration of their relationship. Essentially, they go from being obnoxiously in love, to obnoxiously out of it. He is completely blank, she is a cardboard cutout of the quirky continental type. At one point she even licks the dew off a tree. It’s hardly surprising that they start to resent one another. Perhaps if they’d had some friends to dilute the situation, it wouldn’t have become so bitter – but then I suppose it’s difficult to make friends when you’re completely devoid of personality.

The cinematography – plenty of of flashbacks and some perverse editing – makes the narrative difficult to follow, but I’m not about to hold that against the film. Experimentation isn’t the problem. The problem is how achingly hollow it is. It’s clear that the film is striving towards profundity – it’s probably supposed to be about the search for love or God or meaning or something – but ultimately it gets bogged down in its own infuriating self importance.

I can see how, if things had been different, this could have been the masterpiece it so clearly thinks it is. It’s stunning to look at and it has the occasional lovely moment. Javier Bardem’s Catholic priest is a refreshing antidote to the nauseating romantic scenes: a scene where he gives communion to prisoners is almost moving. Largely irrelevant, yes. Not actually moving. But still, nearly there. To be honest, at that point in the film any bit where the main couple aren’t frolicking around in meadows is a welcome relief.

The point is, this film is not a masterpiece, though I’m sure some will say it is. It’s not even very good. It is tedious and pretentious. The symbolism is heavy-handed and tiresome. The characters breathe inaudibly about the nature of love against overpowering background music. Perhaps this makes a clever point about the difficulty of meaningful communication in the modern world, or perhaps it’s just that the film is a bit shit. I’m inclined towards the latter. Near the end of the film, it begins to feel slightly more purposeful, slightly less self indulgent. But it’s too little, too late. It’s actually painful to watch a film try so hard to be interesting.