Returning to The Tree of Life’s uncompromising preoccupation with spirituality and forces seemingly beyond human comprehension (which Bardem’s clergyman attempts to grapple with), To the Wonder does a fine job of sculpting out its central cast of characters with minimal exposition and/or dialogue. Where possible, Malick and Lubezki’s extraordinary visuals take the lead in telling the tale, complemented by Hanan Townshend’s suitably grandiose original score. Whilst this undeniably ‘arthouse’ (‘pretentious’ would probably be the term best favoured by Malick’s harshest detractors) approach will obviously alienate some, you’d certainly struggle to find many directors working today capable of blending aesthetics with thematics so satisfyingly.
It would be fair to concede that certain moments during the film’s whispered narration don’t quite hit ring true to the same extent as others (“What is this love that loves us?”, Kurylenko’s Mariana enquires), but To the Wonder is far from the glorified perfume ad that the film’s most fervent detractors had likened it to. Rich and effervescent, whilst at the same time deeply melancholic, Malick’s latest is also arguably one of his most personal to date. He may have produced better, but rarely have we seen America’s foremost arthouse exponent so in-tune with human complexity.
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