Thursday, January 2, 2014

To the Wonder - DVD Review

Starring Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, and Rachel McAdams.  Directed by Terrence Malick.


Malick is one of the most frustrating artists for me. I loved Badlands. I found The Thin Red Line to be tremendously overrated.  The New World was okay.  I was disappointed by Tree of Life.

But 21st century Malick is more concerned with images, impressions, moments that linger in the memory, disconnected.  He's not telling a story; he's pre-jumbling your memory of the movie for you.  We have shots or scenes that might stay in the head for a few days, even as most of it vanishes.

His movies are undeniably beautiful, but you can only watch an artist chase butterflies for so long. He films hours and hours of footage, and he doesn't use most of it, and the "most" part tends to include plot elements that would make the whole affair more comprehensible.  Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper and Amanda Peet were all in this movie at one point too, but he cut them entirely out of the picture. (Why as an actor would you want to be in a Malick film when you know how good the odds are your part will be whittled down to nothing, or almost nothing?)

Ben Affleck, I get the feeling, had a character and dialogue, but almost all of his lines are cut. I think he gets six lines of spoken word in the whole movie.  Olga Kurlyenko gets the most screen time.  She narrates her thoughts in French while she twirls in flowing skirts in fields of wheat.  Rachel McAdams shows up as an old flame that Affleck reconnects with, and then there's Javier Bardem as a priest.

About 70% of the words we hear are narrated, most by the wife but some by the priest (in Spanish), and most of those times it doesn't appear connected to what we're seeing on screen. I think this is a reflection on how our heads are often elsewhere from what our bodies are doing.  There are times it's jarring when the camera focusses on a person's face and they actually speak some dialogue. I can almost feel the frustration coming out of Affleck. "Let me speak! Some words!"

So while I love his eye, I wish he'd rewatch Badlands and see how it's okay to have a narrative attached to his images.  We can have both cinematography and a story!

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