Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More complexity in a drug store novel

Terrence Malick’s new To the Wonder (opening Friday at the Main) is described as a film that explores “the complexities of love in all its forms.” It’s also lyrical. The characters speak very little. It’s their thoughts – as appear in subtitles – that count. There are four main characters: Neil (Ben Affleck), Marina (Olga Kurylenko), Jane (Rachel McAdams) and Padre Quintana (Javier Bardem), who’s actually convincing as a priest. The film is dreamlike and virtually unscripted with the characters set free by Malick to interact – often in impassioned embraces - over what turns out to be an almost two hour film. So far so good and the score by Hanan Townshend mixes soft classical with something like menacing New Age angst. But exploring the complexities of love “in all its forms” is not what this movie is about. In fact To the Wonder is nothing more than a story about one couple – a seemingly conventional Midwestern oil company worker, Neil, who meets a more exotic Parisian, Marina. The film opens with images among the most romantic scenes in France including Paris and Mont Saint Michel along the tidal banks. (Contemplates Marina: “You lifted me from the ground, brought me back to life.”) It’s reminiscent of Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film A Man and a Woman though that is more romantic. Then jarringly the film cuts to the windswept planes of Oklahoma, where Ben has moved Marina and her daughter. But despite the 180 degree change to the epicentre of Middle America Marina seems only to want to intensify her relationship. It’s Ben who’s the hold out. And here we have a story that is very typical. Ben is the stoic silent type and doesn’t like emotion. Yet Marina is mad for him and wants passion. Marina’s visa eventually expires and she returns to Paris. Ben has a fling with an old flame, Jane. But Jane is just as intense and doesn’t want to make any more romantic mistakes. It seems Ben just can’t find in himself the intimacy women want. As for the Bardem character he is also searching for love and trying to make connection to his God, about which he has unsettling doubts. (“My soul thrusts for you…exhaust me”).He visits the sick and the indigent but whether that increases his passion for the Almighty is hardly clear. At one point I started thinking this film was about emotional weakness: Marina can’t quit an unloving relationship, Ben can’t remove himself from his ambivalence, and Quintana can’t decide whether he’s in the priesthood or not. The best lines go to an acquaintance, Anna (Romina Mondello) who urges Marina to escape. (“Life is a dream…you can be whatever you want.”) Later Marina muses: “Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves - they wait for other people to do it.” So score this movie a few points for naturalism and some nice cinematography. But there’s probably more romantic complexity in a typical drug store novel.  

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