Friday, March 15, 2013

To the Wonder [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

To the Wonder [2012], written and directed by Terrence Malick, continues in the theologically reflective path of his previous film Tree of Life [2011].

If in Tree of Life [2011], Malick's point of departure was the Biblical Book of Job, where that film begins with various human characters crying out to God: "Where are you O Lord?" and a twenty minute sequence that follows chronicling the whole history of the world from the creation of the universe to the present (including a 5-6 minute segment featuring dinosaurs only to have them destroyed by a meteorite) cinematically presents God's awesome response to Job beginning with "Where were you when I founded the Earth? (Job 38:4) and ending with "Will the one who argues with the Almighty be corrected, let him who would instruct God give answer" (Job 40:2), in To the Wonder [2012], Malick continues his reflection on our relationship with God, leaning perhaps on two other Wisdom books in the Bible, that of the Song of Songs, "Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine ... draw me after you, let us run" (Songs 1:1, 4) expressing God's promise of intimacy, and Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity," (Eccl 1:2) and "There is an appointed time for everything..." (Eccl 3:1) expressing God's distance / unknowability. 

This grand question of whether or not we could truly become intimate with God is explored then through the experience of people, a young couple in their late 20s-30s, Marina and Neil, she French, he American (played by Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck respectively) as well as a Hispanic Catholic priest in his 40s, Fr. Quintana (played by Javier Bardem).  Could Marina and Neil really understand each other?  And could Fr. Quintana, whose primary relationship is necessarily with Christ, really understand Him?

It's clear at the beginning of the film that Marina is "in love with love," not unlike the sentiments expressed in the Song of Songs.  The two had met in Paris. And after sometime, go to the grand, seemingly eternal monastery of Mont Saint Michel on the Atlantic coast of France where in her own words, they "climb the steps into The Wonder."

But while through most of the film, Marina's skipping about, "in love with love," Neil, a good, solid, honest guy though he is, is far less talkative.  He's an environmental engineer, originally from a small town from the plains of Oklahoma.  Throughout the film he quietly goes about his job monitoring various locations for environmental pollution, responding to the basic needs of people, seeking to try to keep them safe.

Marina noticing that Neil doesn't talk much, does most of the talking for him.  And when he does invite her and her 10 year old girl named Tatiana (played by Tatiana Cheline) from a previous relationship to return with him to Oklahoma, they both respond enthusiastically by saying "yes."

Yet living in a subdivision at the edge of the prairie in Oklahoma is not exactly like living in Paris.  Always of  few words/needs (and also "back home"), Neil is of course content.  Marina also seems happy enough.  But 10 year old Tatiana, who has to learn English while trying build-up a whole new set of friends, rapidly get's bored.  While initially happy to consider Neil her step-father, she soon realizes "you're NOT my father" and soon wants to go home to her real father back in France.

And while things start hitting a rough patch with Marina, we're reminded that she's not necessarily Neil's first and only rodeo.  He's lived most of his life there in Oklahoma and had an old flame named Jane (played by Rachel McAdams), who was, of course, also perfectly content with life on the plains.  (Why they broke-up is left largely clear, though one guesses that it had something to do with Neil's "quiet distance" from her as well...). 

Then out there in this quiet, suburban looking town at the edge of Oklahoma's vast prairie is Fr. Quintana, quietly going about his work of tending for the spiritual needs of his Parish.  But in his prayers he tells the Lord that he feels seco (dry).  He yearns for a closer relationship with the God who called him into this way of life/vocation.  Yet, he feels that he hears nothing.  At a wedding, in fact, an older parishioner tells him quite pointedly "I'm going to pray for you."  "Why?"  "So that you receive the Gift of Joy."  It's that clear that Fr. Quintana is unhappy.

Now folks, this is not a cheap film.  No, Fr. Quintana does not jump into bed with a distraught Marina.  By the looks of the film, it does not even cross his mind (or hers for that matter).

But there it is, both Marina and Fr. Quintana are in "spousal relationships" with rather distant, not particularly talkative but basically honest, salt-of-the-earth "providers."

Is it enough?  Both arguably find answers.

Now folks, this is an "artsy" often subtitled film with French (Marina and Tatiana), Spanish (Fr. Quintana in his personal reflective moments) and even some Italian (when Marina's vivacious Italian best-friend Anna played by Romina Mandello briefly comes to visit her in Oklahoma) and a few words of Russian (as Marina, a Russian name, was conceivably Russian in ancestry) spoken thoughout many parts of the film.  So I know that this film will not be for everyone.  BUT this is a very intelligent, theologically reflective film.

It's not necessarily the film that I would have made, but one certainly can not criticize it for its lack of intelligence or its attempt to ask some very profound questions about what one can expect from one's relationship with God, and it's CERTAINLY an invitation for discussion / faith sharing on the matter ;-)

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  1. Thanks to this informative review I am looking forward to see this movie when they will offer in my neighborhood.

  2. Tree of Life is one of my all-time favorite films. I cannot wait to see this one, Father.