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Roger Ebert’s Final Review – To the Wonder

A fitting film to end a 46 year-long career with.

For fifteen years I have been reporting on Ebert’s reviews on this site. I realize now this will be the last time I ever do this, the last time I will ever write the following words, which I have written many many times over the years.  I used to call him L’Ebert. And then Le Grand Ebert. These were meant with affection because of his greatness.  In the early days, I sought out his reviews first.

So here goes.  Ebert closes his review this way:

As the film opened, I wondered if I was missing something. As it continued, I realized many films could miss a great deal. Although he uses established stars, Malick employs them in the sense that the French director Robert Bresson intended when he called actors “models.” Ben Affleck here isn’t the star of “Argo” but a man, often silent, intoxicated by love and then by loss. Bardem, as a priest far from home, made me realize as never before the loneliness of the unmarried clergy. Wandering in his empty church in the middle of the day, he is a forlorn figure, crying out in prayer and need to commune with his Jesus.

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A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear. Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.

“Well,” I asked myself, “why not?” Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.

8 Comments on this Post

  1. Roger Ebert himself has reached more deeply, and found the soul of this film. I gave it a four-star review, so he and I are on similar pages regarding this extraordinary, unique film. I often found that with divisive films – Ebert was, for me, a voice of agreement and support, when the critical and popular masses seemed to stand against me. I remember how he loved Marie Antoinette, and hated The Raid. Agreeing with Roger felt like vindication!

  2. Bob Burns

    Narrative is genre …. less real than Elven Queens and Death Stars.

    Drama, dramatic narrative, is a drug. We overlay narrative onto reality much the same way we overlay our tribal stereotypes onto our perception.

    Professionally trained into a visual, non-narrative discipline, Malick is like clean air, clear light to me.

    Thanks to Ebert for writing to that understanding..

  3. Daniel

    Wow… amazing. What a greatly written, thoughtful review. It’s almost as if he knew this would be his last.

  4. Very thorough and illuminating piece. I’m going to miss not having anymore of his writing to look forward to.

  5. Miguel

    I think that Roger always wrote each review as it was his last. That what make him so great.

  6. Chris138

    I’m a big Malick fan and didn’t care for this film when I saw it, but Ebert’s review is, as always, very well written and thoughtful. I may even revisit it in the future sometime just because of what he wrote here.

  7. Miguel,

    You are right in this observation. He cared so passionately about film. Giving a bad review to a film is also a statement about how much you care about the quality of the final product.

    His review of “To the Wonder” really makes me want to see it.

    And the casting of Chastain, Bardem and Affleck (no small potatoes, these three) make it even more tantalizing.

  8. This review led me to tears. What a beautifully written conclusion to a wonderful life. I see parables to life in his final paragraphs here. I’m so glad he go to see this film before he passed. One of the main reasons I ever got into movies was because of watching Siskel and Ebert “At the Movies” while growing up. Thumbs up or thumbs down. I’ll never forget.

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