by Les Phillips
TO THE WONDER (2013, Terrence Mallick). Everyone wondered what TREE OF LIFE was about. This one’s easy; it’s about love. I can’t remember a film that captures the pure tenderness, the *intimacy* of love, with more clarity. Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American who falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko). They go to Mount St. Michel, an impeccable fortress/cathedral that rises out of the tides (sometimes an island lapped by water, sometimes parched and surrounded by mud). They are in Paris, which really has never looked more appealing; Mallick’s camera doesn’t so much portray as suggest or tease, with soft dusky street liveliness set against monuments like the Pantheon; with fountains, and the river. Love here is gesture, full of sweetness and promise.
TO THE WONDER is brilliant about love, and also about its trouble and failure. I can’t remember a film that captures various sadnesses, especially the sadness of transiency, so well. I don’t mean the transient people we see on the streets, the ones who don’t have homes, though a few of them are here too; I mean the sadness of the corporate guy who buys the house in the subdivision and puts nothing in it, has nothing to put in it but a few sticks of furniture plonked down in acres of lonely suburban Southwestern square feet, awash in cozy but brutal wall to wall carpeting. (The neighbors and their children at home and at ease in their back yards.) This is love adrift, run aground in a small town in Oklahoma, where Ben brings Marina. It’s a cold spring, with bits of snow still on the ground and water pouring out everywhere, water from streams and from all the sprinklers; but the water’s becoming polluted with lead. (Neil is an environmental consultant.) There’s boredom and dysfunction (again suggested, brilliantly, rather than portrayed). There’s infidelity, and there’s conflict; a brief scene where Neil throws Marina out of a car chilled me to the bone. A flaw, perhaps: Mallick makes small-town Oklahoma too beautiful; even the Sonic and Econo-Lodge seem poignant.