Review: To The Wonder by Jamie

In January 2012, Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ was nominated for a Best Picture award. In my effort to see all of the nominees that year, I watched it. Needless to say I had some issues with it and by issues I mean it was one of the most tortuous viewing experiences I have ever put myself and, unluckily for them, the people who were with me through. I hated all two hours and twenty minutes of it and my very soul screamed for the sweet release that death would bring. And now it’s time for round two. Yes, new for the mind of Terrence Malick, it’s ‘To The Wonder’ a film that even star Ben Affleck says “makes Tree of Life look like Transformers.” I’ve really been putting this one off. I’m even writing this introductory paragraph before watching the film, something I don’t normally do. Fuck. Here we go.

Right. I’m back and through the magic of the internet, what seems like mere seconds for you felt like a lifetime for me. So, is To The Wonder a slow, ponderous, pretentious piece of visual poetry filled with people standing silently and barely coherent whispering? Is the Pope the head of an organisation that routinely tries to cover up child abuse? But you know what? I liked it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to become a regular watch and it really took a while for me to get into it but something just clicked. There are messages here about love, hate, faith and God, many of which I disagree with but I weirdly, I still can’t hate this film.

When I say it took me a while to get into it, I mean it really took a while. For the first hour, I must admit I was considering turning it off but there was something every now and then that kept me watching. After that hour I became invested and weirdest of all? I fucking loved the last half hour.

If I could guess the reason, it’s the story. Whilst, for me, Tree of Life was a random blur of metaphysics, flash backs and flash forwards, To The Wonder had a coherent linear story which, whilst still being very much in the mold of Malick, I was deeply invested in by the end. The story revolves around a pair of lovers, Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), and just what the nature of their love and their relationship is as they go through happy times and not so happy times, fall apart and come together. There’s a subplot that runs concurrent with this involving Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is sometimes Marina’s council in the tougher times, and his own strained relationship with Jesus Christ and the people who look to him for guidance.

Now, I obviously can’t recommend this film for everyone but having said that I wouldn’t have recommended it to myself before watching it. There’s still a lot to dislike here for me and, again, it took me a long time to get into but once I got there, I was hooked. The fact that Malick’s films are beautiful doesn’t really need to be said but I’m glad I could enjoy this one’s story as well. Does this film make Tree of Life look like Transformers? Well, maybe since Tree of Life and Transformers share about the same coherency when it comes to plot but in terms of pretentiousness. No, the film that’s about the trials and tribulations that accompany love is not more pretentious than the film that reduces the birth of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth to precursor to a 1950s family drama and ends with Sean Penn entering pseudo-event or something.

Perhaps strangest of all is that this is the film that even Malick fans seem to have taken a disliking to. So yeah, I’m that guy. I’m the guy that hated Tree of Life and enjoyed To The Wonder. I dunno what to say.

Honestly, I’m still coming to grips with liking this film and trying to describe why I did beyond the story is proving difficult. Perhaps like the mysteries of love and such, it shall always be mysterious. Mystery. So, um, yeah. Give it a try, maybe. You might be glad you did? Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

To The Wonder

Review: The Tree of Life by Jamie

Terrance Malick is truly a remarkable film maker who seems to have aimed to achieve the impossible and with ‘The Tree of Life’ has reached that goal. Terrance Malick has made dinosaurs boring. For that alone my hat goes off to him.

The Tree of Life features just about everything you could possibly want from an overblown, wanky meditation on existence. Troubled childhood and the conflict caused by being raised by two people with differing personalities? Check. Questioning of God? Check. Endless shots of a variety of things such as trees and skyscrapers at annoying angles? Check. The birth of the universe and consequent evolution of life? Check. A score largely made up of classical music? Check. Breathy, barely audible mumbling passed off as narration? Check. A narrative which may have made sense at one point until it was decided to run it through a machine that seems to edit things together almost randomly? Check. I think you get my point.

What’s the plot of The Tree of Life? Well, that’s a good fucking question. Basically Sean Penn is an architect thinking back to his childhood in 50s Waco, Texas and trying to figure out the kind of person he wants to be. Does he want to follow the path of nature like his somewhat brutish father or the path of grace like his eternally loving mother? Oh, also his brother is dead for some reason that apparently relates to the “plot” somehow. Whilst his reminiscing we are shown some shots of the universe being created for some reason and then dinosaurs happen. For about one goddamn minute dinosaurs happen. And they do nothing. A young parasaurolophus lies down by a riverbed whilst a theropod of some description comes along, treads on it’s head and walks away. And that’s it. What was the point of this? Again, good fucking question.

After the brief interlude of the entire fucking universe being created, we get back to the humans and something resembling a story starts to develop. Turns out that Sean Penn’s father, Brad Pitt, was a bit of an asshole when he was younger and expected nothing but the best from him and his two brothers. Fair enough to be honest. After all the trio do seem to be somewhat in need of a touch of discipline as they seem to enjoy spending their idyllic 50s summer days breaking windows and blowing up frogs. What a bunch of assholes. So you get random scene after random scene of these assholes doing assholey things and then Sean Penn walks through a desert for a bit where he meets a bunch of people from his memory and we’re all supposed to be happy. Or something. Oh and occasionally someone whispers a bit of dialogue which the audience strains to hear.

The film is a ponderous exercise in tedium and when it ended there was an actual audible sigh of relief from the group of people I was essentially forcing to watch it with me. I’m sure there’s a deep, important message about just what it means to be alive or some bullshit like that in there somewhere and I’m probably an uncultured dolt for not being able to find it but I’m quite happy being an uncultured dolt if it means not having to watch pretentious wankery such as this. Hell, I’d rather watch an Adam Sandler marathon than ever, ever watch this film again. Recent Sandler. I’m sure that the whole thing is incredibly personal and meaningful to Malick himself and if it is then maybe he should just edit his childhood home movies into an incomprehensible mess whilst he whispers over the top of it. Then he can watch it at home, by himself as many times as he wants. Just don’t release it for public viewing.

Yes, It’s all very pretty and the classical music is all very nice but it feels like it’s literally trying too hard to get just the right look and feel of an artsy, pretentious film which it certainly succeeds at. I’m sure there are some people out there who think that this was a work of art, a realisation of just what can be achieved through the medium of film. Hell, I’m not sure, I know. A quick glance at the internet hass essentially proven that.

If there’s one film I can really compare this to, it’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The style and themes are similar but 2001 is a far, far superior film. 2001 may be a little slow but at least it contains a coherent plot which it can hang all of it’s metaphysics on. Also it has a homicidal computer which is just awesome.

So in summary, theirs is really no way I could recommend this to any member of the average of the movie going public or humans in general. Except for maybe Terrance Malick. I bet he’d love it. Zero pints out of five. Laterz.

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