Released less than two years after his “The Tree of Life,” an epic that began with the dinosaurs and peered into an uncertain future, Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” is a film that contains only a handful of important characters and a few crucial moments in their lives. Although it uses dialogue, it’s dreamy and half-heard, and essentially this could be a silent film — silent, except for its mostly melancholy music.
The movie stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko as a couple who fall deeply, tenderly, transcendently in love in France. Malick opens as they visit Mont St. Michel, the cathedral perched on a spire of rock off the French coast, and moves to the banks of the Seine, but really, its landscape is the terrain is these two bodies, and the worshipful ways in which Neil and Marina approach each other. Snatches of dialogue, laughter, shared thoughts, drift past us. Nothing is punched up for dramatic effect.
Marina, a single mother, decides to move with her little daughter, Tatiana, to America with Neil, and the setting suddenly becomes the flatlands of Oklahoma, a land seen here as nearly unpopulated. Oh, there are people here, but we see few of them and engage with only a handful. Again there is the hushed serenity as in France, but differences grow between them, and there is anger now in some of their words. Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an American girl he was once in love with, and romantic perfection between he and Marina seems to slip away.
In Oklahoma, we meet Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest from Europe, whose church is new and brightly lit. We can almost smell the furniture varnish. His faith has been challenged, and many of his statements are directed toward Jesus Christ, as a sort of former lover. Quintana visits prisoners, the ill, the poor and the illiterate, whose dialogue is half-understood even by themselves.”