Wednesday, 12 September 2012

TO THE WONDER - TIFF 2012 - Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is a revised version of my review. As I fell asleep for the last five minutes, I felt it incumbent upon me to see the film again, so I did and watched the movie from beginning to end. This allowed me the opportunity to glean a lot more from Mr. Malick's feature length greeting card. I hope you appreciate this effort.

"Love made us one. I in YOU. You in ME."
The Wonder. The Wonder.
The Horror. The Horror.
Terrence Malick or Jed Clampett? You Decide.

To The Wonder (2012) *
dir. Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In Paris, the city of love, people talk to themselves. Not out loud, mind you. After all, they aren't afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome but rather, they yammer away in their heads.

In Paris, a Man and a Woman, both pierced by Cupid's arrow, are unable to keep their eyes and hands off each other whilst Hallmark Greeting Card prose-poetry floats from their respective inner sanctums and into the ether - swirling about like the ghostly intonations of the dead.

In Paris, Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko play this loving vapid couple. They wander amongst the architectural treasures of Gay Paree, psychically transmitting their purportedly soulful words to each other and to the audience of Terrence Malick's latest pretentious snore-Fest To The Wonder.

Based upon their words alone, either Malick and/or the characters are touched - not by love, but by some form of retardation of the cerebellum.

"Newborn," Kurylenko declares. "I open my eyes. I melt." One certainly hopes, like M&Ms, that she melts in his mouth and not in his hand.

Olga continues, as if she were in a sequel to Twilight: "Into the eternal night. A spark. You got me out of the darkness. You gathered me up from earth. You've brought me back to life."

Alas. no vampires here, and writing that makes Stephanie Meyer literarily akin to no less than Leo Tolstoy himself.

Olga, aside from looking deeply into Ben's eyes, spends an inordinate amount of time jumping up and down like a pogo stick and/or twirling about. At one point, Ben tries taking snaps of her with his digital camera, but she keeps spoiling his shots by snapping at it with her purty mandibles. Presumably, this is because she's happy. Perhaps she is in love. Perhaps, she's hungry. If the latter, there is no doubt - Olga is afflicted with the aforementioned retardation of the cerebellum.

Now, I have to admit I might have missed something, but I really have no idea why Ben is in Paris. He has virtually no dialogue save for a few words of hideously pronounced French. I have no idea why Olga is in Paris either, but though she is Ukrainian, she does speak French quite beautifully and she's gorgeous. Paris has many gorgeous women, so why shouldn't she be one of them?

What I know for a fact is this: Olga and Ben are in love. Just in case, I didn't know, Malick's screenplay wisely has Olga intone in voice-over that she is, indeed, "in love".

Thank you Mr. Malick. Your screenplay is full of helpful information like that. I was grateful during one special moment early on in the movie when Ben and Olga visit some old castle or church or whatever it is - in any event, it's old - and Olga delivers extremely vital story information in the past tense, as if she's remembering it (or something) as we see the lovebirds climbing up some steps, .

"We climbed the steps," reveals Olga.

Again, thank you Mr. Malick. Good to know.

We eventually find out that Ben hails from Oklahoma - not the dullest state in the Union (that honour would go to North Dakota), but dull enough that one wonders why he wants to drag Olga and her daughter back there with him. Once they get there, they move into what appears to be a house lacking much in the way of furniture.

Olga informs us that Ben "speaks very little."

This is true. He's hardly spoken a word and just so we get it, Malick gives us many scenes where Ben speaks very little, save in voice-over when he tells us what we can see for our own eyes.

Apparently, Ben and Olga's daughter hit it off famously. We know this because Kurylenko tells us in a voice-over. We don't actually see it rendered dramatically. Why bother when you can convey this through greeting card voice-overs?

Happily ensconced in hurricane and tornado country, the lovebirds spend quality time walking through fields and looking at the flat landscape and big skies while we get to hear more greeting card philosophy.

Most disappointing here is that we never get any storms. For years, the late, great experimental filmmaker George Kuchar would travel to Oklahoma during tornado season, stay in sleazy motels, watch weather reports, take dumps, inspect and comment upon his faecal matter and put it all on film. This resulted in his ever-so brilliant Weather Diaries.

I mention this only because Malick and Kuchar are brothers in the avant-garde tradition. Kuchar, however, always had a great sense of mordant wit. Malick is humourless. Hence, no tornados. And very sadly, no faecal matter, save for the movie itself.

Whilst living in Oklahoma, Affleck appears to have a job, but damned if I can tell what it is. Olga starts to spend a lot of time doing laundry, washing dishes and going shopping for furniture. (Some might quarrel with this, but I didn't - she is, after all, a Ukrainian woman - put on this Earth by God Himself to serve her Man.) Besides, she isn't living a complete life of drudgery. She has plenty of time to wander through fields, stare at the sky, examine foliage, recite monologues in voice-over and jump around like a pogo-stick. Her daughter appears quite adept at this bouncing motion also. I smiled and chortled to myself in a good natured manner. "Like mother, like daughter," said my internal voice-over.

Alas, as luck and life would have it, Olga and Ben appear to move quickly beyond the "honeymoon" stage of their relationship. Ben starts sniffing around his old flame Rachel McAdams. This allows for more voice-overs. Olga begins sniffing around the parish priest who is having a kind of Gunnar Bjornstrand-like crisis of faith and in turn, has his sights set on Olga. (Or does he? At one point he stares at a very pretty nun while she washes dishes.)

The priest is played by Javier Bardem. His face is so grimly deadpan we expect him to blow someone's head off with an automatic assault rifle. Alas, all we get are voice-overs like this howler: "You shall love whether you like it or not." At one point, Javier visits a home. Is it Ben and Olga's home? If so, who is the woman with a baby in the backyard? Your guess is as good as mine.

In any event, Javier does not knock or go in. He looks at toys strewn about the front veranda. We perk up. Perhaps he is a child molester. Most priests are, after all.

No such luck. He walks away as he speaks to himself in voice-over. "My heart is cold," he says. "Hard." Alas, that's all that's hard.

Olga leaves Oklahoma and goes back to Paris. This allows Ben Affleck to spend a lot of time looking out his window. An Italian woman shows up out of nowhere and babbles nonsensically in Olga's direction. I have no idea who this woman is, but Olga seems to and before you can say, "voice-over," our Ukrainian princess is compelled to return to Oklahoma.

On my first helping of the film, I looked at my watch, sighed and closed my eyes. The last five minutes of the movie was a mystery to me - not because of anything Malick barfed up onto the screen, but because I fell asleep. It was one of those power naps I hate where I had a short, grotesquely vivid dream - you know the kind - where jellylike, viscous blobs fall from the ceiling on your Mother's bed and she tenderly strokes them with the knobby stumps where her arms once were.

After such an awe inspiring experience as To The Wonder, I did not want the aforementioned dream to be the last thing I remembered, so I watched it again. This time, I did not bother to suppress my guffaws and watched it to the end. I'm elated I did. I do not wish to spoil it for you by giving away the ending. Even if I did give away the ending, I'm not quite sure what I'd tell you as I have no fucking idea what the ending was. Suffice it to say that Javier has a ridiculously long voice-over monologue wherein he intones Christ's name many times, various characters stare at the sky, Olga licks a branch and eventually bounces around again like a pogo stick and someone, I'm not telling who, walks into a white light.

As the credits came up, I walked into the toilet and turned on my own white light.
"To The Wonder" via VVS Films premieres at TIFF 2012.

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