Thursday, March 07, 2013

to the wonder

Always a sucker for a movie with Ben Affleck in it, I took my self off to see Terence Malick's latest, To the Wonder.

Argo it is not. If you need to read a review of this movie that loved it, stop now. I hated a lot of it - and then had my whole perspective changed at the end. But I'm going to take you on that journey, so be prepared to sit with me as I work through that process. And don't say I didn't warn you...

Basically, I wondered for a while if TM had maybe been ill during the shoot; had he handed over responsibility for camerawork to his 19 year old media studies student? The opening 20 minutes resembled nothing so much as the kind of thing I used to do on Windows Movie Maker, when I'd put in stills and add "zoom in", then "zoom out", then "pan left", then "pan right". Only it happens faster here & with less subtelty than I'd have managed.

Presumably the dialogue the cast improvised was so mind-numbingly awful that most of it was unuseable. No worries. Plan B. TM was prepared to use the Gorecki-plus-voice-over technique. Only, that didn't work - still gut-wrenchingly twee. So it gets left in French for most of the time, apart from when it's in Spanish (in the sections filmed in the US,obviously) with subtitles - and hey presto, it's still appalling but passes for Art House now. (You'll understand, Ben has very little to say.)

As for how the cast act on screen:
Olga Kurylenko looks constantly confused. Which, I think, is honest. At times, she gives up and twirls around. This may be desperation; it ensures that Ben does what Ben does best - assume the wooden position. Rachel MacAdams has no clue what she is there for. We share in this. Every now and then there's a bit of rabbit-in-headlamps in her eyes that looks frighteningly real. And then there's Javier Bardem, who has apparently walked in from a different film. Well - until the end. I'll come back to this. It turns out he's important.

For a while I sat there, unable to work out what I was watching. Was it some kind of silent movie? But in colour, and with all the nuance removed?

Maybe it was like opera, but without any singing?

For a while, I coped by deciding that this was it. Olga & Ben, & then Rachel & Ben, take up static poses, emoting vaguely in different directions, scarcely touching but evidently representing love. In some way.

And then they are in a field of Bison (seriously). On a car. It's not just opera - it's Wagner.

From nowhere and with no link there's a shot of turtles swimming. Why? Because we are making a deep point, I guess. Really, I'm not making this up. Unless my migraine meds were playing up, it actually happenes. I think TM's media student must have been editing at this point as well as adding zoom.

And that student has a fascination with Ben's midriff. His belt gets as much screen time as his face. I'm just saying.

There was a sub-plot connected with environmental abuse. It wandered in. It wandered out.


Only I have to add, to be totally fair, that there were odd things that nagged away at me. I mean, I almost walked out at several points, but stayed in part because it's always embarrassing to leave and mostly because -
I stayed because this is, I think, the best representation of America I've ever seen in the cinema. The most honest representation. By which I mean that the America you see here is the America you see when you go there. The central home was furnished by Target, not Pottery Barn. Even in 'gritty' films, poor homes take on a certain sheen. Here an ordinary home looked - ordinary. No frills. Ben's car looked like it actually belonged to someone. You could feel the tarmac on the roads, the emptiness of the food. There was an airport lounge - goodness, anyone who knows the US knows that The Terminal or Catch Me if You Can are totally fictional. The reality of airports in the US is a depressing smell & fat people with no fashion sense & terrible footwear. Here was a real airport! Godforsaken place.

And Javier Bardem, wandered through his own sweet movie, in which he visited prisoners, sick people, the lonely, the abandonned, and gave them a touch of God when he himself spoke of not being able to feel God. What was this about?

Well, right at the very end, suddenly, it was Javier who unlocked everything for me. Speaking in Spanish, he gives a remarkable version of the prayer of St Patrick - "Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me". Suddenly, it struck me that the whole film had been the most amazing visual homage to Roman Catholic sprituality.

I'm no Roman. But I appreciate what this brings, and the view of God it gives - and that this movie's version of it was superb. There was a truth, a reality, a sight of life without artifice here that was remarkable. There was sensuality and brutality. There was a longing for love, and a fear of loss. There was a woman who wanted to throw herself on God, and others who cared not at all. Problems do wander in and out of life. There are few resolutions. Everything is very real, with poor fashion sense and bad footwear. And through it all, we need a godly figure who is there for everyone, but especially the poor who might seek Christ in everything.

To the Wonder is not a film I want to see again. But it is an experience that has stayed with me, and an insight into life that has gone surprisingly deep.

If you go - stay till the end.


Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks for that. Don't think I'll bother going though.

KWRegan said...

Have you seen Malick's "Tree of Life"? Not I, but I've wondered about it.