Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV
“Love makes us one. Two…one. I in you. You in me.”
Few days back, I was watching Hollywood Reporter’s The Full Director Roundtable with directors like Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, Morten Tyldum, and Angelina Jolie. While discussing about their movies and the subtlety and nuances of the art of capturing images, they all agreed with the fact that Terrence Mellick is one of the frontrunners and genius that knows the art of expressing through images better than anyone else. These candid talks and confessions of directors influenced me to revisit Terrence Mellick’s. Though his resume reads with movies like The Thin Red Line (1998), The Tree of Life (2011), and Days of Heaven (1978), which are visually spectacular and moving, I am more influenced by one of his least reckoned and appreciated movies, To The Wonder (2012), and that is what I intend to talk about in this review of mine. First of all, this movie is not at all for the ones who watch movies for entertainment, work in 9 to 5 job, come home exhausted, take out some time for leisure and wish to watch a movie for some serious fun. But those who love movies for movie sake; love to explore different facets of it being manifested through different and brave attempts, then this movie is definitely a no miss for you.
The movie picks up the events from the life of its characters and expresses them before the audience. Now, when I say it expresses before the audience then it literally does that. The movie narrates the story of a man, Neil, a woman, Marina, and a priest, Father Quintana, not by explaining the events in their lives but by expressing them. You won’t even get to see the faces of the characters showing their emotions in most part of the movie. The camera just moves closer, circling around, following the rhythms of the bodies, scribbling the ode of love that this movie intends to be. This movie in some way is a marriage between silent and sound cinema, with subdued narration and excited movements overflowed with barrage of images to create a hypnotic vision of love that captures and transcends our bodies.
The plot of the movie reads simple: Neil (Ben Affleck) finds a girl, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), who also happens to be a single mother, in his visit to France and both of them fall deeply in love with each other. Neil proposes Marina to move to Oklahoma with him. Marina along with her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana, takes a leap of faith and moves into the States with him. Finding it hard to settle in a new locality, the feeling of loneliness starts creeping into Marina and Tatiana, and the tension starts surfacing in their relationship with Neil. Mariana finds solace into the preaching of Father Quintana, who himself is troubled with his quest of God and his inefficacy to feel his presence around him though he knows he is there somewhere.
After spending quite some time, Marina feels the drift in Neil’s attention, ogling women’s bodies, and his cold and unwarranted reactions to her desperate attempts to seek for his love. Marina after the expiration of visa goes back to France, and for a brief span, Neil engages himself in a relationship with his childhood crush, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Marina though doesn’t find peace back in France and pleads Neil to help her come back in Oklahoma. The pair is reunited and gets married, but the bliss does not last for long again. In a moment of weakness, Marina commits the sin of adultery with Charlie, a carpenter, who had given her a wind harp. It seems that she has bore a child because of this encounter, and not being able to keep the guilt, she confesses it to Neil.
Later in the movie we find Neil seeking Father Quintana’s guidance who helps him to understand that the bitterness of life can only be compensated through forgiveness. Finally, the couple departs from each other but on an optimistic note. Marina tells Neil that she wants to keep his name for the child. In the end we find random shots of Neil with what seems to be his family and Marina is somewhere in bliss, with her beauty being fused with the surroundings, transcending the ephemeral to eternal, being one with the peace and love she had been seeking from others all her life.
Now, we have seen the same story, reiterated time and again on screen, and the plot of this movie suggests us to be no different. In fact again, the same story is executed with actors having angelic faces. What stands apart this movie is the treatment. The movie never explains the events but expresses them. It is like the memories (maybe of Terrence Mellick) flashing across the screen. The movie never tries to explain anything. Roger Ebert did his last movie review of his life on this movie, where he raised a question pertaining to the philosophical aspect of cinema, does a movie need to explain everything? He himself answers, No! Watching To The Wonder is like strolling along with Adam and Eve’s story again. Adam (Neil) loves Eve (Marina), but the purpose is lost. There is another Adam (Father Quintana) in the movie that seeks the lost purpose of life through love. The movie begins with Marina’s inquisition, “What is this that loves us, that comes from nowhere?” And ends with Father Quintana’s passionate call, “Christ, be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me.”
Martin Scorsese in a documentary of History of American Cinema said that there is not much of a difference when it comes to movies and going to church. Both have similarities in helping people seeking for some answers. Watching To The Wonder was one such experience for me. I know not many people will find it engrossing enough because of the lack of narration that we are used to, and I will not make an emphatic appeal to the readers to watch. But if you do so, it may not turn out to be a bad idea at all. Maybe you too will get some answers that you have been searching for long. Maybe you will get some peace as well. Maybe.
- Reviewed by Amar Singh
The reviewer is currently acting as an Assistant Professor in English in Central University of Tibetan Studies, Varanasi. He is also pursuing his Research from Department of English, BHU, working with Professor Anita Singh on, “Hyperrealism and Christopher Nolan’s Cinematic Texts.”