Published Sep 17, 2015Wim Wenders isn't for everyone. He's one of the rare examples of a director that's more accessible and mainstream in the context of documentary filmmaking than in narrative form. He doesn't spell things out; he's preoccupied with meaning and what we can take from relationships and how we interact with our environment. Morality often plays into it (but not in a conventional sense), as does a flirtation with fatalism, or at least the unconfirmed possibility of such. His characters are often connected to each other reluctantly — through coincidence, tragedy or some sort of life-defining turning point — and are influenced, even subtly, by their opposing dynamic.
Every Thing Will Be Fine is one of the better examples of Wenders' particular approach. It's also one of the only examples of 3D being used for an emotional, thematic effect rather than blatant sensationalism and shock. Here, 3D is used to divide characters into different planes, distancing them or connecting them. It also heightens spatial sensibilities during key moments, such as walking down a long, snowy driveway to knock on a stranger's door or looking out over a landscape in a moment of reflection. This added dimension of contemplation is particularly effective considering the initial premise: Tomas Eldan (James Franco), a struggling writer, accidentally hits and kills a child while driving past a tobogganing hill.
Though the initial reactions are presented — Tomas shuts down and has to be coaxed indoors by his girlfriend Sara (Rachel McAdams) and Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is seen running towards the dead body of her son — Wenders isn't interested in exploiting emotional histrionics for the sake of it. He's trying to capture the ephemeral, fleeting nature of it all. Before long, we're jumping ahead in time to find Tomas working as a successful writer and Kate raising her remaining son in their country home. What's perhaps most effective during these transitions, as it pertains to underlying themes of loss and the painful realization that what was once vital can eventually fade into the past, is the unspoken changes that occur.
In one moment, Tomas and Sara are smiling lovingly at each other, and then moments later — when time jumps ahead — Tomas is embracing Ann (Marie-Josée Croze) and acting as a father figure to her daughter. The sort of emptiness that exists where this character once was ultimately refers back to the title, giving the somewhat optimistic statement a melancholic feel. Though we don't know why Tomas and Sara left each other (we can assume, however), there is that affirmation that despite the pain of the moment, everything will be fine.
More obviously, being the narrative thread in the foreground, the metaphysical idea of finding meaning in tragedy is examined with a subdued acuity. After finding some success, Tomas returns to the scene of the accident and encounters Kate again. She's a woman of spiritual belief; she doesn't blame Tomas for the accident (blame being the undiscerning way to make sense of chaos), which, interestingly enough, makes it even more difficult for him to reconcile his feelings about the issue. His life has turned out well, and hers has remained mostly stationary. Is there justice and meaning in that?
Though Wenders does acknowledge the sense of intuition people develop about tragedy later in the film — it's akin to the developed ability to shrewdly read body language and character after being abused physically and/or emotionally — there's no direct implication that there's a purpose or pointed reason for Tomas inadvertently taking something from Kate. Everyone involved, including Kate's remaining son, tries to make some sense of it or find some peace, but that lack of answers is ultimately maddening, which reinforces why someone might try to attribute a fatalistic ethos.
Some might find the long takes of scenery or seemingly disconnected — things are tied together by theme and tone more so than traditional plot — somewhat alienating. Wenders clearly isn't interested in offering his audience a clear story with a concise moral application, but others will appreciate the lyrical, haunting sense of this extremely human journey, and Wenders' use of the cinematic medium for its visual component (rather than adhering to the standard "storytelling" format). He's pushed cinema forward, albeit just slightly, with Every Thing Will Be Fine, creating an intriguing tapestry of unspoken ideological anxieties and challenging our collective complacency about what 3D can be used for.