To the Wonder [Blu-Ray] Terrence Malick

To the Wonder [Blu-Ray] Terrence Malick
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As outlined in the brief "Making of" supplement included with the Blu-Ray of Terrence Malick's latest phenomenological exploration of an existential human experience, each of the leading actors discusses the reading assignments given to them by the reclusive director prior to production. Olga Kurylenko, who plays the Parisian single mother wooed by American tourist Neil (Ben Affleck), was told to read an abundance of Tolstoy, from The Idiot to Anna Karenina. She, having the grace associated with public image training, makes a joke about the length of the novels, but comments on how it helped her shape her character throughout the many improvisational, romanticized vignettes that form a narrative more experiential and emotional than literal and traditional. Affleck, who (amusingly) read Heidegger, flippantly remarks that it didn't help him at all. To be fair, his character is a bit of a tool and antihero. Neil, enraptured by the carnality of his relationship with Marina (Kurylenko), brings her back to America where sparks fly temporarily, waning somewhere around the time her visa is set to expire. His hormones guide his journey, which, given the intense relationship with nature throughout the movie — most scenes feature characters traipsing through fields, taking care of animals or walking on the beach, with a strong, natural backdrop — is a logical reiteration of the order presented in a Darwinian capacity. Once he's lost interest in Marina, he gravitates back to Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame that makes it clear through a hushed, poetic voiceover — the dominant mode of communicating character thoughts throughout — that she finds it difficult to trust and is turning to him against her better judgment. But, in the grand scheme of the impassioned, lyrical trajectory, Neil and Jane are merely secondary reiterations of the central perpetual struggle of Marina, a woman living in a new land with a man that she knows, even if subconsciously, will eventually grow tired of her. The persistence of hope and the familiarity of disappointment persist throughout. She's someone that has been hurt before but continues to take risks, embracing the experience of feeling her life, only to wind up back where she started. Similarly, the priest (Javier Bardem) she bonds with continues to reach out to those in need, helping them and hoping to get them back on track, only to watch them relapse, turn on him or project their problems onto him. This idea of people constantly striving for more or hoping for the best, only to have everything implode and start over again, is presented as an element of naturally chaotic (contrary) order. Malick's steadfast determination to engrain the experiences of these characters in a fragmented, oft-sun bleached and naturalized fashion, with endless earthly elements, suggests that our tendency to dive into unsustainable situations is as inevitable as watching the sun rise. It's a sad and isolating sentiment shown as universality, one meant to be celebrated as part of the beauty of ephemeral life. There's no catharsis, in a literal sense, nor is there any formulated route to an outcome. Everything is as predetermined and predictable as it is natural and irrational, which, as a tactic, cleverly reiterates the proposed life philosophies in To the Wonder, as defeatist and contrarily rapturous as they might be. (VVS)