Tag: days of heaven

To the Wonder

To the Wonder (2012)
★ / ★★★★

As a director I admire for taking his time to really helm a picture and consistently push the boundaries of what the cinematic medium can bring to us, it is most disappointing that Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” does not offer anything refreshing or new. It is closest to “The Tree of Life” in style but, as a whole, it comes off excruciatingly dull, almost as if the writer-director’s name is slapped onto the end credits but is actually made by an ardent but ultimately talentless impostor.

The figures on screen talk in a whispery, raspy tone to the point where it is so unnatural, clearly they are trying too hard to sound thought-provoking. Couple their bits of dialogue with would-be contemplative classical music and occasional utilization of narration to add a glimmer of context, the work ends up artificial, too controlled for what should be an enveloping experience of how it is like to be so wrapped up in being romantically involved with another. I did not feel for any of the models on screen.

Though negligible, the basic premise is this: Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) meet in Paris and move to Oklahoma. When Marina’s visa expires, she is forced to leave the country. While Marina is overseas, Neil reconnects with a woman in his past, Jane (Rachel McAdams), whose farm is on the verge of bankruptcy. To its credit, while the set-up sounds like a sort of a love triangle, it is not.

It is not the actors’ fault that the material is so dry. The screenplay is so self-indulgent, it leaves very little wiggle room for the performers to interpret their characters in meaningful ways. I wondered why they were cast in the first place. Get an unknown face to play Affleck’s role and it would not have made a significant difference.

Many images are recycled from past Malick pictures. There is a recurring theme involving water, which symbolizes life and sustenance (in this case, of a relationship), in which similar figures, including angling and duration, can be seen in “The Tree of Life” and “The New World”–characters step in the water and their sense of being is renewed. Another involves people running or walking through wheat fields and grass, summoning “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line.” These are symbols of freedom, an out of body experience, and being one with nature–living things that grow directly because of the sun.

In addition, the images are repetitive. How many times must we endure looking at a man and a woman kissing, caressing, and holding hands? They are shot so slowly that it borders on fetishistic. For the lack of a better term, I found the whole thing to be sickening. Since the subject of marriage is brought up, especially from the standpoint of religion, I felt as though the writer-director has created a work with an underlying message: that in the eyes of God marriage is strictly between a man and a woman.

“To the Wonder” is suffocatingly, maddeningly esoteric. It will test anyone’s patience. There are beautiful people on screen but close to nothing is communicated. Actually, what I got from this film is less than nothing. It stole two hours of my life. And that is something I would never have imagined saying about a Malick film.

Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven (1978)
★★ / ★★★★

Bill (Richard Gere), a steelworker, killed his boss during a physical altercation at work. Fearing what he had just done, he took Linda (Linda Manz), his sister, and Abby (Brooke Adams), his girlfriend, out of the city to the country where they worked for a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard). Bill and Abby pretended to be siblings in order to evade the police. It seemed to work. But while on the ranch, Bill took notice of the farmer’s attraction to Abby so he convinced his girlfriend to marry the other man for his fortune. After all, he was terminally ill and it was only a matter of time until he died. But once the two were married, the farmer’s health seemed better than ever. Written and directed by Terrence Malick, “Days of Heaven” was shot beautifully. The landscape of endless yellow wheat in contrast to the majestic blue sky and the hardworking men and women on the foreground was breathtaking. By looking at the images, it made me feel small. It was a reminder of how blind we can become to the most seemingly simple imagery that nature offers. However, the director’s focus on the images cost the picture in terms of characterization. Bill and Abby were supposed to be in love, but I didn’t feel any passion between them. What did he see in her and, more importantly, what did she see in him? It was tantamount that we felt their chemistry because the plot was driven by the push and pull between romance and survival. But since there was no great tension between the lovers, when Bill looked at Abby and the farmer enjoying themselves from a distance, he looked sad for no good reason. I felt he deserved to feel like he got the short end of the stick because it was his idea to cheat another man off his fortune. He used the girl so he could escape being poor. He was not a likable man, which was fine, but I struggled to see why it was worth following his story. I was actually more interested in the farmer and his relationship with the farm foreman (Robert J. Wilke). The foreman felt the need to protect the man he considered his son from the likes of conniving Bill and Abby. Unfortunately, he was only in from of the camera for a total of about ten minutes. He wasn’t given very much to do other than to give Bill knowing looks. As for the swarm of locusts that invaded the farm toward the end of the picture, though a sight to behold, the symbolism felt heavy-handed. When the bugs arrived, I knew exactly where the story was heading. It was only a matter of time until the farmer learned the truth and confronted Bill of his transgressions. I didn’t mind the picture’s slow pace because it had reason to be slow. Bill, Linda, and Abby were not used to living a life feeling like they had it all: the expensive wine, the nice clothes, and not having to work. They were relatively happy for a period of time and the slow pace showed how they relished that life comfortable plateau. I actually wanted the film to have a healthier running time. If such were the case, perhaps there would have been more room for us to get to know the characters beyond the surface level. “Days of Heaven” worked as a moving painting bathed in glorious natural light but not as a love triangle. The material left me with a drought of complex human drama. I actually found myself turning to Ennio Morricone’s sensitive and melancholy score because I wanted to feel something so badly.