I’m something of a Terrence Malick fanboy. I worship at the altar of Malick, even when that altar includes dinosaurs stepping on other dinosaurs’ heads. I’ve liked every Malick film thus far. (Yes, even The New World.)
Thus, it’s no small displeasure to confirm that Terrence Malick’s new film, To the Wonder, would have been a trainwreck, except that Malick cut the train out of the movie. Instead, it’s lots of shots of the sun, looking all sun-like, and Rachel McAdams wishing it were 2004 again. I love him, but I need to call bullshit when I see it. To the Wonder is bullshit.
In a mixed to forgiving review of the film, Steve Prokopy of Gapers’ Block acknowledged that the film is a “fans-only” experience, and as a disciple, I would agree. But even if it’s a disaster and a total self-parody, a Malick film is always worth seeing, just for the sheer spectacle. Even when he fails, Terrence Malick fails big.
Unsure if you fall in the “fan camp”? Here are some signs that Terrence is for you.
1. You enjoy hearing the line, “What is this love that loves us?” read in French.
2. You think that the absence of God is a plausible character motivation, instead of actual narrative tension.
3. You enjoy random characters appearing out of nowhere, only to be never seen again.
4. You love seeing your favorite stars completely cut from a film and replaced with shots of wheat.
5. You prefer your dialogue spoken in plaintive voiceover, rather than via actual exchanges between characters.
6. You’ve brought booze into the theatre and plan to take a shot every time the words “grace” or love” are spoken or God and nature are alluded to.
7. You prefer the company of mournful priests, the only kind Terrence Malick seems to know.
8. You look for impromptu shots of birds in your films and feel incomplete unless the characters raise both of their arms in avian motion at least five times during the course of the movie.
9. You watch a David Lynch movie and complain that it has too much narrative.
10. Your ideal film includes Olga Kurylenko dancing through a supermarket while whispering in parables.
11. You like it when Ben Affleck doesn’t have to speak in things and the camera doesn’t even bother to put his head in the frame.
12. You enjoy films only set at early morning or dusk, for maximum contemplation of the divine.
13. You often stare at rippling water for no reason, but artfully.
14. You like close ups of flowers or long shots of the sun casting shadows over humanity. Metaphors!
15. You are intrigued by characters walking around aimlessly, through sand and towns that have no name. They are searching for meaning, much like the movie. You also like the characters not to have names or lines.
16. You love films set in “Nondescript Plains Country That Is Probably Texas or Oklahoma” or “Hipster Americana-land” and more shots of wheat.
16. You need dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.
17. You can’t understand visual motifs unless they are repeated at least ten or twenty times.
18. You really liked Days of Heaven and want to keep seeing versions of that movie again but with less “things going on” and more screensaver images.
19. You like your characters as observed from space.
20. Your preferred structure for a film is “Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Meets Another Girl, Girl Leaves Boy For No Reason, Boy Gets First Girl Back For No Reason, Boy Loses Girl Again, Girl Rolls Around In Tall Grass.”
21. You don’t want your actors to actually understand what’s happening in the movie around them. Instead, it’s best to totter around like Liza Minnelli in Arrested Development.
22. You hate it when movies are about what they’re supposed to be about. War? The Fifties? Pocahontas? Nope. God. There is only God. Oh, and wheat.