Midwest Ain't No Paris
This arty film explores marriage in a meditative, purely visual way that is light on dialogue and heavy on symbolism. If you love to interpret visual landscapes as symbols of emotion, you'll love this movie. If not, you'll probably relate to one lady in the audience who blurted out, "This movie is torture!"
2.5 Stars: Perfect for art-house film lovers
The film begins at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. Beautiful lovers Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) adoringly explore this castle, which is only accessible by foot when the tide goes out. The other half of the day, this fortress becomes an island protected and surrounded by the frigid sea. Here, director Terrence Malick creates his first visual metaphor for the human heart — ebbing and flowing from a state of vulnerability to isolation. It's every human's quest to control the tides around our own heart, but Malick suggests this may be impossible.
Neil Is the embodiment of Mont Saint-Michel when the tide is in — he is remote, secluded and unreachable. Marina is the castle when the tide is out — accessible, penetrable and unsecure. If only the lovers could experience the same tranquility and balance afforded to the French tidal island.
Marina and her 10-year-old daughter move to the Midwest with Neil. Things seem wonderful at first, but Marina longs to be married again, and despite her beauty and love for him, Neil can't commit. Marina returns to France when her visa expires, and Neil distracts himself with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old friend from high school.
But Jane has woes of her own, as she is still in mourning after the death of her baby. Again alone, Neil spends his days testing his small town's groundwater for toxins and pollutants while wistfully daydreaming about the clean, life-giving sea of Mont Saint-Michel.
When Marina falls on hard times, she returns to Neil in the Midwest, leaving her daughter with her dad in France. Neil and Marina are married by Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest who is questioning his own faith and has his own take on love, saying, "Love isn't just a feeling; it is a duty." How romantic. Father Quintana also blesses prisoners at the local jail, clearly suggesting that marriage can be its own prison.
To the Wonder is a magnificent visual story, with grasslands, bison and Parisian architecture that stand in for Neil and Marina's emotions. Without a traditional storyline, this film becomes a rumination on the fragility of love.
Bottom line: If you enjoyed Malick's last film, Tree of Life, you'll certainly enjoy this one. If action scenes and witty dialogue are more your speed, definitely skip this movie.
To the Wonder opens April 12. Runtime is 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Photo credit: Magnolia Films