TORONTO (MCT) — “To the Wonder” represents what is arguably Terrence Malick’s most experimental film yet, but actress Rachel McAdams expressed surprise at some of the audience reaction.
After all, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Malick would craft a lyrical tone poem, given that his narratives have long been infused with evocative imagery and abstraction.
“It’s funny, all we say we want in life is freedom — of speech, of religion, of thought,” McAdams said. “And here’s Terry definitively not telling us what to think, and some people don’t like it.”
“To the Wonder” follows a stoic all-American man named Neil (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with the beautiful Parisian single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko) while traveling in France. He then moves her to his Oklahoma small town, where they have a tempestuous romance. Neil also has yearnings for a hometown sweetheart (McAdams) with whom he has had an on-and-off-again relationship. The story is believed to be inspired in part by the real life of Malick, who was married to a French woman for a number of years.
There is very little dialogue in “To the Wonder”; a confession of infidelity, for instance, contains only a voice-over utterance of “Forgive me” and an aggressive action in reply. Malick tells his story with images (particularly Kurylenko’s character prancing and twirling silently through fields) and music.
Shot by “Tree” cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, “Wonder” also utilizes vast Oklahoma spaces as set pieces — sun-dappled wheat fields, flat expanses of country homes, even parking lots of big-box retailers.
None of the actors had previously worked with Malick. They said they found the experience liberating on one level but also sometimes unsettling. But they also said they understood why Malick, who more than most directors improvises on set, approached the shoot this way.
“I see it as using actors as paint. What I’m doing is blue, and Olga is magenta, and Rachel is yellow,” Affleck said of Malick’s approach. “In most movies you’re doing the painting while you’re shooting. But Terry is just collecting colors; he’ll do the painting in the editing room.”