Monthly Archives: August 2012

What We Know About Malick’s To the Wonder

Just over a year after his magnificent Tree of Life debuted, Terrence Malick is about to unveil his sixth film, To the Wonder. For longtime Malick devotees like myself, it’s hard to even believe this is true. Sadly, while the film will be seen at two different festivals in coming months (Venice and Toronto), it has yet to secure a distributor and theatrical release date, which means in all likelihood we won’t be seeing it in 2012. 

Typical for a Malick film, very little is known about To The Wonder, and until critics see it and write/tweet their first impressions of it after the world premiere in Venice on Sept. 2, very little will be known.

What we do know about the film is this:

  • It was filmed in 2010 in Oklahoma, around the Bartlesville and Pawhuska areas and briefly in Tulsa. Some reports suggest additional filming took place in Paris.
  • The film is 112 minutes long — Malick’s first film under two hours in length since 1978!
  • It’s Malick’s first film to be rated R, “for some sexuality/nudity.”
  • The film’s cast includes Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper, and Malick’s stepson Will Wallace.
  • Many of Malick’s longtime collaborators returned for To the Wonder, including Jack Fisk (production design), Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematography), Sarah Green (producer), Jacqueline West (costume design), and David Crank (art direction).
  • Malick chose a young, up-and-coming composer from Austin to score the film: Hanan Townshend. Townshend previously contributed a small piece of music to The Tree of Life. 
  • In an interview, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki described To the Wonder as “abstract,” adding that the film is “less tied to theatrical conventions and more purely cinematic than any prior film Terry has made.”
  • The film’s official brief synopsis is as follows: “After visiting Mont Saint-Michel — once known in France as the Wonder — at the height of their love, Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck) come to Oklahoma, where problems soon arise. Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane (McAdams). An exploration of love in its many forms.”
  • From this description it appears that Malick is following his semi-autobiographical turn in The Tree of Life with another film based on his own life experiences. Malick, like Affleck’s character of “Neil,” had a romance with a woman in France in the 80s named Michèle Morette (like Kurylenko’s character of “Marina”), married her in 1985 and then moved back to Texas with her. They divorced in 1998, however, and Malick reconnected with Alexandra “Ecky” Wallace, a former high school sweetheart (like McAdams’ “Jane”) from his days at St. Stephen’s school in Austin, Texas.
  • That the film was primarily shot in Bartlesville, Oklahoma supports the notion that this will be a very personal film for Malick. He grew up in Bartlesville and his father, Emil, still lives there. Bartlesville is also the town where the only (to my knowledge) known Q&A with Malick and an audience occurred, in 2005 when The New World came out. 
  • The film title appears to be a nod to Mont Saint-Michel–a monastery in Normandy, France which has been called “The Wonder of the West.”
  • That the film includes a monastery and two characters who are priests/clergy (Bardem and Pepper) seems to suggest that Malick will continue the religious explorations and liturgical tones so beautifully rendered in The Tree of Life. 
  • Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera has said that the film’s “main recurring theme is the crisis… The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects, but also the crisis of values, the political crisis.”
  • The Toronto Film Festival website notes that To the Wonder “continues [Malick’s] exploration of the vagaries of desire and regret that shape our time on this planet” and explores themes of spirituality and ethics, politics and faith. “As Malick liberates himself more and more from the restrictions of conventional narrative and pursues a more associative approach, he gets closer to eliciting pure, subconscious responses from his viewers.”

I will add to this post as additional details and tidbits about the film are made known!

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To Everything a Season

One of the mystifying (and doubtless alluring) things about Southern California is that the climate here is one of perpetual summer. Seasons in the truest sense don’t exist. Winter is a slightly cooler, rainier version of Summer, which is approximately nine months long and always around 79 degrees and sunny. In Southern California, the endless summer fits with the “endless youth” ambience of the culture: aging happens differently here, slower perhaps. Youth and immaturity reign. Death is raged against in the Dylan Thomas sense, against the dying of the light.

And yet I miss seasons. Seasons are the truest thing of all. I miss them most in the autumn and spring, those transitional periods so symbolic of life’s persistent patterns of endings and new beginnings, goodbyes and hellos, decay and rebirth. The natural seasons of life remind us of the solemnity of change and yet also the refreshment of it. The constancy of seasons is at once reassuring, unsettling, heartbreaking and mysterious. It stirs within us all sorts of emotions, not least of which is Sehnsucht, that weighty existential desire which C.S. Lewis described as as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.”

I’m in a season of change right now myself, for a number of reasons. I’m finished writing my new book (1 year and 65,000 words later!); I’m enjoying the last few months of my 20s and what is likely my last season of life as a single man; I’m experiencing new friendships and walking with some old friends as they experience their own seasons of change.

And I’m also going to be changing my blogging habits a bit.

For nearly five years, The Search has been my blogging home, a space that has become very dear to me. Before I joined Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other things, I started this blog. It’s where I’ve cut my teeth as a writer and thought through many of the topics I’ve since turned in to articles and books. I’ve made connections and friends with amazing people who have been faithful readers. It’s been a space where I–an introvert–have worked out my own thinking and found outlet for so many explorations.

I named it “The Search” as an homage to one of my favorite novels, The Moviegoer (movies have been a central exploration of the blog), in which the restless protagonist, Binx Bolling (who turns 30 in the book, incidentally), wanders around saying things like this:

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a cast away do? Why he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Binx’s thoughts have resonated with me for years, and I’ve channeled much of my own “search” into the content of this blog. That will not change. I am not abandoning this blog just yet.

I am, however, going to be scaling back my writing a bit, for a few reasons:

  • I’m increasingly aware of the overwhelming glut of opining that is the Internet and (more specifically) the blogosphere. Personally I have come to value restraint, patient consideration, and “mulling over internally” more in recent years, rather than the “quick to the draw” thought vomiting that characterizes most of the blogosphere (and which I have been guilty of too).
  • I’m busier than ever. I have a new book to launch, I’m still working full-time at Biola University (writing, editing, teaching), I have a new season of life to launch… I’ll need all the extra time and energy I can get.
  • I’ll be writing elsewhere. I’ve started contributing to Mere Orthodoxy in recent months, and will continue to contribute there. Matt Anderson has created a great space there for thoughtful, lively discussion about issues in culture and Christianity. I’m thrilled to be joining him and others in the pursuit of an elevated discourse among young evangelicals.
  • I want to read more than I write. Now that I’m done writing my new book, I’m intensely hungry to read the mountain of books that bave been piling up. I also want to find time to read some of the other things being written online on any given day. It’s overwhelming to me how much I wish I could read but can’t (for lack of time).

So, what does “scaling back” actually look like for The Search? I don’t quite know. It could still mean that I post something new every week. Or every two weeks. Or once a month. And maybe it’ll just be for a season. I’m not going to be rigid about it. We’ll see how it goes.

Whatever happens, I’m so thankful for this platform to share my thoughts and even more thankful for those of you nice enough to read them. We’re all on this “search” together, after all, trying to bring some sense and clarity to an overwhelming world. Seeking truth, beauty and goodness together with you will be something I’ll always want to do.

Becoming an Intouchable

[Editor’s note: Guest post from Tyler Braun, whose first book, Why Holiness Matters, just released]

I recently went to see the movie The Intouchables. I expected to hate it because the title seemed like such a blatant rip-off, but I confess to truly loving the film.

Consider even the title and the feeling it evokes—the willingness to open ourselves up for the sake of others entering into our lives. While the movie was far from being a “Christian film” the theme represented much of what is missing from the faith of so many: true community through meaningful relationships.

The film picks up as quadriplegic, Phillipe, is hiring a personal aid that will help him get around town, shower, and even clean up his bathroom breaks. A young criminal, Driss, applies for the job hoping to get rejected so he can qualify for financial support from the government. Instead, Phillipe chooses to hire Driss and the two begin a most surprising friendship, one that friends of both highly discourage.

Driss helps Phillipe live the life he gave up after his paragliding accident left him paralyzed, and Driss discovers that he has worth as a human being, not merely as a con-man. Consider the tagline of the film and its ramifications for us:

Sometimes you have to reach into someone else’s world to find out what’s missing in your own.

In my interactions with church members and fellow seminary students over the recent years I’ve seen one common complaint: “My church has great music and great teaching but I hardly know anyone.”

For a lot of people this means switching churches every few years, hoping to find the silver bullet of community at the next church. For others it means floating through the status quo of church attendance and never developing meaningful relationships.

All the while we continue to point the finger at the church and never ourselves.

Something is wrong here.

Gathered Community

I believe God calls us to live out the holiness He’s working within us through our following of Jesus. He never intended for us to have a private relationship with Him. No, He desires that relationship to be lived out in our daily lives, minute by minute.

While holiness can begin within us, it isn’t realized until it engages with other people. We cannot be holy without the influence and struggle of a gathered community of Christians. We cannot be holy without the church.

Sin often slowly pushes us away from this gathered community and away from holy living. We cannot hide ourselves from others.

“The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of the person.” (Life Together, page 109)

Move Beyond

We have a great opportunity being offered to us. God is moving us beyond ourselves, implicating our lives, for the sake of us becoming an intouchable—that is, He’s changing us to become more like His Son through the power of community. He’s asking us to allow the lives of others to shape us.

Make no mistake, this calling isn’t an easy one. My own life bears the scars of true community gone bad in the midst of our sin-filled patterns, but the places God calls us to that change us the most are always the most difficult callings.

I constantly struggle to move beyond my comfortable world where I let people into my life for the sake of new and deeper relationships. Yet each time I jump over that hurdle the pain of brokenness and sin that previously broke down the relationships around me fade into the glory of God’s presence within them.

The fullness of faith in Christ is not possible without His presence in us through other people.

We can call church an overly political group of religious individuals who devote themselves to isolation and culture wars, but we need these broken people more than we can ever fully know.

Take the leap. Overcome the barriers. Become an intouchable.

Tyler Braun is a pastor from Portland, Oregon whose first book, Why Holiness Matters, just released. Learn more about aspecial offer for purchasing the book. You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, manofdepravity.com.