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!

6 responses to “What We Know About Malick’s To the Wonder

  1. Thanks for pulling these together Brett. My first indoctrination into Malick’s world came as a result of The Tree of Life. I’m looking forward to his next as well . . . whenever the rest of us may be able to see it.

  2. Personally, while I love THE TREE OF LIFE and THE NEW WORLD, I would love the experience of a Malick film more like DAYS OF HEAVEN (my first viewing of which is still one of the most jubilant, paradigm-shifting film experiences I have ever had). There is a dramatic tension and narrative tightness to those early films which I find appealing even if they are less expansive and cinematic than his recent work.

  3. I just got home from the N. American premier of ‘To The Wonder’ at TIFF. What a great film. I can’t wait until it eventually gets released.

  4. Whoops, wrote that while signed into my wife’s account!

  5. I love his work. Definitely looking forward to this.

  6. Pingback: Malick’s “To the Wonder”: Posters & Trailers | The Search

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