When you collaborate with Terrence Malick, you do so at your own risk. He's a notorious recluse who spends years shooting each project, refuses to commit to a script, and disposes of entire star performances--all as a matter of standard practice. And yet, people clamor for the opportunity to work with him (even if a few are left bitter about the experience). Maybe it's because Malick is less obsessed with perfection than he is with process. What other filmmaker would require three "humanity unit" consultants, an "ambassador of goodwill," and 51 undefined interns?
No wonder critics find it so hard to separate the making of the film from the final cut. But with you're help, Tyler, I'm going to try.
To The Wonder features Olga Kurylenko, prominently and proudly, as its voice, heart, and soul. Her character lives in France with a young daughter and struggles to find her place in the world while hoping her American boyfriend (Ben Affleck) will make a serious commitment. They eventually move to a suburb in the U.S., and cross paths with a Spanish priest (Javier Bardem) who is having his own existential crisis. That's a top-level narrative synopsis; Rachel McAdams also appears for about ten minutes as an ex-girlfriend, and Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper, Jessica Chastain and Michael Sheen can apparently be found on the cutting room floor.
But, wait, sorry. Let's not go there. Let's focus on art.
Malick is a naturalist filmmaker whose passion for the planet is a deep part of all of his work. More and more, his camera seems to lose interest with human characters in favor of shimmering bodies of water, majestic trees, beautiful sunsets, etc. In that sense, To The Wonder might be the most Malickian film he's ever made -- times ten.
A lot of his decisions feel like cliched artistic indulgences: soft foreign language voiceovers waxing poetic about love, constant shots of grass blowing in the wind (a Malick favorite), or a beautiful woman twirling through wheat fields, empty homes and Parisian streets. The film is radically close to being emotional porn. But for those who buy in - and I did - it all adds up to a richly rewarding experience. It's not as expansive as The Tree of Life, or as evocative as A New World, or accessible as Badlands--yet To The Wonder is the purest example of Malick's love affair with free-form filmmaking. If we don't worry about what he removed (be it potential actors, plot or meaning), there's still a lot left here to love.
For that reason, I have no idea which aspects of the film you contributed to. In fact, you and the other collaborators might feel the same way. But for artists and audience members who are willing to be lost at the service of something beautiful, that's okay.