Dear Grandma Mary –
Thank you very much for coming with me to see To The Wonder. I really enjoyed it, and I hope you did too. The first thing you said to me when the credits came up was, “Deep”. Well played! It is deep, but I like that little touch of comedy in you. I also agree with your initial review, “good music and good pictures.” I suppose that is all that really matters when it comes to a movie. We could have just left it there: deep, good pictures, good music, but you asked for more. You charged me with the challenge of thinking about the movie and letting you know what it was about. I suppose that is what writer/director Terrence Malick is also asking us to do, to really think about what is going on here. I suppose that every director is trying for that as well. After thinking about it for the past couple of days, I think I have a few ideas. I plan on see this one again, maybe even a couple more times, and no doubt I will pull more and more out of it, but I think this is a pretty good start.
I should start by saying that I do like the movie. It worked me over on a very emotional level. I too loved the music, and I too loved the pictures. I know some people don’t like to sit through movies and see all those shots of nature and blowing wheat fields, but I do. I could sit and stare at the ocean lapping at the shore for hours, or even a crackling fire. Every time I went camping with Mom and Dad, someone would always remark how hypnotizing and relaxing it is to sit and watch a roaring fire. Yet, I doubt I could convince either one of them to go see this movie. Mom and Dad spend God knows how much to escape the city for a weekend, build a campsite, start a fire, and stare at it for hours on end. That seems like a lot of work when you could just walk in from 6th street, pay seven dollars, and get two hours of that experience by watching To The Wonder. Oh well, no one in our family ever claimed to be logical.
To The Wonder is pretty explicit that it is all about love, Earthly love and spiritual love. This is something that I am particularly fascinated with, and I think you are too. It’s why I really wanted you to see this movie with me. I remember many years ago you told me something that has really stuck with me and shaped how I see the world. I asked you about Heaven and Hell and if they were actual physical places that you go to. I was young and couldn’t quite wrap my head around such a concept, and you told me not to worry so much about the where of it. You described Heaven and Hell as experiences, not locations. Heaven is being in love and Hell is the pain a parent feels when they have to bury a child. A few years ago I was introduced to the Gospel of Thomas and found a very striking passage about that same idea. The Apostles asked Jesus “When will the Kingdom come?” Jesus was getting pretty fed up with their impatience and told them, “The Kingdom will not come by expectation [my italics]. No one will say, ‘See here, look there.’ The Kingdom of God is spread upon the Earth and men do not see it.” The experience is here and now. Enjoy it! I think that this is the key to understanding To The Wonder, it is concerned with the grace and beauty of world around us, of LIFE! Heaven is sure to be fun, and Free Will is great and all, but what could possibly compete with all this we have around us? All these people to love, all this nature to prance about it, all this life! Wondrous.
That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with all this love business. Remember in the beginning of the movie where Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kuryalenko) are playing on the shore in the shadow of the Cathedral? I did a little research and that is Mont St. Michel in Normandy, France. Funny thing, when the tide is out, you can walk to it. When the tide is in, you cannot reach it. That’s probably where Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is in the movie, the wrong side of High Tide and cut off from the Love of God. Maybe it’s because he’s seen too much sorrow and sadness in this tiny broken Oklahoma committee, or maybe because he thought that God’s Love was eternal and did not need assistance. The same could be said of Neil and Marina or any married couple. They thought they would be in love forever, they took it for granted, and now look where they are. They didn’t foresee that you have to work at these things. God’s Love is eternal, but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted. We still have to work to appreciate and bask in it.
Maybe all that is a little too heavy for a movie, but you yourself said it was deep. How right you are! Maybe movies should just distract us from our lives and just give us a rest bit from thought. Life is tough, why should we pay good money to watch something equally as tough? A lot of people think that way, and they go and see the flashiest and loudest movies in town. I like some of those too, but I also like movies that challenge me and force me to sit still and think, really think about what I am seeing. I like watching the waves roll in and out. To The Wonder did both of those for me, I hope it did something for you as well.
One final note, I was listening to an interview with another director, Rian Johnson, talking about another movie, and I thought what he said was very appropriate for this letter. He spoke about certain movies that require you to think and feel, and not just react. Sometimes movies aren’t about something, they’re not about your opinion of them, they are simply about the experience of watching them. He noticed that more and more people are concerned on that opinion, that reaction, and less and less about the experience that is happening. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about this movie, and that is fine and all, but I am trying to focus a little more on enjoying the experience. I’m really glad that I got to share this experience with you.
Written and Directed By: Terrence Malick
Produced By: Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Romina Mondello, Tony O’Gans
Magnolia Pictures, Rated R, Running Time 112 minutes, Released April 12, 2013. Streaming on Kanopy and TubiTV.