To the Wonder (2013)

To the Wonder (2013)
To the Wonder (2013) DVD / Blu-ray

By: Bill Arceneaux (A Toast) –

There aren’t very many filmmakers that I can name that are “bulletproof” to reviews. I don’t mean from reviews that would hurt their box office (a status that Dennis Dugan enjoys), but from getting bad reviews in general – from me, I mean. Terrence Malick is the only one that comes to mind.


You just L O V E your money, huh?

Now, I’m not a die hard Malick fan; I haven’t even watched The Tree of Life. But, I do recognize great work when I see it. He’s not just a glorified cinematographer, people… The man knows how to tell a story through emotions via visuals. Call it pretentious, hipster crap all you want; the man’s work is top shelf.

And his latest continues that trend.

A Toast

To describe To the Wonder feels like a daunting task, mainly because of how it is presented. It’s about an American man and a European woman. They fall in love, move to his home in the U.S., she moves back, he reconnects with an old female friend, she comes back and they try to reignite their flame. At the same time, we see the inner turmoil of a local priest, struggling with his relationship with God.

To call this movie unconventional is an understatement. Now, it’s not wonky like a David Lynch film, but it is a bit obtuse. There is little to no dialogue spoken on camera. What is said is done so in voice over whispers, and the majority of that is in a foreign language. It’s the acting, the camera movements and placement of people, animals and objects in a scene that moves the story forward.

Think of it as having the mechanics of a silent era film. Back then – in the pioneer times of movies – spoken lines were not a crutch, because the technology hadn’t been invented yet. The actors really had to tell the story through body language, and the crew had to carefully construct the scene to provide depth beyond the acting; objects in the foreground and background, how close the camera is to the action, etc. It was universal storytelling. Malick’s previous movies have included elements of standard, modern narrative, but this one goes back to birth.


There are scenes when the women in the man’s life are walking alone in the weeds, and appear to be hearing something that we can’t. In the next scene, they express doubt at their relationship. It’s as if an unseen force within nature is guiding them. Maybe guiding us?

The story of the priest feeling alone and ignored by God relates really well to the man and the woman falling in and out of love. Townspeople come to him for guidance, but he himself is needing of that very thing. The woman kneels before her man, calling him her rock, her source of strength. But, the man hardly ever speaks – not even in whisper – and is, too, feeling in need of help in the world. In the end, people are transformed by love, for better or worse, and life goes on.

All of this is said without being said much at all.

Oh, but it’s pretentious garbage. Fuck, I hate hipsters.




To the Wonder is in theaters, on VOD and iTunes. Go see, rent or download it. I don’t know where it will rank in my end of 2013 list, but it’ll be on it. And I’ll be called an asshole for including it.


Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time you wonder how much more vague the dialogue can get.

Take a Drink: if you are watching the movie on your tablet in a coffee shop. Are you liking the movie ironically because other people dislike it?

Do a Shot: because you went to see Scary MoVie instead of this. You’re the real asshole.

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).


  1. Good writeup, I’m planning on seeing it tonight. Thanks also for the takedown of that laziest of criticisms, “Oh, it’s pretentious.” Often, that’s just a codeword for “obtuse” or “boring” – since you didn’t get it, or didn’t want to engage with it, obviously the person who likes it is just pretending to get it so they can seem like the smartest person in the room, right?

    I haven’t seen much Malick (The Tree of Life, which I appreciated but didn’t like too much, and Badlands which is fantastic), but I’m looking forward to this.

    Fun tip: Pair it with Oblivion for a double feature of new releases co-starring Olga Kurylenko!

  2. Nice review, and nice comment as well. I have to agree that I consider Malick to be pretty much above reproach. People get annoyed at his fascination with examining the same themes over and over, but you can’t deny that he plumbs the depths of them as thoroughly as he can, and finds new ways to illuminate the relationship between man and nature, and how that affects the relationships between man and man. The Tree of Life was my favorite flick from 2011, and I absolutely can’t wait to be able to give this one a watch and see how it compares.

  3. You also can’t deny that he creates some of the most beautiful films ever committed to celluloid. Man, his shots are gorgeous.

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