Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Malick in “Wonder” Land

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There’s no American director who inspires greater devotion than Terrence Malick, as I discovered when I wrote a less than favorable review of “The New World” (“all is diffuse, gauzy, insubstantial, underwhelming”). There is also very little middle ground when it comes to his achievements.

I enjoyed “Badlands” back in the day but that was before Malick found religion — marrying a fastidious craftsmanship to particularly icky form of transcendentalism in “Days of Heaven,” a movie distinguished mainly by its pioneering use of Dolby sound. “The Thin Red Line,” the production with which the artist broke his 20-year silence, was so strange (a metaphysical platoon saga melding battlefield confusion with an Emersonian meditation on the nature of nature) that I had to appreciate it, but “The Tree of Life,” a symphonic praise-song in which Malick went one on one with God and Stanley Kubrick, and comes up short, struck me as too pompous and genteel to be truly crazy. Dems my sentiments; sufficient to be burnt at the stake in some counties.

“To the Wonder,” which I saw at an amazingly empty press screening last year in Toronto, is less overweening than the mighty “Tree”; it’s sadder and in some ways more tolerable. All of Malick’s movies, even “Badlands,” are evocations of paradise lost, which is surely a factor in the appeal he has for his cinephile fan base. (The visions don’t work for me but I can see how they evoke a vanished — or imaginary — Golden Age of the Movies.) “To the Wonder,” which Variety describes as “quasi-autobiographical,” is so unabashedly maudlin and vulnerable that it’s difficult to generate much animus. The movie may be a two-ton gossamer web, but it’s spun from gossamer none the less.

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Images: Magnolia Pictures

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