To the Wonder

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
To the Wonder Movie Poster Image
Beautifully filmed romance chooses style over substance.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film posits that it's hard to make love last and thrive, no matter how bright the flame burns at the start. The central couple struggles to remain connected, but their intense feelings of affection sometimes turn to equally intense anger. It's honest and raw.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The couple at the center of this film is deeply in love, yet they both have flaws that threaten the relationship, and they both make mistakes.

Violence

Several intense arguments between couples, including yelling and breaking household objects.

Sex

Many scenes show men and women gently caressing each other, embracing, and sometimes cuddling while lying together clothed. A few sequences show them making love, including a brief glimpse of bare breasts.

Language
Consumerism

A few brief glimpses of consumer products in the background of scenes -- i.e. one that's set in a grocery store.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some scenes show adults drinking casually, in bars and at home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that experimental director Terrence Malick's To the Wonder is a highly stylized examination of love, focusing on a couple who learn that living and being together is harder than falling for each other. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko meet in France, her home, then move to Oklahoma, where he lives and works, and try to make a life together. The film has almost no dialog (so strong language isn't an issue); instead, the story is told through short, moving scenes narrated by voiceovers. There are some intense arguments that sometimes move people to destroy household objects, as well as some brief nude sequences (breasts), lots of loving embraces/caresses, and occasional drinking.

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What's the story?

A man (Ben Affleck) and a woman (Olga Kurylenko) meet and fall in love in France, but after they move together to Oklahoma, they find that living together is harder work in director Terrence Malick's TO THE WONDER. The film features a series of loosely connected scenes with stunning cinematography and little dialog. The story is told through voiceover (with some lines in French, Spanish, and Italian), as viewers watch their relationship bloom and then falter. Javier Bardem plays a priest going through a crisis of conscience, and Rachel McAdams is an old flame who briefly comes between the central couple in this film that examines the nature of love and life.

Is it any good?

No one could accuse To the Wonder of being visually uninteresting. At times the cinematography is so exquisite -- the movement of the grass, the way the light filters through the clouds -- that you almost forget to catch a breath. It's a tone poem, evocative and awash with feeling. But a movie doesn't just transport with images; the story, whether complex or simple, has to work, too.

And this is where To the Wonder falters. What is it saying about the nature of love? That it's fleeting? That it twirls, as one character constantly does, leading nowhere? That it's ephemeral? But who are the people inhabiting the story? Why should we care? In the end, we don't, much -- not about the man who seems so one-dimensional that we can't understand why two arresting women would flit in and out of his life, nor about the women themselves who are either so flimsily drawn (MacAdams' character) or beautifully played but more a projection than an actual substantive character (Kurylenko). To the Wonder doesn't leave viewers wondering, as great movies do, about its mysteries. It just leaves us befuddled and not much motivated to figure out why.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way that To the Wonder is presented -- with voiceovers instead of dialog, and short, unconnected scenes. Does this make the story harder to follow? More or less effective?

  • Why do you think the central relationship falls apart? How does this compare to other romantic dramas you've seen on TV and in the movies?

Movie details

For kids who love romance

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