In his review of The Tree of Life, Roger Ebert said, “There were once several directors who yearned to make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few.” I have observed this same thing in poetry and theater. This is largely due to what the academy has done with the word “Romantic” over the past century. But that’s for another post.
Ebert goes on to say that Terrence Malick, a true Romantic, sets out to create a masterpiece every time he makes a film. I agree. And Malick’s latest, To the Wonder, is no exception. It is soulful and wild. It is bold in these most timid of times.
But my intent is not to write a review. It’s just that when I experience a masterpiece I want to share it.
The Tree of Life cracked me open immediately. To the Wonder took longer. I think this is because I was ready to deal with the me in The Tree of Life. I was not ready to deal with the me in To the Wonder. Where The Tree of Life deals with filial love, To the Wonder deals with the love between a man and a woman, and the love between God and people.
Near the beginning of the film, the priest quotes Ephesians 5:25. I don’t know what translation he quotes, but here is the KJV:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
I have known this scripture since I was very young. I always took it to mean that husbands should love their wives in the perfect way that Christ loves his people. But Malick turns it on its head. He shows us a priest struggling to commune with God as he spends his days with the sick and the poor. God seems distant and cold to this priest. He longs for God to pour out his love on himself and the people with whom he works. Malick also shows us a woman who yearns to have the love of her husband the way she once had it. What if the correct translation of the scripture, the film seems to ask, is that God loves his people in the emotionally distant way husbands often love their wives?
There is another scripture that says the love of God is the one thing that never runs out or ceases. The film never directly references this scripture, but it does lace this idea throughout. Near the end the woman’s voice says, “Love that loves us… Thank you.”
We climbed the steps…
to the Wonder.