The trouble is, a Malick film inherently reveals what is rotten about contemporary film culture. Quick, thoughtless, reactionary reviews (which are now the equivalent of angsty, solipsistic blog posts, rather than considerate examinations) are the norm, churned out at record speeds to offer the first take and, by nature, often lack not just coherent discussion, but any semblance of idea and scope for a latest work's significance beyond the immediate. The reviews are fleeting, fragmented, and not very user friendly. A lot like our digital milieu. A lot like To the Wonder.
To those who find Malick's latest "puzzling," I say: look a little closer - think a little harder. Such a suggestion is not to state my own "mastery" of the material, but to call bullshit on the pathetic, snarky responses Malick has been receiving throughout his career, from vantage points high and low. For his last three films (including The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011)), Terrence Malick has been archiving images. Some resplendent, others sublime, yet others melancholy, Malick is the quintessential maître des cérémonies for the post-cinematic age. He envisions livelihood with digital logic, informed by impression and continual reformation, as is consistent with the ethos of living in an ubiquitous media age. Shockingly, none of the reviews mentioned above note the film's opening shots, which are from the smartphone of Neil (Ben Affleck), whose role as disaffected metteur-en-scene is immediately established through these opening scenes. In fact, the shot of Neil, holding beloved Marina (Olga Kurylenko) as they see themselves through the mirror-image projected by a train window, is not discordant with scenes from Paranormal Activity (2009), in which Micah films himself and girlfriend Katie in front of a bathroom mirror. Contemporary spaces allow for the immediate identification of self - at least the outward self - which will be contrasted by the film's pastoral imaging, in which Malick implicitly asks whether the image of memory (no matter how charged with affect), can ever be capable of matching spiritual presence. To initiate this line of discourse, Malick continues to prefer imaging that refutes much sense of spatio-temporal continuity.
|Malick archives 20th century iconography.|
|Reenactment in the global village?|
|The apparatus and the hired hand.|
|Carnivalized rural space.|
|Digitized rural space.|
|Empty place, full space.|
|The spatial divide widens, the temporal gap lessens.|
|Cinema enables time travel.|
|Light envelops darkness.|