I saw To The Wonder at Albany, NY's wonderful Spectrum cinema complex last weekend. The early saturday matinee audience consisted of yours truly and five other viewers. When the film was over and the lights went up that audience was reduced to two, myself and one other Terrence Malick devotee. Somewhere during the film's first 40 minutes the majority of that tiny audience had left. It's possible that those persons had no knowledge of Malick's past work, or went to see the movie because Ben Affleck was in it or perhaps they were moviegoers randomly picking out something to see and lighted on this film, in which case they threw up their hands in frustration and gave up on the film.
I found myself feeling disappointed in this latest work by a film director whose movies I find utterly fascinating. Much of the new film seemed a retread of past works, and yet as the days pass I find my mind's eye flooded with images from the film, and I want see To The Wonder again. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this is a genuine work of art.
Malick has never been strong on story structure or dialogue heavy screenplays. His filmmaking is dreamlike, ethereal and To The Wonder bears this out even more so than his previous work. The majority of critics have been particularly harsh in their assessment of the film. But the film does have its admirers.
Terrence Malick has a sensibility that is truly unique in today's 21st Century era of moviemaking. It's something I can't put into words because to write about his art is frustrating. The reward is in the seeing. I think he's a genius director, on a par with Stanley Kubrick and a few other legendary directors.