It takes a good deal of time, and a great deal of patience, to figure out what, if anything, Terrence Malick is up to in "To the Wonder," his sixth feature film and first since the brilliant if polarizing "Tree of Life."
His latest method seems to be about making a movie by implication -- tossing out beautiful images, spurts of dialogue, steppingstones of a narrative journey, suggesting details rather than actually providing them and allowing the audience to fill in the stuff that we usually call storytelling. It's been done before. It's called a movie trailer.
In this case, "To the Wonder" is a trailer for itself, although it could be mistaken for a high-end perfume commercial, especially when the beautiful Marina (Olga Kurylenko) starts waxing romantic. "Love makes us one," she says of Neil (Ben Affleck), when they visit Mont Saint-Michel in France, and then relocate with Marina's daughter (Tatiana Chiline) to Oklahoma, where Marina, without much ado at all, becomes hostile and dissatisfied and moves back to Paris.
It's unclear whether she does so before or after Neil takes up with Jane (Rachel McAdams), although their liaison is inexplicably short-lived, which is OK since McAdams has almost nothing to do. Kurylenko is fine, even though her dialogue is consistently, bewilderingly trite; Affleck hasn't cast this many meaningful looks toward the sky since "Pearl Harbor."
The only aspect of any substance to "To The Wonder" is the subplot about a priest played by Javier Bardem, who can do more with the back of his head than the rest of the cast can on their best day. He ministers to a clientele of alcoholic felons and demented derelicts, all of whom make Neil and Marina look even more self-absorbed and silly than they already do, and they don't really need the help.
PLOT Couple moves from Paris to Oklahoma, where loves goes sweeping down the plain. We could have told them.
RATING R (some sexuality, nudity)
BOTTOM LINE Terrence Malick, making audiences work harder, for much less