Sometimes I believe in fate.
— John Gruber of Daring Fireball on To the Wonder being the last review of Roger Ebert, published two days after his death.
That it was this film, and not something more banal — say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VI, or The Avengers Chapter XVI: Cataclysm of the Abominable Silver Snow-Surfer — that it was this film must be seen as more than coincidence. Yes, fate.
And it happens I agree entirely with Ebert, who bestowed 3 1/2 of 4 stars on To the Wonder. So I will defer to him. But first my two bits: To the Wonder is quite unique. I was trying to peg it as something like an Iñárritu-made cross between The Loneliest Planet and Blue Valentine, but that doesn’t quite work. The narrative style — as Ebert wrote:
Although it uses dialogue, it’s dreamy and half-heard, and essentially this could be a silent film — silent, except for its mostly melancholy music.
— this style I’ve never quite seen before — never used throughout an entire film. It’s a style that turned a lot of audiences and critics away. Storytelling many found too oblique. I mused on this, and feel that more conventional dialogue-driven action could have told the story in a stronger way — but that would be an entirely different film, and not necessarily for the better.
That’s because To the Wonder is full of lyrical beauty, with a strong yet ambiguous story at its heart. It’s open to interpretation, and that’s not a bad thing in movies. Ebert’s final review so aptly — for this movie and his life — concludes:
Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?
There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.