Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. I haven’t written “Reel Christianity” all summer. Sure, there have been posts, but I wrote them all last semester and set them to post themselves. You can do that on this website, it’s pretty awesome. But bottom line, my mind has been far from this blog this summer as I’ve spent time at home, gone on a mission trip to Medellin, Colombia, and worked on the media team for a Christian summer camp in Ohio. It’s been busy, but it’s been awesome, and now I’m back and ready to finish out the year on “Reel Christianity”.
That said, I’m going to spend the rest of this month writing about movies that I saw for the first time this summer. Since I was away for most of the summer, I didn’t see as many as I have in past summers. Last year over summer break, I saw close to sixty movies for the first time. This summer, I saw… I don’t know, a couple dozen or so. Which I guess is still a lot, but for me, that’s slacking. But one of the movies I got to see was one I’ve wanted to see before “Reel Christianity” finished, because since I’ve reviewed all the other films of Terrence Malick, I wanted to keep that going.
So here it is: “To the Wonder”. This is not only Malick’s shortest time between making films (this was released not even two years after “The Tree of Life”), but at two hours, this is also his shortest film, and it’s his only film set in the present day. It’s also his worst reviewed film to date, which I guess I can understand because it’s not as powerful as some of his other work, but I personally thought this was better than “The New World”. There’s some thought-provoking stuff in this movie, as people ask (in trademark Terrence Malick narration) about God’s existence, his divine love, and how they’re supposed to live that out on this earth.
We see these questions explored through our main characters, a lover (Ben Affleck) and his beloved (Olga Kurylenko), who have names but I won’t mention them because, heck, I can’t think of whether or not their real names were ever spoken in the film. But the woman is living in Paris with her daughter from another marriage, and the man is there for… school or something, and when we meet them on a subway in the beginning of the film, they’re already in love, and the man asks her and her daughter if they want to move to the United States with him.
So all of them move to his home in Oklahoma, but after what seems to be only a few months (maybe even less than that), the man and woman realize that their love now has changed since Paris. They bicker and argue, often ending in physical fighting, and the daughter (Tatiana Chiline), having no friends at her new school, takes her frustration out on the man, shouting that he is not her real father. It’s a frustrating time for them, and it’s honestly frustrating to watch in the film. I personally benefited from not knowing the characters’ names—I think if you’re not really given those names in a film, those characters become everymen, and you can maybe identify with them more closely. Maybe that’s just me.
Eventually, however, the woman and daughter move back to Europe after their visas expire, leaving the man alone in his home. During this time of separation, the man encounters an old flame (Rachel McAdams) that takes his former beloved’s place for a time. But when he finds out his beloved needs help financially, the man puts his new beloved aside and goes back to Paris, bringing the woman back to Oklahoma eventually for a civil union.
Now that they’re married, however, their relationship does not in fact get better. One day, the woman meets a local carpenter, and they have a brief affair. When the woman finally confesses it to her husband as they drive down a road, he gets angry and forces her out of the car, leaving her stranded until he eventually turns around and picks her up. After a time of the husband talking to a priest (Javier Bardem) about his situation, he comes to a place where he can forgive his wife, but they decide to divorce in the end, with the woman keeping her husband’s name. The very end shows a dream-like setting where we see the man with a new family and the woman standing before Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, a place where she and her lover visited at the beginning of the film, her calling it “the wonder”, from which the film gets its title.
Now, through all this, we see much more footage of the priest in his own crisis of faith, which doesn’t seem to connect to the main narrative of the couple until the end of the film when he and the husband talk. But we see him preach, hear confessions, and minister to people in the local community. And of course, we hear some of his preaching as narration underneath it all:
PRIEST: Jesus insists on choice. …To choose is to commit yourself. And to commit yourself… is to run the risk of failure, the risk of sin, the risk of betrayal. But Jesus can deal with all of those. Forgiveness he never denies us. The man who makes a mistake can repent. But the man who hesitates, who does nothing, who buries his talent in the earth, with him he can do nothing.
The priest goes on to preach on love being a command: “You shall love, whether you like it or not.” In a way, that message speaks for itself. Jesus tells us several times in Scripture such as Matthew 5 to love our enemies, and the Apostle Paul writes more explicitly about love in marriage in Ephesians 5. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (5:22), and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (5:25)
But is that kind of love easy? Absolutely not. And we see that evidenced in the fallen-apart relationship of this couple in “To the Wonder”. Is it possible? As crazy as it sounds, yes. And whether you’re married or single, we all have a chance to love others as Christ loved us. We cannot let our relationships be governed by our own desires or what we can gain for ourselves. I can say from experience that those relationships will end hard. But if the love of Jesus is pouring out from us as we love others, that is the kind of love that will change the world. And my prayer for you today is that you would choose to love like that.