Conditions of Enjoyment

wonder

I am about to absolve you of something. Are you ready? It’s OK if you don’t like “To the Wonder.” The film, which opened last week, was directed by Terrence Malick, who also directed “The Thin Red Line” and 2011’s “The Tree of Life.” His films tend to be very meditative (which can be code for “slow”) while pushing the boundaries of narrative cinema (which can be code for “weird”).

“To the Wonder,” for example, is kind of about a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who falls in love with a man (Ben Affleck), moves to Oklahoma with him, decides Oklahoma sucks, the end. Also there’s Javier Bardem as a priest.

Some people will go see it because “Hey! Ben Affleck! In what is apparently a romance!” And they’ll sit in the theater and watch Kurylenko frolic in various fields and they’ll walk out feeling either angry because they thought they were getting a rom-com or stupid because, seriously, who makes a film with so much frolicking?

I know this because I’ve been there. My overarching memories of graduate school are of “experimental” cinema and desperately wishing we could watch something with a plot. Other students would discuss which obscure film they saw that weekend, while I wondered if I was the only one who went to see “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.”

Malick’s films aren’t technically experimental — though he does live on the outskirts of that neighborhood — and I think what he does, he does well. But not liking his films, or preferring more conventional films, does not make you a cinematic rube. Like what you like; life is too short to pretend to enjoy a film just because you’re supposed to.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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