Daimon Linker raises an important question for critics writing about Terrence Malick’s films at: http://theweek.com/article/index/243353/terrence-malicks-moving-christian-message-mdash-and-film-critics-failure-to-engage-with-it

Whatever one thinks of Linker’s conclusions, his challenge to critics reflecting on Malick’s “To The Wonder” should be heeded by every honest film commentator:

Humanity was made for God. And he is present all around us — in the transfiguring, wondrous joy of romantic love, in self-giving sacrifice, in our suffering and the suffering of others, in the charity we offer to those in pain, in the resplendent beauty of the natural world — if only we open our eyes to see him. That, it seems, is Terrence Malick’s scandalous message.

Take it or leave it. Be moved by it or dismiss it as mystical nonsense. But please, recognize it for what it is: an ecstatic cinematic tribute to God.

The bewilderment and even derision many critics exhibit towards Malick’s artistic expression may well be attributable to their inability to see the depths of faith, mystery, and beauty Malick persists in struggling to articulate.

Malick plies his craft in a world that, for many people, is utterly incomprehensible, even nonsensical. The profound world of faith Malick is exploring in his films is foreign territory for many critics. It is no wonder his films cause bewilderment. Where the language of faith is not spoken, it is impossible to enter Malick’s cinematic universe.

But, when the viewer’s heart is open to the subtle stirring of the deep mystery that permeates life as Malick views it, his films will resonate with profound power.

Like most of life, Malick’s films only begin to release their riches after multiple encounters. Malick seems to understand that life does not come with an easy to follow a-b-c instruction manual for simple assembly. The riches of life are not easily surrendered up to a superficial encounter.

The words in Malick’s films are often difficult to discern. The action seldom proceeds in a straightforward linear manner. Malick hints and suggests rather than announcing and declaring. This is the world we actually inhabit, even if it is not the world we wish to live in.

In order to allow one of Malick’s films to truly do its work, the viewer must be willing to navigate by feel and intuition, rather than superficial logic and simplistic reason. Malick is always drawing the viewer to open more deeply to the mystery and wonder of life. His films, like so much of life, are often demanding. But, for those willing to do the work, Malick’s films suddenly burst forth with moments of blazing grace and blinding beauty.

Malick is not primarily interested in entertaining. His agenda is much more profound than offering a few minutes of escapist anesthetic in the midst of the painful realities of life.

Cinema-goers who are willing to follow Malick’s project will find they return to the world outside the theatre charged with a new ability to see the deep realities that permeate all of life for those with hearts to perceive. Those who open to Malick’s magic, will find they experience a renewed sensitivity to the child-like wonder that is the rich gift of a world filled with beauty and hidden mystery. This may be for many a task that goes beyond their desire for ninety minutes of moving-going distraction. But people who desire to open more deeply to the mystery of faith, will applaud Malick’s faithful attempts to usher us into a deeper awareness of the beauty and truth he consistently portrays permeating all of life.


Any number of examples could be cited to illustrate the critical ability to miss Malick’s point.. One of the most stunning would have to be Ken Eisner’s contention that in “To The Wonder”,

We never go beneath the surface, partially because the film’s languorous montages have ponderous classical music in the place of real-time dialogue. A rare exception finds another woman (Romina Mondello) suddenly hectoring our expat in Italian—which she answers in French. Quirky, yes, but just part of the parade of indulgent acting-class rituals.


The critic’s inability, or unwillingness, to “go beneath the surface” should surely not be blamed upon one of the few film maker’s at work today whose primary goal seems to be precisely to “go beneath the surface”.