To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

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karmajuice
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#101 Post by karmajuice » Sun Apr 14, 2013 4:41 am

This digression is getting a little absurd. I never said all of the non-coastal states are the same, nor did I intend to distract from domino's query regarding Oklahoma. Certainly the landscape, climate, and culture vary from state to state; this holds true even within a state's borders. I merely said that I recognized much of what is depicted in the film, and I am someone who has spent a negligible amount of time in Oklahoma (probably less than a day, we're talking hours). I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, a state more culturally diverse than most with its multicultural history, and my family lived in the historic district, full of very distinctive antebellum homes. But we had a Sonic in our hometown, and I spent a lot of time around similar housing developments, fences, and shotgun houses. I think those are pretty widespread in America, even in the coastal states, and it's something a lot of people can identify with, to some degree. I merely meant that the setting resembled places I have known, not that all these places were necessarily identical. I agreed with domino about Malick managing to evoke something true and vivid from that setting, one which in some ways feels familiar to me and my Oklahoma-less experiences.

Ergo I cannot contribute to the discussion regarding Oklahoma specifically, but the depiction still resonated with me because Oklahoma is not entirely different from the rest of the United States.


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Jeff
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#103 Post by Jeff » Sun Apr 14, 2013 11:29 pm

domino harvey wrote:Malick captures the physicality of Oklahoma in a way that feels truer and more accurate than anything I've seen prior. From Sonic to the night sounds to even the fences between houses, Malick "gets" the state and what such flat clarity does to a person.
This. Couldn't have said it better myself. This was the best part of the film for me, eliciting a teary nostalgia for no reason in particular.

Kurylenko is enchanting, and I was completely absorbed by the first half of the film. The parallels between Bardem and Kurylenko searching for cures to their emptiness and loneliness seem somewhat tenuous, and it eventually began to get a bit too fragmented for me, even though I'm still in the thumbs-up column. More than any other Malick film, I desperately want to see all the stuff that was cut. For me, it's his sixth-best film, but has so many beautiful moments that will resonate with me for a long time.

karmajuice
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#104 Post by karmajuice » Sun Apr 14, 2013 11:48 pm

To the Wonder: “I write on water the things I dare not speak”

An article I just read which has completely altered my perspective on the film, in its favor. It's very short and well worth reading. It reinforces my line of thought from earlier, runs with it, and makes a convincing argument. The premise it proposes is so simple and concise it feels like it should have been self-evident.

I really want to see the film again, now.


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Jeff
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#106 Post by Jeff » Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:01 am

That is indeed a very intriguing piece. Makes me want to watch it again right now.

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repeat
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#107 Post by repeat » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:07 am

Now that's a beautiful example of what I call useful criticism, I've had that happen a number of times - you see something, don't think that much of it, then happen to read something that opens up an angle you never thought of and suddenly you can access the work on a wholly new and satisfying level. Incidentally I was just reading the Robert Altman Interviews yesterday and this thought really summed up my gut feeling about criticism:
Robert Altman wrote:I think the critic did what a critic is supposed to do. In the body of the review he said, Don't go in expecting this, but if you look at it in this manner you will have one hell of a time. So he's helping to lead the audience toward really enjoying the film.
I've always thought that if a critic can't offer that sort of insight, they probably shouldn't be writing at all. Thanks for the link - I'm skeptical about Malick, but sufficiently intrigued now to go and see this when it opens here in a couple of weeks (skipped an early premiere last week out of disinterest)

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warren oates
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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#108 Post by warren oates » Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:20 pm

I agree with karmajuice. And I think I knew what he meant before all the huffy elaboration ensued.

My s.o. is from Sacramento, California and many of the locations/landscapes in the film wouldn't be out of place there either. Especially the half-finished exurban housing development, the strip malls, motel chains, big box stores and even some of the industrial adjacent locales and poorer 'hoods. There's a universality alongside the specificity of many of the images that Malick captures, much as there was in his visual approach to The Tree of Life. And for me this is also the most successful and interesting aspect of To the Wonder, the way in which it seems to extend Malick's religious and poetic sensibility to the contemporary places so many of us live in now.

If the film is about anything more than its delight in movement and choreography, for me it’s about the remystification of the everyday world. Malick is an authentic American mystic in the vein of Emerson and Whitman, and all of them take on faith that the hand of God is visible in every aspect of creation. Immanence is easier said than done, though, especially in the dirty, crowded ugly modern moment, where man is divorced from nature and the profit motive is the only limit on just how hideous and constraining and all pervasive our built environment will be.

It's one thing to capture the beauty in the City of Light or the Mont Saint-Michel. But to show us, as it were, the wonder in the patterns of light inside a mindlessly constructed McMansion that's younger than the ten-year old who's just moved there. To give us a steadicam shot following “dancers” down an aisle of a Costco/Target/Walmart as exuberant as the one in Sokurov’s Hermitage-set Russian Ark. To convey a feeling of holy timelessness in the present, contemporary moment without the patina of nostalgia or decades of history, outside the conventions of a period piece. That's a very particular achievement. And it's so good in To the Wonder that I wish he had jettisoned the pretense of narrative altogether and just given us a more radically experimental/poetic documentary about bodies moving through places.

That said, given the narrative the film presents us, I wish Affleck/Neil weren't such a cipher. And I wish Javier Bardem's priest character in particular had been afforded a deeper exploration of his role. The problem he has is a fascinating one, especially for someone like Malick, a true believer who sees God in every present moment of creation and yet also intensely feels the silence and remoteness of God and the mystery of his plan for the world. Bardem has the same dilemma Mother Teresa admitted to in her diary — wanting to believe and yet being secretly unable too, yet despite any doubts serving in the name of God and comforting the downtrodden by invoking a presence and a love he/she cannot feel. But Bardem just kept dancing around this issue instead of fully experiencing it.

Thematically, the film could have explored similar territory in the love stories. About the idea of being in love with love, or of acting on feelings you’d like to be having instead of the ones you are. Or of sustaining a love that’s gone cold/fallow by perhaps literally faking it until you re-make it? Bardem mentions something like this at one point with the Marina, but the idea remains undeveloped.

There’s also way too much coming and going, moving house, etc. without enough impact on the characters. Each one of these location changes should matter way more to all of the characters and the story as a whole -- at least if the film is going to stay so ostensibly narrative. The daughter comes and goes, Neil moves 2-3 times. The Econolodge affair happens with Skinny Pete. The weird Italian friend comes to shake her out of a complacency that, at that point in the film, she doesn't seem to have anymore. But none of it means enough to any of the characters to add up to much in the way of drama/story.

Still, to watch Malick make what amounts to an almost personal/experimental documentary about his figures dancing through the everyday American places we live in now feels like a privilege to me. I’m glad he’s allowing himself to keep making more films faster and to continue to push forward with experiments in camera movement, editing and film grammar.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#109 Post by John Cope » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:02 pm

Okay, well, saw this at last and have had some time to reflect upon it. However, having said that, the one thing that comes most prominently to mind is that this period of reflection is not nearly enough and that, more than with most things, whatever initial observations or insights I may have about the film at this point are totally conditional, totally provisional. So take this with the proverbial salt grain.

My initial take away on this first pass is that it is an undeniably impressive and admirable accomplishment, impressive for its successes and admirable simply for its ambition. But I also quite genuinely think that it's far too ealry to tell just how successful this ultimately is and that's because what it is doing and how it's doing that makes such assesments very difficul. I kept thinking about Days of Heaven throughout and, on occasion, thinking that I prefer it, I prefer that original template to where it's gone and how Malick's developed it since. But that's also because Heaven is a much more classical, conventionally familiar sort of narrative, however sublime the details and implications may be. The form is less immediately chalenging and it's therefore easier to see its success. Though Wonder is in certain respects even more simple a narrative it's the form that throws things off. It certainly comes across as a fulfillment of that very particular stylistic development that did begin back with Heaven.

What's interesting to me about that is what that implies for us in terms of our engagement with it. For instance, I definitely detect a development in the way that Malick treats the people in the larger community, those outside whatever nuclear group he is examining. I'm not sure exactly what to make of that yet but there is something there in respect to the drifting, loosely knit hordes of people on the periphery of scenes, almost fencing in the main characters. Similarly there's a refinement to the use of the voice over, from the faux naive early uses to a more sophisticated attempt at expressing a grasping philosophy through that lens (in Thin Red Line) to the deeply internalized prayers we have had since New World. I love that but I'm not sure how much further Malick can go with it or how wide its applicability is. And, to be honest, the constant gliding, tilting, unhinged camera movement gets on my nerves finally in Wonder (far more than Kurylenko's twirling). Obviously I get its relevance to this piece both in terms of replicating or depicting an unmoored state but also that state in collision with the alternate but corresponding romantic swoon. So I get it but I still got real weary of it (full confession: I wasn't crazy about the endless sweeping, swooning in Tree of Life either; there it's less justifiable though I'm sure the justification would be the drifting tilt of memory). I have the same issue with Affleck actually, in that I suspect his whole lumbering stoicism thing here, though effective in starts and fits, may be a touch overdone. But that criticism makes my point as I think that if Malick is pursuing some new cinematic form that more accurately follows the guidlelines of both poetry and symphonic orchestration then we are going to have to start assessing the effectiveness of his choices using that kind of a paradigm to determine their success (accents, motifs, pure rhythm and rhyme, etc.).

Dylan has some especially salient points that kind of go toward this I think.
Dylan wrote:It seems to me that when the characters themselves come to a halt and start to meander and suffer emotionally, the film also halts and meanders with a portrayal of emotional suffering. I think this is intentional on Malick's part, but I'm still trying to understand it.
Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I mean. The "meandering" element has an effect on rhythm and that, in this case, seems a most significant aspect.
Dylan wrote:
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Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem are both very good, but those parts confound me the greatest & I perhaps wish that either both roles should've been left on the cutting room floor or used in another movie (and it does sound like Malick shot enough material to get two movies out of it). The McAdams section mostly because I felt that showing what Affleck does after he and Kurylenko break up was less interesting as he was more or less a roaming void on the screen to begin with (a testament to what Ebert called Malick's "Bressonian" directing of actors) and it was difficult for me - having invested a good deal into this film at that point - to watch the most icy character essentially mess up another woman's life while the two characters I cared about (the mother and daughter) left the film entirely. But with that said, the McAdams scenes in and of themselves are amazing to watch, and I'm glad we have them, but I'm not sure how they work in the film.

My real disconnect, however, was pretty much everything with Javier Bardem. I believe I understand the point of his character & that the absence of love in his life is contrasting with those who had love and are losing it (or what have you), and I can appreciate his occasional appearance (mostly because he's always such a great presence), but there's a long section toward the end of the film that follows him visiting prisoners, the mentally ill, and those seeking faith, that I just wasn't sure what to make of. Is it that Bardem's only way to act out or express love is to offer comfort and/or salvation to those in need? And I couldn't wrap my mind around why Affleck silently follows him around for some of those scenes - is Bardem taking him around to these people in an attempt to show Affleck how a priest like him sees/feels love? In any case, I haven't been able to wrap my head around that section. But maybe another viewing will put it in place for me.

Kurylenko has maybe 9/10 of the narration, and the film ends on her, and I feel like perhaps it shouldn't have departed from her point of view. Then again, perhaps there's more to the Bardem/McAdams interludes than I got from this viewing. Maybe, on some level, the film never really leaves Kurylenko's point of view.
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Once again, a dead on observation as to what, working on an elemental level, may be wrong with this picture if indeed something is wrong. And I don't know either but I think you've isolated something here that is very crucial and important. Thin Red Line for obvious reasons was much better able to accommodate a multitude of voices, though partially because their uniquely subjective perspectives were played down. Days of Heaven could accommodate Manz's subjectivity because that film offered up a familiar classical cinema context with all the attached directorial omniscience implied. Tree of Life, too, has the cosmic context. But the shifts in Wonder are less easily accommodated, less easily managed. I don't think that capsizes the entire boat and I don't think we need to hope for some perfect balance but the issue is nonethess a hugley important one as it has far more significant impact on the effectiveness of the overall piece than has been generally acknowledged. I actually think the Bardem stuff ultimately does work but there were certainly times when I wondered whether it did. It's the cumulative nature of that which carries it off I think. Shifting away so drastically from the seeming concentration on Kurylenko is more problematic and gives rise again to those questions regarding effective rhythm and placement to which I alluded earlier.
Still, I'm especially impressed by the religious dimension in Malick becasue of how adroitly it's handled, how tenuously it all seems to be connected and yet how assuredly right that is, allowing for a gradual permeating of the text (the opposite of the poisoned soil Affleck is seeking?) at an oblique side angle, saturating it through an understated interlacing.
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The friend with whom I saw the film wondered as to the pertinence of the last shot but I think it's crucial and its implications, though legion, are clear and direct enough. It's also an appropriately epiphanic moment, observed as such, not just by the "unjustified" light on Kurylenko's face in the proceeding shot but with the briefness of the image as well, the short moment it manages to be sustained (and the dankness of it--it may be representative of an ideal but one that is ideal because it somehow manages to exist amidst a foreboding, forbidding landscape, not in denial of that). It does also confirm to me that I was right about the poster artwork. Should have definitely been that last shot (and not just because I'm a MSM fetishist); it's just so apt.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#110 Post by pzadvance » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:09 pm

warren oates wrote:And for me this is also the most successful and interesting aspect of To the Wonder, the way in which it seems to extend Malick's religious and poetic sensibility to the contemporary places so many of us live in now.
Completely on board with this, and for me this was the key to understanding the central aims of this film. Each of Malick's previous works has been concerned with the reclamation of or yearning for a lost paradise. Badlands with its characters' retreat into nature, Days of Heaven's very title and general approach to the landscape, The Thin Red Line's juxtaposition of war with the beauty of the environment and the harmonious culture of the natives, The New World's almost fetishistic celebration of the Indians' way of life, and--most overtly, perhaps--Tree of Life's cosmic obsession with the origins of things.

To The Wonder feels like the first film of his to actually sit still and exist in the now. The characters live in the contemporary world, of course, but unlike Sean Penn's wandering whisperer from ToL, they have no escape from the present, and are forced to reckon with it as best they can. They're every bit as restless and seemingly out of touch with their environments as, say, Witt in TTRL or John Smith in TNW, only they lack the opportunity to strip themselves of that context.

This, to my mind, accounts for their difficulty connecting to those around them--confusions and complications arise from a disassociation with the natural world and all the qualities Malick thinks it embodies: love, spirituality, God itself. The modern world intrudes on their relationships and keeps them from achieving any sort of harmony--think of the scene at the Sonic drive-in when Kurylenko tries to confess her infidelity to Affleck as the pestering service worker keeps piping in and interrupting over the intercom.

I also loved the specificity of the Oklahoma culture as depicted through Malick/Lubezki's lens. Far from exploitative or condescending I found the images of the less well-off inhabitants to be heartfelt and inspired and felt totally new for a Malick film. They only reinforced this idea that he is done looking to the past for solace and is instead attempting to wrestle with the issues of a modern world, with its crumbling economy and its victims who experiences loss and suffering and heartache all the more for their inability to escape it.
Last edited by pzadvance on Tue Apr 16, 2013 9:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#112 Post by rs98762001 » Sun Apr 21, 2013 6:25 pm

As someone who is not especially religious, I'm still trying to figure out why I was so moved by Bardem's final monologue (the "Christ before me" part).

The film is flawed and even tedious at times, but still so damn haunting. Malick sure knows how to build his films up to devastating endings. Well, except for all that hugging on the beach crap in Tree of Life.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#113 Post by aox » Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:18 pm

I know this will come off as smug, but I swore to myself that I would never view another Malick film (Days of Heaven is his only film that I adored). Then he goes and makes a film set in my home state. I'll see this tonight. ](*,)

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#114 Post by aox » Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:57 am

Just some quick thoughts, as I don't have a ton of time to write a well-organized elegant essay as many of you do.

My post above is of course silly, but I took this in last night with very low expectations. As a native Okie, I was curious about how Malick would depict the state and if he could make it beautiful. Oklahoma, IMO, is perhaps the least aesthetically pleasing state out of the 50 in terms of landscape and fauna. I was pleasantly surprised and blown away by this film. I find it to be his first post-Thin Red Line to be truly anchored while simultaneously atmospheric; yet, not emotionally hollow as I have found his post-Days of Heaven films. As stated by the poster above, I was surprised that his depiction of Okie culture was not condescending or reductive (though the woman watering her backyard seemed to get close). He really nailed the feeling of the state. What amazed me was that he went after all 'types' of Oklahoma. We see the pre-Depression housing, post-war, art deco, etc...

Oklahoma is a newer state (est. 1907). It was a piece of land that was never valued for anything and was left behind as the country moved west in the 19th century. To emphasize this point, Oklahoma was one of the few things that the United States government ever gave the Native American people as President Jackson infamously relocated entire tribes to this "worthless" land in the Trail of Tears. It wasn't until we discovered oil that we said, "Yeah, we're going to need that back." Cue the Land Run of 1889. Because of this, there is an awkward undercurrent to the culture of Oklahoma in terms of identity. It fought both sides of the Civil War for example. It doesn't have the stubborn confidence of Texas; it isn't quite the southwest; it doesn't have the mountain culture of Colorado; though the US census claims OK is the south, OK is largely refused among southerners as being a legit southern state; OK is far to "southern" to claim the mid-west/plains. Having grown up there, I can state that my impression is that OK just doesn't feel confident in its place. Using OK as a backdrop to this story is absolutely brilliant IMO now that I have seen the film. It fits his themes perfectly. So, Malick visits all periods of post-1907 OK with all of the different homes he visits. OK experienced the oil boom in the 1910s and 1920s that brought in a lot of money until the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. This construction of the state would last up until the late 60s. Though, Oklahoma was a hotbed for Socialism (particularly in the Witchita Mountains), most of this contingent would flee to California during the Dust Bowl (e.g. Woody Guthrie) leaving a staunchly conservative population that would build the state using millions of Federal dollars designated by the New Deal. Millions of trees would be planted across the state to prevent another Dust Bowl. The tract housing of the past 20 years, beautifully shown by Malick, has unfortunately discontinued this proven plan and trees are no longer a priority. Oklahoma IMO is somewhat regressive, and I really would love to hear Malick's thoughts on OK's history and how it relates to his film.

As others have pointed out, I loved how this film was essentially a silent film and there were so many excellent examples of "showing, not telling" on display here. The meandering and twirling was a bit much at times, but every time I started to get lost, Malick would hit a narrative bell and suck me back in.

Malick got one thing wrong here though that I quickly want to point out: the laundry mat. This really floored me. At this point in the film, our two characters live in a newly build planned community and those houses depending on where they are in the state go for $150,000 and up. There isn't a single one of them (yeah, I feel that confident) that isn't constructed without a laundry room with a washer and dryer. At this point in construction currently in OK, a laundry room is as essential as a kitchen and this scene completely perplexed me given the apparent research, grasping, and understanding of the state by Malick. Our characters would not need a laundry mat.

Sorry for the rambling and reductionist history lesson above, but this was a great film. And I am excited for once to really have felt an impact by such a beloved director that I just have always been cold on.

EDIT: spelling
Last edited by aox on Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#115 Post by domino harvey » Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:38 pm

The laundry mat scene gave me pause as well, but I figured that since Affleck seemed to barely occupy the readymade house and though as the film progresses the furniture gradually increases it remains still pretty barren, it struck me as just an item that Affleck would drag his heels to procure if it wasn't already in the house.

Good write-up of Oklahoma, btw. The state's history is fascinating, especially its socialist years-- the Oklahoma flag used to be a socialist flag and the state actually gave its electoral votes to the socialist candidate for President at least once. The state's also had a tricky relationship with race, with the state housing the unofficial black capital of America until the Tulsa Race Riot, with the majority of colored persons migrating afterwards. The divide between the haves and have nots seems to have gotten far more pronounced in the last ten years too, with white flight forming increasingly more and more high crime and destitute areas within the suburbs.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#116 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:02 pm

Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#117 Post by aox » Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:07 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)
Well, that is embarrassing. I thought I had lost all of my Okie-isms a decade ago. #-o It's not a word I have typed out in a long time. Good catch.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#118 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:34 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)
Googling finds this term showing up in a few places inthe Northeast -- like Groton, Ct and Albany, NY -- as well as at least one in Tulsa. Plenty of self-service laundries in the Tulsa area, at least.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#119 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:39 pm

aox wrote:
mfunk9786 wrote:Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)
Well, that is embarrassing. I thought I had lost all of my Okie-isms a decade ago. #-o It's not a word I have typed out in a long time. Good catch.
Didn't mean to embarrass anyone, was just curious after two native OKs typed it out in a row!

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#120 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:05 pm

Pretty sure Laundry Mat is used in Canada,

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#121 Post by jwd5275 » Tue Apr 23, 2013 5:19 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
mfunk9786 wrote:Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)
Googling finds this term showing up in a few places inthe Northeast -- like Groton, Ct and Albany, NY -- as well as at least one in Tulsa. Plenty of self-service laundries in the Tulsa area, at least.
A state populated by dust bowl refugees, most native Californians pronounce it "laundry mat" too.

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Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#122 Post by Emak-Bakia » Fri May 03, 2013 1:33 pm

I finally caught this last night. It’s too soon for me to formulate any sort of strong opinion on it, but there were definitely moments that stood out to me. I find it really interesting that there’s so much discussion about the location of Oklahoma (thanks to aox and domino for the history.) I’ve never visited the state, but much of the imagery seemed familiar to me (or at least the feelings it evoked) from my limited time in the mid-west and even from my native state of Pennsylvania.
domino harvey wrote:But what's ultimately the draw here for me, and I'm interested to hear about the film from the OK Contingent, is how Malick captures the physicality of Oklahoma in a way that feels truer and more accurate than anything I've seen prior. From Sonic to the night sounds to even the fences between houses, Malick "gets" the state and what such flat clarity does to a person. I have no idea how well this sort of thing transfers to a non-Okie but how lovely that a successful attempt has been made to relate it to a larger audience.
Domino, I was wondering if you could write about this “flat clarity” a bit more. Specifically, am I to understand that you feel that Malick portrayed Oklahoma in a positive light? If so, that’s interesting, because I felt that the setting created an overwhelmingly bleak mood that still lingers with me. The development of uniform houses, quickly and mechanically constructed without any care for craftsmanship is probably familiar to any American who has ever been outside of a major city. This is the setting for a large portion of the film. There is a definite feeling of restlessness to the entire film – in the way the camera constantly moves in even the briefest of shots and in the way Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) are repeatedly seen entering and exiting the suffocating environment of their house even if to just mill around the yard.

There seems to be this constant yearning for freedom (physically and spiritually). We see it constantly in the way the sunlight penetrating the windows creates beautiful patterns on the sterile interiors. There’s at least one moment in which Marina lies like a cat on the floor in a sunspot, soaking up the invigorating rays. We see it in the way that she looks at birds and when she holds her hand up to the sun. We see it when Javier Bardem’s priest character feels the warmth of the sun against a stained-glass window. There are many other examples.

It would seem natural that the characters could shake this listlessness by just getting out of the house, but the alternatives aren’t much more exciting. We see escape through consumerism in the artificially lit, sterile supermarket, in the dingy appliance store, in the Sonic drive-through, and on the highways filled with tractor trailers brandishing the logos of Target and other major retailers.

The highways, in particular, are of interest to me for what they are supposed to represent to mythical American culture, which is physical freedom. In reality (and in To the Wonder), they are often desolate places lined with an endless wall of bland outlet malls and fast food restaurants. There’s one particular shot (the context of which I don’t recall) of Marina alongside a highway with no other human in sight, the passing (seemingly driver-less) cars creating a steady roar, that really seemed to me to me to capture this feeling in just a few brief seconds.
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Similarly, there’s the scene after Marina confesses her infidelity and Ben dumps her on the side of a country road. On paper, this seems like a moment of absolute freedom, but this is not Chaplin’s open road. Instead it’s a frightening experience as she’s got nowhere to go.
The only gasps of freedom in Oklahoma come in the brief moments frolicking in the fields – moments that, to my mind, were instantly tied to images from Days of Heaven and City Girl. Overall, I thought To the Wonder seemed like the flipside to much of Malick’s previous work. In addition to the Days of Heaven quotes, there were many other moments that I thought could have come straight out of Tree of Life (which, as noted upthread, is cited in the credits for footage). In particular, there was one shot on a tree-lined street of the back of a boy’s head. I thought for sure this boy would turn around and be Jack from Tree of Life. To the Wonder is different from either of these films, though, because it’s not set in a nostalgic past, but in the forlorn reality of the present day.

My reaction is obviously a very personal one, but these sorts of moods tend to be the things that stick with me most about movies. I sense that To the Wonder will be a place I’ll be revisiting.

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Black Hat
Joined: Thu Nov 24, 2011 5:34 pm
Location: NYC

Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#123 Post by Black Hat » Sat May 04, 2013 2:02 am

rs98762001 wrote:As someone who is not especially religious, I'm still trying to figure out why I was so moved by Bardem's final monologue (the "Christ before me" part).
Phew, glad I'm not the only one because I'm one of those obnoxious God is for dummies types but that monologue cut me deep. The best I've been able to come up with is that it's not about whether or not you're religious, partly because for most of the film Bardem is questioning his faith, bordering even on denouncing it. I think it's about all of us do believe in something, even if it's nothing, you still believe in that and it's this belief that stands before us, beneath us, with us and so forth. In Bardem's case that's Christ but it doesn't have to be for us. What moved us is being able to relate to the feeling or should I say a peace that believing in something brings us and how that becomes stronger especially when we question it.

bdlover
Joined: Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#124 Post by bdlover » Sat May 04, 2013 2:34 am

mfunk9786 wrote:Linguistics question: Is "laundry mat" an Oklahoma thing? I always thought it was "laundromat" everywhere in the English speaking world (or at least the United States)
Actually, the correct English noun would be "laundrette". :wink:

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wigwam
Joined: Mon May 07, 2012 11:30 am

Re: To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2013)

#125 Post by wigwam » Sat May 04, 2013 4:21 pm

I don't even recall a laundromat in this, are you talking about the appliance store they go to?

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