Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Terrence Malick's Beatific Vision cont'd

Last night I finally had a chance to watch Malick's latest movie To the Wonder (2012). If you're not a fan of Malick's fragmentary non-narrative style then this isn't for you. If you didn't like The Tree of Life (2011) you will hate this. Actually the two films form a pair. As if to make this explicit Malick includes a brief bit of footage from the earlier picture in To the Wonder, so brief that I missed it but it said so in the credits! Theological and philosophical ideas that were hinted at in The Tree of Life are explored more directly here. I don't have time to do a proper review -- and honestly one can only form first impressions on the initial viewing of any Malick film -- but this is nothing less than a continuation of the beatific vision that shows up in one form or another in all of his work, but especially so in the final pages of The Tree of Life.

Yet here that vision takes on an earthiness, a this-worldness, as explored via the character of Father Quintana (played by Javier Bardem), a priest walking through the valley of the shadow of doubt, yearning for a glimpse of heaven in the midst of the suffering and failure he witnesses all around him. Malick allows us to see that -- paradoxically perhaps -- the God that remains hidden to Father Quintana is strikingly evident in his life as he serves his community through word, deed and sacrament. God in Christ is at work in this world, heaven is invading earth, and this is happening through weak and doubting people like this priest.

To the Wonder is Malick's most ecstatic utterance so far, as exemplified by this montage accompanied by Javier Bardem's voiceover prayer. It's one you may recognize.


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