★★★ To the Wonder is a film that could be hung in a museum to be considered, rather than watched for entertainment. That's not a bad thing, but you need to be expecting it so you can approach the film accordingly.
The story is that of Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). She's a french pixie, content to spin in circles and dance through life with the joie de vivre that only lovely french women can get away with. He's the quiet American. He keeps to himself and loves fiercely and fickly. He's a brute at times, but something about him draws women into his circle again and again.
Marina has a daughter and the three trade Paris for Oklahoma, where they find run-down middle America to be disappointing. We watch as Marina's love of life slowly dies along with the love they shared. The daughter eventually rejects Neil as her father, a youthful decision she may later regret. That theme is carried over to a local priest (Javier Bardem), who is searching for his heavenly father. He feels abandoned by God even as he does God's work, visiting inmates, counseling, and evangelizing door to door.
Affleck goes door to door as well. He's a ground and water contamination inspector but he floats through his days, the events of which barely register to him. His mind is elsewhere. People think he can help them, but he barely listens. Neil is a metaphor for God.
The camera continually approaches Neil from behind as if we're following him. We almost never see his face, yet we keep persisting. The priest is doing the same thing as he looks for God, following in the footsteps of Christ hoping to eventually catch up to Him.
It took me a bit to figure out that To the Wonder is a very Christian film. The main idea it conveys is that a life based on belief in God must always continue to grow. It cannot settle into routine. I don't think God is moving away from us, as the film implies, but we must continue in our walk regardless, as the priest does, though the days may be trying. Just look at Mother Teresa, who gave her life to serving the poor in God's name. We found out after she died that like us, she had moments of doubt, but she persisted none the less.
To the Wonder is told in a non-linear style that is hard to process at times given the minimal dialogue. Rather than conversations we get poetic narration from a number of the film's characters, as snippets of their exchanges float in and out of audibility like the wind. It's as if the film is composed of the quiet moments in between words.
Even though I really enjoyed dissecting the Christian themes and ideas wrapped up in To the Wonder, it's not a film I'd lightly recommend. This movie is not going to meet you half way, but if you take the time, it's a film that will stick with you long afterwards, as good art is prone to do.