When Roger Ebert died last week little more than a day after declaring he was taking a “leave of presence,” people turned to see what the legendary film critic’s final published review was. Some were dismayed to find it was a rather middling take on the Andrew Niccol-directed adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s “The Host.” It seemed somehow not enough.
Then Ebert’s longtime online editor Jim Emerson let it be known that there was one more on its way, a look at Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.” Ebert had long been a supporter of the filmmaker, even including Malick’s 2011 film “The Tree of Life” on his 2012 ballot for the Sight & Sound magazine poll of the greatest films of all time.
Emerson recalled that in their last days of correspondence, Ebert asked in one message: “Did the review of ‘To the Wonder’ make sense to you? Such a strange movie.”
The film, which opens Friday, involves an American (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) while in Europe. Bringing her and her daughter back to the U.S., they settle into a certain domestic bliss. Yet as things grow strained between them, he seems to rekindle a relationship with a woman (Rachel McAdams) from earlier in his life. At the same time, a clergyman (Javier Bardem) tests the boundaries of his faith.
There is little dialogue in the film, pared back to its barest essence, with Ebert noting, “As the film opened, I wondered if I was missing something. As it continued, I realized many films could miss a great deal.
“A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear,” added Ebert. “Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.”
In wrapping up what would seem to be the final review of a long and influential career, Ebert concluded, “There will be many who find ‘To the Wonder’ elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.”
Though famously averse to speaking to the press, Malick released the following statement, saying he was “was very sorry to hear of Mr. Ebert’s death and remembers him, with deep gratitude, as a man of kindness and generosity, encouraging to all, a loving man whose goodness will not be forgotten by those whose lives he touched.”
A funeral was held for Ebert in Chicago on Monday. The annual Ebertfest film festival will go on as previously planned from April 17-21 in Champaign, Ill.
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