With filming starting two years ago and then going through the typically lengthy post-production cycle Terrence Malick's projects usually require, after a long wait, "To the Wonder" was announced this morning as part of the lineup for the Toronto International Film Festival, where it will make its North American premiere. And until now, only the broad strokes of the story have been known to this point. To refresh your memory, the story centers on a man (Ben Affleck) who, feeling at loose ends, travels to Paris and enters a hot-and-heavy affair with a European woman (Olga Kurylenko). He returns home to Oklahoma where he marries the European woman (in part for visa reasons), only for the relationship to fall apart. He winds up rekindling a romance with a hometown girl (Rachel McAdams) with whom he's had a long history. But it has never quite been clear what Javier Bardem's role as the priest is in all this...until now.
The official synopsis for the movie was unveiled as part of the TIFF announcement this morning, confirming the above and detailing Bardem's role, while also addressing some of the thematic elements that are likely to come into play: After visiting Mont Saint-Michel — once known in France as the Wonder — at the height of their love, Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck) come to Oklahoma, where problems soon arise. Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane (McAdams). An exploration of love in its many forms.
So, in essence, the themes that Malick has explored to varying degrees in all of his films returns here, though this may be the most explicit "relationship drama" (for lack of a better phrase) he's done in his career (though the since-scrubbed logline for the formerly titled "Lawless" he'll shoot later this year also suggested it deals with "sexual obsession"). It also should be noted that Mont Saint-Michel is also home to a monastery of the same name that draws millions of visitors each year. It's no coincidence, and it seems faith is something Malick isn't done with after "The Tree of Life."
The plot of the movie seems to loosely reflect Malick's own life. He also decamped to France for a spell during the '80s and got involved with a woman, but returned to the United States and married his high school sweetheart. So far, all of this seems to gel with a much more spoiler-heavy reveal of the plot more than two years ago, but of course, where Malick has taken the story and themes since then remains to be seen. And in case you're wondering, the credited cast on the TIFF site also includes Rachel Weisz, Barry Pepper, Amanda Peet and Michael Sheen (so yes, as Jessica Chastain figured, her small role has likely been cut).
Final notes: "To the Wonder" has already landed distribution in numerous international territories with VVS in Canada and Optimum in the U.K. among those picking up the movie, but as yet, there is no stateside deal. So Toronto, and presumably Venice, will likely be the only place to catch the movie this fall.