To the executives at Magnolia Pictures:
I just received your notes on the screenplay for my upcoming project To the Wonder, and I’m a little surprised. I don’t want to sound hoity-toity, but it’s as if you’ve never seen a Terrence Malick movie.
“What’s with all the women dancing?” you ask. I don’t know what to tell you. Women dance. They dance. That’s just what they do. Q'orianka Kilcher dances in The New World—and what 14-year-old wouldn’t when presented with the new world?—Jessica Chastain dances while floating in the air in The Tree of Life, and now Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko (sorry, I couldn’t get Catherine Zeta-Jones) will dance in To the Wonder.
I know it may seem sexist and reductive that, in each of my recent movies, the women spend a great deal of time acting like children—the aforementioned dancing, which also includes frolicking, cavorting and skipping about—but I’m telling you, the dancing works. I even dance, damn it! This movie is called To the Wonder! What is dancing if not wonderment?
Regarding your notes about the lack of dialogue: I’ve tried dialogue in many of my movies. In The Thin Red Line they talk a lot. Richard Gere talks in Days of Heaven. Of course, there are many, many voice-overs in those movies, too (and don’t forget Sissy Spacek’s in Badlands), because I like to keep the spoken words to a minimum.
In To the Wonder I’m going the other way. Almost no one will speak on camera in this movie. In fact, I think the secondary players will have more dialogue than either Ben Affleck (oh, yeah…he’s the lead) or Kurylenko (she’ll have the bulk of the voice-overs, though). For good measure, we’ll throw in, in a totally-tangential-but-meant-to-be-direct way, Javier Bardem as a priest struggling with his faith.
And he’ll do voice-overs! And maybe give a sermon we can break up over other scenes. And the poor people he interacts with will speak more than anyone else in the movie, but we’ll keep their dialogue low in the mix so it doesn’t compete with any voice-over we drop in.
And let’s be honest: Do you really want Ben Affleck to speak? He looks beautiful, and he can certainly direct a fine Boston crime drama and even a goofy international incident picture. But act? He’s better when he’s playing a jerk, as in Dazed and Confused or Mallrats, and this movie just isn’t a comedy. Not intentionally, anyway. In this movie, he will not speak on camera.
The relationship that brings Kurylenko and Affleck together? Hard to describe. She dances and he likes that. He’s American and she’s not. I think taking her to Oklahoma really fuels the drama. When he’s out collecting soil samples and testing for water contamination, she’ll dance at home, or lie in bed pining for him.
When she leaves him and we learn about his short affair with McAdams, don’t worry about the lack of explanation for why they pick up together or why it ends. I’m pretty sure the dancing will explain everything. Bonus: McAdams has agreed to go topless. So has Kurylenko. Maybe we can get Affleck to show his buttocks. I’m sure it won’t distract anyone in the audience—you know, the disparity in men’s and women’s nudity in major American motion pictures.
Next on your list was how to make Oklahoma look good on camera. That’s difficult, I know. It’s not St. Michel (which Kurylenko and Affleck visit, by the way; don’t worry, she’ll dance).
Anyway, Emmanuel Lubezki is shooting this one, just like he shot The Tree of Life and The New World, and he’s still wonderful. The quarries and planned subdivisions of Oklahoma will look every bit as beautiful as Paris’ grand neighborhoods and parks.
And the movie will end. It will just end. Because that’s what life does: It ends! When it isn’t beginning with the big bang and moving through the dinosaur age, that is.
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
With Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko