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
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
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
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
Santa Fe Reporter