Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” is, without a doubt, the director’s most divisive film.
That could be for a number of reasons. Hot off the heels of his Palme D’or winner “The Tree of Life” (which was also quite divisive, receiving both boos and cheers after is first showing Cannes) Many film goers were likely ready for a spiritual follow up to his grand thesis on the grandeur of life. “To the Wonder” was not that.
In fact, “To the Wonder” could, in some respects, be considered quite the opposite. In this film, Malick takes us back to planet Earth, exploring less the potential of what the cosmos has in store for us and our earthly experiences, and more of a blistering critique what it means to be alive.
Of course, there are elements that bond the two films closer together. Redemption, for instance, seems to play a major role in “To The Wonder” as well as in “The Tree of Life.” The complicated dynamics of familial relationships, another.
What is most important to note about both of these films, I believe, is their mutual attempt to explore painfully personal experiences.
Anyone who follows film is well aware that Malick first gained notoriety in the 1970’s, producing what many believe to be the two best films of that decade: “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven.” Both films carry the weightiness of all Malick’s work, as well as his signature wandering camera and whispered inner dialogue.
They are, first and foremost, romantic films. Not just because they were about love and lovers, but because they told stories from bygone eras — “Badlands” took place only 15 years before the films release date, but 1950’s nostalgia was arguably at it’s highest during the early 70’s; “Days of Heaven” takes it story from the Texas of 1916 — all of which were centered around a peaceful respect for mother nature.
Malick has largely continued that trend, with his war epic “The Thin Red Line” exploring patriotism, war and modernity all while the soldiers crawl up a steep hill of grass and wander on the beaches of a primitive Earth. “I’ve seen another world,” Jim Caviezel’s character tells us. “Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.”
Malick’s interest in “otherworldliness” continued in “The New World” with his telling of the story of Pocahontas. Nature again stands front and center, reminding us that in times past man looked to what was around him for spiritual guidance. Malick’s interest in the romantic past lays fully exposed here.
It’s with “The Tree of Life” that he begins to take us places more familiar. True, much of the story centers around a family in 1950’s Texas, but this film also marks the first time Malick takes us to the present, using it’s parallel narrative of the future to make clear his intentions to speak on memory.
Because he almost never does interviews while promoting his films, little is known about Malick’s personal life. The few things we do know allow us to understand his last two movies from a different angle.
Malick spent much of his childhood in Texas, which explains why so many of his films take place there. He is a Harvard educated professor of philosophy, which seems to be what filled up most of hiatus between “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line.” He also, according to certain sources, apparently lived in Paris, marrying and then divorcing a Parisian woman (more on that later).
With that minor understanding of Malick’s personal life, a stronger distinction between his films begins to appear. While his earliest films explored narrative and storytelling (as well as love and relationships), his first three post-hiatus films tended towards the more overtly philosophical. Love, death, nature, creation, memory. Although I include “The Tree of Life” with those films, I do think when watched together with “To the Wonder” another topic emerges: himself.
Malick is quite possibly the best modern American example of the auteur theory of filmmaking. His films, much like the music and art of many great painters and musicians, reveal more about the maker than story itself. His films of late have clearly become deeply personal. Most painfully so in “To the Wonder.”
It is also important to recognize, however, that just because elements of his films seem to reflect more deeply personal parts of his life, it doesn’t mean these films are truthfully biographical (much like how “The New World”’s version of John Smith and Pocahontas are almost as fictional as the Disney version). He is, after all, a storyteller, not his own personal biographer.
In that context, “To the Wonder” seems to act best as a form of personal chastisement. It is full of selfish, confused characters who seem to want things that are either impossible to have, or impossible to understand. It’s best not watched as a love story, but a story of the weakness and pain that surrounds the inevitably vulnerable state love requires. Malick has always been more interested in how the character’s move and interact than with what they are saying. None of this is on stronger display than “The Tree of Life” and “To the Wonder. “
So is “To the Wonder” a good film? Maybe, maybe not. I happen to think it is. But either way Malick does seem to be continuing his personal interests from “The Tree of Life.” Malick is exploring something. He’s debating himself. He’s praying. Whether or not these are all things that should be done on film, in theaters that people pay to attend may be worth debating, but I still prefer it to most of crap slipping down the drain out there.
I’m not a big college football fan. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that football in general is so far off my radar that a book like The System would never even make it into my Amazon suggestions, much less into my cart. The only reason I know about this book is because I’m taking a class from the author, and my friend and Accolade co-founder JJ Feinauer worked as his research assistant during the 18 months it took to write it.
That being said, I’m really excited to read it.
Jeff Benedict is a journalist who writes expose’s in an easily digestible novel-esque prose. He also teaches upper-division English at Southern Virginia University. In his expository writing class, he taught us how to conduct interviews and turn them into well-crafted essays. As a teacher, Benedict tends to be a bit self-promotional, but he’s honestly very humble and generous with his talent — otherwise, he wouldn’t be teaching at Southern Virginia, which demands that professors be openly available to students.
The System is a thorough exploration of the college football industry, analyzing the gritty unknown aspects of the sport like athletic injuries, bloated coach salaries, scandalous misconduct, and flirtatious recruiters.
Watch this space for an upcoming review. In the meantime, there’s this news release I did for The Scoop, as well as a three part story in the Deseret News that serves as a behind the scenes look into Benedict’s investigative journalism. Which reminds me — one of the most interesting and revealing things about Benedict is his dedication to honesty while respecting his subject. He takes time to gain the trust of the people he writes about, and is careful not to betray it, while still penning a fascinating story. That can’t be easy to do, but he’s willing to share his secret with students at Southern Virginia.
- Bonus -
Here’s an interview from Keith Olbermann with Armen Keteyian, who co-authored The System with Benedict.
I’m slightly older than most current Southern Virginia students, which means I was in elementary school during the nineties. For some reason — maybe bureaucratic oversight or administrative paranoia — I remember learning specific shelter in place drills when I was a kid. Just in case there was a tornado, chemical attack, or a nuclear blast. We would hide under our desks and cover our heads with our hands. I’m not sure exactly how this was going to protect us from the radiation of nuclear bomb, but it was a practice we were taught early on. These drills might still be taught, but I would be surprised if they were still in the context of preparing for nuclear winter.
It’s a strange concept to think about, but it wasn’t that far back that our country was gripped with a constant fear of total annihilation. The Cold War was a decades long conflict of mentality — a collective fear of the seemingly inevitable destruction of man.
Tonight I stumbled upon a Washington Post article that reminded me of the kind of preparation we were taught to take for an attack that never happened. Only this guide to protecting yourself during a “shooting event” (isn’t the very use of that phrase repugnant? Like a sporting event, or a happening) is probably much more necessary. These kinds of attacks are more than abstract geopolitical fears, and with their increasing frequency, is it going to be the new normal to casually prepare for the chance of a mass murder? Like looking both ways before crossing the street, or buckling up? Am I going to have to teach my son how to survive a lunatic with a gun?
I don’t have any answers and I’m exhausted from the constant debate over guns, mental health, and the sharp decay of society. I’m really just tired of mass shootings. But the best I can do is be as kind and good as I know how to be, and hope that everyone else is doing the same.
The Church launched a campaign for religious liberty this week, which surprisingly led to a great discussion on the topic. The big question seems to be “what is religious liberty?” The Church’s website is kind of vague on the answer, but did share this short video to help explain their concern:
I’m trying to keep an open mind about this, but here are my concerns with this video. First, the claims it makes about the benefits to society are pretty vague. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but citing “studies on protecting religious freedom” doesn’t really help me since I’m still unclear what that means.
I’m also trying to decipher what the video is referring to as “eroding the foundation of religious freedom.” They reference institution being challenged on their employment decisions. I’m pretty sure that is referring to the Supreme Court case involving a teacher who sued her church-run school for wrongful termination under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Cheryl Perich was fired after taking a leave of absence due to illness, something forbidden by law under the ADA. She sued, and the Court sided with the church. That’s right. In this era where religious freedom is supposedly being eroded at its foundation, the highest court in the United States says churches are free to fire people for getting sick.
The conversation has already been pretty vibrant since I shared the link on our Facebook page last night, and I can see validity to both sides. To be clear – I think the initiative is worthwhile, and at the very least will help build bridges among different faiths. I find this discussion fascinating, so let’s keep it going.
Related – Chris Henrichsen at Patheos I think feels more or less the same as me, but sounds a little more forgiving and clearly knows a lot more about this topic than I do.
A lot’s happened since we’ve been active. We’re hoping to keep the Accolade moving along, and our plan is to focus on keeping the conversation going by sharing stories, podcasts, and blogs from students, faculty, alumni, and anyone who might be interesting to Southern Virginia University.
We still have a few podcast episodes in the pipeline, so to speak. We just have a few kinks to work out. If you’re reading this and think you might be able to offer an extra hand in getting them out there, let me know.
Same with content. Right now, we’re really interested in what students are saying about their time at Southern Virginia, and about issues that are important to them. If you keep a blog, share it with us. If you wrote something, or did something, or Vined something, or painted something, or tap-danced something and you’d like to share, this is the place for that. We hope. It only works if you want it to.
In the meantime, keep checking for updates on what’s going on, and fascinating topics. Join the conversation.
BYU Buys Accolade News
Big news for The Accolade today. After weeks of negotiating, The Accolade News and its subsidiary, The Accolade Podcast, will now be under ownership of Brigham Young University and their student paper, The Daily Universe.
The Accolade will serve as the online arm of The Daily Universe, and will now have the benefit of contributions from both Southern Virginia and BYU.
“We are impressed with the dedication and writing featured on The Accolade over the last few months, and are pleased to have such ardent journalism at our disposal,” a BYU spokesperson said.
As part of the deal, The Accolade will continue to report on Southern Virginia University’s campus life as well as Mormonism in higher education in general. The Accolade will still be a place of debate over LDS culture, and will also feature new sections covering BYU sports, the intersection of faith and politics, and Stephanie Meyer novels. The podcast will still feature occasional student interviews, but will now be accompanied by hymns and EFY soundtracks. Mostly hymns.
We look forward to an exciting new venture.
In this episode we had the chance to sit down with Gina Griffith and discuss music. We covered everything from how she writes music to what music inspires her. We also had the chance to indulge ourselves in a little rant on our favorite music.
So what do you think? What are your favorite bands? What album should be required listening for all incoming college students?
Be sure to let us know in the comments.
Also for your listening pleasure, here are some (but not anywhere near all of) of the artists/albums/songs mentioned in this podcast.
Nic Jensen was on our first podcast, and here’s a part of the conversation that didn’t make it into the episode. It’s mostly us talking about movies, the Oscars, comedy, and Terry Gilliam.
Keep spreading the word about the podcast. Also, if you’re interested in joining the Accolade or being a guest on the show, let us know. We’re also looking for a webmaster, and obviously we’re trying to get these up to iTunes so they can be real podcasts. Like, real, grown up podcasts that can be downloaded through your apps. That’s all we want.
Here it is, the very first episode of the Accolade podcast.
We wanted to get it out as soon as possible, so there are a few things we are still working on. Like server space. Which is why, for now, this episode is only on SoundCloud. But soon we should have it available in proper podcast format and ready to be downloaded through iTunes.
Until then, enjoy, and keep checking for updates and news. We are already working on our next episode, and hope to have some bonus short episodes up throughout the week.
Let us know what you thought in the comments, or on our Facebook page.
The Accolade News has decided to radically change its format.
The Accolade has come far in its first year of existence, and its editors and staff are proud of what it has become and the work that we have put into it. We have published well over 100 articles since we first went live, including the breaking news announcement of the new YSA stake presidency. However, after much consideration we have decided that The Accolade can better serve Southern Virginia and fulfill its desired purpose by shifting its focus from a written news blog that relies on updates and contributions several times a week to an audio podcast that will be released weekly. Though we feel we have done the best we can as a club and news organization serving Southern Virginia, we find it difficult to maintain watch over even the very mundane and routine aspects of the University without at all being able to pursue the more ambitious projects we feel would be more interesting and beneficial to both our audience and our writers. We believe that the podcast format can solve this problem.
The website will continue to function more or less as is, but posts will build upon or relate to the content of the podcast and rely less on frequent contributions from various students. The podcast will be the central focus of the site, and will be produced by a handful of students who can dedicate the time necessary to each project. Stories for the podcast can be contributed by the student body at large, and the editorial board will select people from the student body, faculty, or the community to interview and feature on the podcast. We are grateful for the writers and photographers who have contributed to The Accolade over the last three semesters, and welcome their future involvement. In fact, we hope the new format will give them freedom to explore their own ideas and creativity.
There are several reasons for this major change. When The Accolade was first started by JJ Feinauer, Stuart Enkey, and Jeff Gasser over a year ago, the original intention was to create a place where students could be engaged in a dialogue about Southern Virginia, the liberal arts, Mormonism, or any other topic that was important to them. It was also going to be a place for students who had a genuine interest in journalism to meet and learn how to write for the press. In its current state, The Accolade serves as merely a recap of weekly forums, dances, and occasional club events. We know we are capable of so much more.
As editors, we have made a conscious decision that The Accolade should be an unpaid, amateur project that focused on educating those involved as much as informing our readers. Though we are not opposed to earning revenue through advertising, we would use that money to better our website. Because of this decision, it has been increasingly difficult to maintain an active membership when competing with the Paladin news magazine, which began offering compensation around the time of The Accolade’s inception. We strongly feel that this new direction, by offering opportunities separate from The Paladin, will increase recruitment and involvement.
Again, we are grateful for those who have contributed to The Accolade and the students who have shown an interest in what we do. We honestly hope that this change will benefit the school as a whole, and especially those who want to participate, and we can return The Accolade to what it was originally hoped to be: a gathering place for student information and ideas.
- The Accolade Editorial Staff