Cinematic Song

Cinematic Song September 8, 2015

Josh Timmermann suggests that Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder takes its cues not from love stories but from love songs – one in particular, the Song of Songs:

“Its narrative logic is specifically poetic. Its structure is built carefully upon a cadence of clear, beautiful rhymes and faint yet significant echoes; its entrances and exits, its tender highs and lows of romantic and spiritual feeling, are as perfectly timed and breathlessly sustained as the lovers’ back-and-forth in the Song of Songs. The mood of the film shifts mercurially as presence (the ebullience and unity of sexual consummation, the tenderness of shared companionship) shifts to absence: ‘In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not,’ laments the woman in the Song of Songs, ‘I will rise, and will go about the city: in the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not’ (3:1-2).”

The sense of love’s absence, its elusiveness, is evident in the love story between Neil and Marina, Marina taking on the features of a hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden common to the Song, to medieval poetry, and to the visual imagery of the film. 

The Song’s allegorical dimensions are also present, in the longing of the priest, Father Quintana, for the touch of God: “Malick, in effect, has it both ways, in these loosely intertwined narrative strands: the erotic interaction of the man and woman in the Song of Songs is re-played in the voices and physical movements of Kurylenko and Affleck (whose characters, though named in the credits, are nearly as archetypal as the biblical lovers), while the Song’s allegorical representation of Christ and his Church is embodied in Bardem’s priest.”

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