Terrence Malick is a real crowd divider; no more so than in recent years. Following The Tree of Life - dubbed as either masterful or pretentious, depending on your preferences- Malick returned to similar philosophical fare with To the Wonder, a musing on love and faith, life and death in every sense of the words. Whether or not you liked the film seemed to be of little consequence to Malick; powering forward, he currently has three productions on the go, no doubt each as pensive as the last.
One thing that there is no doubt about, however, is the sheer wonder of the film’s score, composed by New Zealander, Hanan Townshend. Plucked straight from university and relative obscurity, Townshend is a godsend to the somewhat obscure film, perfectly reflecting the graceful movements of the camera in his slow, steady sound.
Malick’s film is largely dialogue-free, playing like a choreographed dance piece. As the natural environment ebbs and flows, so do the characters, reacting to the spaces around them and adapting accordingly. Townshend’s score is an essential part of the narrative process. Accompanying the majority of the film, the music punctuates the cinematic progression, expressing what neither Malick nor the characters are able to say. String-heavy and orchestrally lush, Townshend’s score sounds as if it has been lifted directly from the natural landscape of the film, anticipating the movements of the wind and the tremors of the earth before they even happen.
It’s not all placid though. Cue ‘Deception’ features drawn-out, dischordant strings, cutting through the rest of the score like poison. If the previous music represented nature, then this cue is certainly indicative of the evil of humans, who dig up the earth and scar the land. Despite the melodic simplicity of tracks such as ‘Deception’ or ‘Peril’, Townshend’s music speaks volumes. Like Malcik’s steady cinematic gaze, the music’s slowness reveals more to us than any dialogue could ever do.
Through the subtle changes of Townshend’s score can be read the minutae of detail present in Malick’s narrative. Within the gentle pulses of Malick’s imagery can be heard Townshend’s musical voice. Whilst To the Wonder may not have been to everyone’s liking, there is no arguing its visual strength. And through its imagery, we hear Townshend’s score, quietly insisting that Malick’s world is worth further inspection.