Damon Linker excoriates the reviewers who miss the deeply Christian themes and references in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, calling the film “an ecstatic cinematic tribute to God”:
That so many reviewers have either ignored Father Quintana’s role in the film, or seen his struggles as an uninteresting subplot unrelated to the movie’s exploration of romantic and sexual love, is perhaps the most stunning critical oversight of all. Just as Neil holds himself back, refusing to give in to all that love demands, Father Quintana often fails to detect the presence of God all around him and sometimes withholds himself from the most troubled and troubling people to whom he’s called to minister (including prisoners and drug addicts).
Yet unlike Neil, who ends up alone, Father Quintana achieves a spiritual epiphany during a sequence toward the end of the movie that is unlike any I have ever encountered in film, and one I have not seen referenced in a single mainstream review.
As the priest comforts a succession of suffering people — the old, the anguished, the crippled, the sick, and the dying — he recites a devotion of St. Patrick: “Christ be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left. Christ in the heart.” The sequence reaches its climax with the recitation of a prayer by Cardinal Newman (one that was also prayed daily by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity): “Flood our souls with your spirit and life so completely that our lives may only be a reflection of yours. Shine through us. Show us how to seek you. We were made to see you.”
Humanity was made for God. And he is present all around us — in the transfiguring, wondrous joy of romantic love, in self-giving sacrifice, in our suffering and the suffering of others, in the charity we offer to those in pain, in the resplendent beauty of the natural world — if only we open our eyes to see him. That, it seems, is Terrence Malick’s scandalous message.