For the priest (Javier Bardem, Skyfall), his initial stages of divine bliss are not seen but assumed as we meet him in the depths of his spiritual divide. His heart has become hard; he cannot feel God’s presence. He has lost the gift of joy. "How long will you hide yourself?" he prays – a question Marina essentially asks of Neil as well, though in different ways.

When answers don’t come, emotions become volatile. "I love this feeling, even if it makes me cry sometimes," Marina confesses, "the conviction that I belong to you." But when each bride is unable to get clarity from the respective bridegroom, they feel abandoned – even betrayed. Love itself is then questioned, doubted, and an all-consuming grief opens the door to other suitors.

As for Neil, he largely serves as a cipher for both Marina and Jane to express their longings and despair. While he does serve as one narrative's literal groom, Malick does not construct or play him as a direct Christ metaphor, or imply by extension that the priest's Lord is as flawed as Neil. He simply uses each story to inform the other, much in the same way Scripture uses marriage metaphors. We better understand the purpose and purity of marriage (and our temptations toward infidelity in all its forms) when we understand the fidelity of Christ, our relationship to him and his to us.

Cinematically, Malick employs his patented auteurism. Impressionistic in nature, it’s driven more by internal ponderings than external plotting (dialogue is minimal, poetic inner monologues pervasive). Malick doesn’t tell stories, he creates moods – but his goal remains the same: to explore ideas. Most films with ambition want to make us think, then contemplate. Malick’s want us to meditate, then contemplate.

If all that sounds very artsy, well, it is. That’s why his films are acquired tastes for most, even polarizing critics from time to time. Yet for all their soulful intimacy, they also boast majestic visuals, complex themes, and big ideas. They are highly ambitious. Some view that as admirable while others see it as indulgent. Ironically, Malick’s fans and critics may find themselves agreeing that To The Wonder is a little bit of both.

His use of symbolism captures these extremes. Clever examples include Neil’s occupation (a geologist who makes sure water basins at Natural Gas drilling sites stay clean, a Christ-like symbol of restoring creation as mankind relentlessly breaks it) and a friend of Marina's who tries to lure her back to the gypsy life of Europe (i.e. infidelity). Others are surprisingly on-the-nose (a noisy intersection "crossroads" comes to mind) or too opaque (meteors shooting across the sky).

Stylistically, you won’t see more stunning images in a movie theater all year, or be provoked by thoughts as philosophically rich – but you can only watch so many meticulously-composed visuals of gorgeous people set to classical music and hushed whispers before some start coming off as a pretentious perfume ad. To The Wonder has a unique and unfortunate ability to shift from artful to painful and back again.

Thankfully, Malick’s core ideas, conflicts, and yearnings resonate so truly and sincerely that it makes the occasional weight of self-import easy to forgive. Earnest though it may be, To The Wonder is Malick at his most intentionally pastoral. Indeed, he’s doing more than pastoring us; he’s discipling us from his own struggles. He ruminates on the desire and need for love, how it grounds us, gives us a bearing for life, for our souls. How its absence causes confusion, pain, chaos, and loss.