Thy Kingdom Come feels like what it is — deleted scenes from (and a misapprehension of) To the Wonder rather than a supplement to its beauty.
There is little in Thy Kingdom Come to distinguish it from an unorganized compilation of deleted scenes. This is, in fact, the premise of the mid-length work: Eugene Richards, the third-unit director on To the Wonder, is presenting unused footage from that shoot, which followed Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) and his conflicted service in Osage County, Oklahoma. But Richards does not emulate Malick’s overall approach. There is hardly any cutting between setups, moods, or characters. Dialogue is left intact, and camera movement is subtle, if present at all. Aside from a subdued intro, there is no score. Given how this film can’t help but live in the shadow of the work it was made to be integrated into, it does work, albeit awkwardly, as a negative construction of Malick’s design. Bardem’s performance, all stiff body language and hesitation, never fits in opposite his scene partners, each relating painful episodes or hard-won wisdom. With only one exception (an encounter with a prisoner), they overlook what Malick’s written voiceover in To the Wonder draws our attention to, namely Quintana’s lack of evidence for real connection.
Of course, appendices can always be pored over, and much was made of the age of the DVD, where extraneous material could be just as educational as the film it was excised from. But Malick’s improvisatory approach could be better served by inspiring similarly committed experiments rather than mere lip-service devotion (Bardem’s actorly presence and diction, forced into a progression of scene-like segments, at times resembles the posturing of Frances McDormand in Nomadland). Perhaps, as any reporter or artist faced with the dilemma of what to cut from a community portrait, Richards wanted to follow up and resurrect the moments he found unforgettable, but it’s puzzling that he considers these scenes worthy in and of themselves as documents of people briefly connected with. Not only does this approach misapprehend the nature of what he was working on — hardly the first time for a collaborator of Malick’s — but it can only be watched with a growing awareness that, even on the basis of doing justice to the work of each respective actor, we would be better served by Malick’s synthesis rather than Richards’s raw material.
You can stream Eugene Richards’ Thy Kingdom Come on Mubi beginning on November 21.