Matt Strohl’s review published on Letterboxd:
In a special feature on the blu-ray, Kurylenko says that Malick had her read The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and Anna Karenina to prepare for the role. Paying attention to possible connections with the Russian classics (which I read two decades ago and am slightly foggy on) was illuminating, though I’m far from having a clear sense of what the connection is. I noticed this time how pronounced the throughline is of her relationship with Affleck’s character being considered adultery by the Catholic Church. There is some resemblance here to Dostoevsky’s pious, long-suffering characters and to Karenina’s predicament. She initially approaches Bardem’s priest about the issue, and then when they finally are married it’s in a courthouse. Malick emphasizes how tawdry she experiences this as being. Prisoners are signing paperwork ten feet away during the ceremony. Then there’s the scene where she has to have her IUD removed for medical reasons and the doctor asks them whether they’re ready to have children or whether they need a different form of contraception. This is the moment where their relationship begins to unravel. I hadn’t noticed this before but there’s a brief scene where we see them reaffirming their vows in a *Protestant* church. Openness to new life and marriage are closely linked in the Catholic worldview, so there’s a suggestion that she has a need for at least some closer approximation of religious marriage now that children are a possibility. But straightaway Affleck becomes more distant, and there’s that very memorable near-sex scene where she becomes aware of his distance and asks what he’s afraid of. She then has an affair in an Econolodge (with Skinny Pete from Breaking Bad). Throughout this section Malick juxtaposes her predicament with Bardem’s prayers for understanding of how to seek god. This is complicated and really the core of the movie but my basic thought is that her struggle to realize a “love that loves us” is a way of seeking God, and that Affleck’s distance is allegorical for God’s silence.
I also noticed this time how often we return to the depiction of Affleck’s character (who is definitely a stand-in for Malick— the narrative is close to autobiographical, right down to the Rachel McAdams section) as a polluter. He’s always taking water and soil samples and checking them for heavy metals. We repeatedly see the poor people who live in areas where he is involved in mining operations reporting that they are being poisoned, their pets are being poisoned, etc. And then we see Bardem ministering to this same community. Again, this is complex, but the most obvious interpretation is that there’s a parallel between his literal polluting and his spiritual polluting re: his wife. But the pollution drives the polluter further from god, *not* the victim of pollution, who is in a way brought closer to God by the wretchedness he inflicts. The ending supports this thought. Especially when you take this movie together with Knight of Cups, Malick went through one hell of a self-hatred phase.