Tara Miele’s “Wander Darkly” sprinkles artful turbulence into an already ailing romance between Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), a couple on the brink of collapse after a child and new home. The things that would normally excite and relish a romance are weighing down and crumbling over the two. The film marries a nonlinear narrative seen through the existential memories of Adrienne and Matteo’s relationship. It’s like an astral projection into timelines once thought of as brushed over periods of life. The film confronts death, questions remorse, unearths old pain and fights for a purpose in its characters’ self grief above everything. It travels through time and memory like a boomerang. One might think of Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because of its peculiar structure. “Wander Darkly,” although steering a daring premise, is rich in emotion, performances and intention.
It seems cruel to have to experience every tough memory in your life through new eyes, but that’s exactly how “Wander Darkly” intends to dissect its story from the start. The things that fumbled on its course are relived and experienced through new perspective, that of a crisis urgency. Adrienne and Matteo share a young daughter, a home and a growing sense of doubt as they go out one evening. It’s in the confines of a car when the heat swelters into a head on collision with another vehicle, the screen fading to black and upending every thinkable solution for the couple. What happens now? Well, Adrienne doesn’t quite know, as much as the audience is kept at a distance at first. Has someone died? Is she in a purgatorial limbo? Miele’s film doesn’t give us the easy answers. Instead, it asks us to invest in the relationship and the plight of retracing the steps to get to the conclusion.
Adrienne sees herself on a hospital bed, bloody and unconscious as if she were having an out- of- body experience. She’s soon struck with the weight of Matteo’s absence from their daughter’s life, after an elapsed glimpse into a future where her mother has guardianship over a sobbing, teenage Ellie. Adrienne thoroughly believes she’s died and that Matteo, unwilling to commit, has left their daughter’s side because of their frayed relationship. For a moment the viewer sinks into this assumption, holding with dire grasp that Matteo has fallen out of touch and fled. After all, Adrienne’s early discretions of his trust were made clear from the beginning.
Miele’s film further ignites the whirlwind by having Matteo in the picture, right beside a confused, traumatized Adrienne and telling her repeatedly that she’s not dead. This will take a lot of convincing on his part but his determination lasts the whole film, daring Adrienne to revisit pivotal moments of their lives in this metaphysical state. From the night they met to the first signs of jealousy and mistrust, the chronicle of their relationship and what went wrong start to fit like jigsaw puzzles. They speak to each other in real time, ruminating the way they’ve come to remember their best and hardest memories while reliving them in moments. The leaping structure dances through the best moments of their life, the silly sexual encounters of early love, the worrisome leverage of becoming one with another and the will to confront.
Miele’s film wouldn’t work without its leading stars. It features two actors in immense showcase, as seen through a series of memories told unchronologically. Luna and Miller are phenomenal in following this tumultuous journey in time that pulls at the heart. Adrienne, who is seeing Death at every flashback of her worst memories with Matteo, is convinced of the tragedies. Matteo, who seems so distant from her at first, maneuvers her doubt with ease and sweet comfort. Luna embodies Matteo with a growing sense of safety for Miller’s Adrienne, a pair with a lot to rediscover in themselves.
It’s only when Death comes knocking that we are free to do anything in its fleeting last second, and that includes going back in time, if even to just embrace the things that truly mattered. Miele’s film is inspired and committed to a sense of last chance and the desire to never carry the worst of love with you. It explores ideas that may not feel so concrete on its surface level in relation to Adrienne and Matteo’s romance, but it’s a fast-track to our own sensibilities, reasons, love-torn doubts and fears.
“Wander Darkly” rewards a viewer with patience and connection to its charming, luminary leads. It’s not without mess and destruction but if you can find its beating heart in the quandary of its metaphysical conscious, it is satisfying for all involved. Miele’s narrative encounter with death is as blistering and messy as these things normally are. It paints a somber and complete portrait of death, truth and memory in ways that ache straight through in its magnificent performances. At times teetering with melodrama, “Wander Darkly” is well aware of the brilliance of its characters, and for that reason, its story will resound.
Directed by: Tara Miele
Written by: Tara Miele
Cast: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna