I feel almost at a point where I’ve reached “peak Malick” in which I don’t enjoy his recent output as much as I know some of his most dedicated fans do. I’ve already found myself struggling to connect with To the Wonder and perhaps my own personal feelings about this style got in the way with my own experience of Knight of Cups, but I feel like it has become so difficult to even immerse with Malick anymore. These were among many fears that I had with Song to Song, being another film that takes upon this fractured narrative, but to my own surprise (and eventual delight), I found myself liking this style once again. Regardless of my feelings about how Malick has found himself playing out for me, I’ve always been able to appreciate him as a distinctive experimenter and Song to Song not only signifies my growing respect for his work, but it’s also the first of his I’ve found myself able to say I liked since The Tree of Life.
This film takes place within the Austin music scene, but our points of focus are two couples caught within: Faye and BV (Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling), and Cook and Rhonda (Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman). Within its own setting what can only ever be expected from the style that Malick has already made for himself is yet another film that wanders into its own world, immerses its own viewers within that environment – whilst ignoring a traditional narrative. My own love for The Tree of Life kept pushing me to give a shot at what had come next under this style, but theoretically, I still found myself struggling to connect with what Malick intended out of To the Wonder and Knight of Cups had somewhat found itself growing on me. Song to Song seems to have found yet another scenario where this method of storytelling indeed was most fitting, although not without its frustrating moments.
Among many problems I had with this experimental narrative style was that after The Tree of Life, it only felt so much more like Terrence Malick had only been repeating himself, without having much to say behind the work as a whole. Is it still a case with Song to Song? To some extent it does become rather jarring, yet maybe it was finding its own self at peace with the environment of its own setting. Malick has, if anything, managed to establish a style which I already find in itself to be so easy to admire, but difficult to personally attach with, because his own actors aren’t so much “acting,” they just seem to wander for Malick’s own purpose without any script in mind. It was from here I always knew I was going to be worried about how Song to Song as an experience would have found itself turning out for me, but the experience that came afterwards was indeed a pleasing one at that.
Lubezki’s cinematography is as hypnotic as it always has been, but at this point the fact I know it’s coming isn’t surprising to me anymore. It always lied within here where Terrence Malick films have always managed to shine at their brightest, for they’ve always had beautiful imagery to define their worlds but when Malick mixes it in with the voiceovers, there’s an eerie, if poetic feeling that comes about: even if I still don’t feel there’s much strength arising from what it is that’s meant to be said from the context. But this is where I find Malick’s fragmented storytelling finds itself playing to a greater effect, because of what it happens to be saying about human emotions inside of a state of overwhelm. It’s something that Knight of Cups has already been aiming for, but only became frustrating because it didn’t feel nearly as compelling on the whole.
The cameos from many musicians of different eras is yet another area I wish to talk about, because there’s an extent it helps on behalf of the universe we immerse ourselves within, and then it ends up becoming distracting to story threads. Patti Smith and Lykke Li (both of whose music gets featured in the film in the background) in particular play supporting roles in the film, but come others like John Lydon, Iggy Pop, or Tegan and Sara – I can’t say much for what they offer even if I love their music because the most that they present is a distraction. They come and go within story threads for a brief moment, then vanish: and perhaps it plays out like how music takes one within a falsehood in the mind, but just in the typical recent Malick fashion I’m just sort of unsure what purpose had come out from their brief appearances. Smith and Li’s music, being more prominent, almost seems like a recapturing of the alienation between music styles of different generations and that’s something I loved about what Malick captured in his recent work even if I still found myself apprehensive on the whole.
But maybe it must have been the fact I already found myself immersed within the music itself I enjoyed Song to Song more than I did Malick’s last two features in spite of the style being exactly what I’ve come to expect out of his own stories as of late. Or maybe it could be I just found something far more compelling in these threads and how they connect together as a whole, because it shows in part what I loved about this fragmented storytelling while at the same time reinforces why I find it to be as a whole so frustrating too. The cinematography is beautiful and that’s definitely what would already be expected of a Malick film, but then come the music of Patti Smith and Lykke Li, and that’s enough to put me inside of a good mood because they just set the perfect tone for what Song to Song is like, something so hypnotic because of the dream-like quality to the sound: because that’s what Malick is living inside of, a broken dream all throughout. The most dedicated fans of Malick will certainly love it, but I’m still fairly skeptical when it comes to people who have already been having difficulties with his work as of late.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Broad Green Pictures.
Directed by Terrence Malick
Screenplay by Terrence Malick
Produced by Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green, Ken Kao
Starring Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes