Terrence Malick’s new movie, Song to Song, at times feels like drifting in and out of a morning dream, the kind that feels stranger and more vivid as the sun wakes you up.
The one-of-a-kind writer/director, who made five movies in the first four decades of his career and three in the last six years, has adopted an increasingly freeform aesthetic that’s as divisive as it is light on its feet. If you’ve seen To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, then you already have a clear enough sense of what Song to Song offers. If this is your first Malick experience, know that there isn’t a verse-chorus-verse structure to guide you through this strange opus.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a love triangle set against the Austin, Texas, music scene. Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender are the main points, with Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett serving as peripheral angles.
Malick offers fleeting glimpses of the lives they lead both together and alone: BV (Gosling) and Faye (Mara) meet at a pool party and are instantly drawn to one another, blissfully unaware that they may already be star-crossed; everyone else in their orbit feels secondary, even incidental. Gosling doesn’t sing much better than he does in La La Land, but he and Mara still make a kind of music together.
Unbeknownst to BV, the woman who’s caught his eye has a past with their host. Cook (Fassbender), a hedonistic producer who treats his lovers as poorly as he does his musical collaborators, is the silver-tongued devil corrupting the would-be angels around him. Malick has always been concerned with the heavenly, but his oeuvre of late has been much more earthbound.
This has caused many to reject it: Where The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life are transcendent, To the Wonder and Song to Song are almost despondent.
Dialogue in this latest composition is often hushed, so quiet you can barely hear it — Malick has a tendency of dropping us into scenes mid-conversation so that we hear the middle but not the beginning or end.
The filmmaker is also famous for shooting endless amounts of footage and then finding his narrative in the editing room, giving the impression that what we call Song to Song is just one of the infinite possibilities that might have emerged from Malick’s curious process — nothing if not apropos of a filmmaker who, until recently, was more interested in the cosmic than he was in the cosmopolitan. It also befits his portrayal of haphazard romantic entanglements, which are no less fraught with emotion for being fleeting (and maybe even doomed).
This, increasingly, is the focus of Malick’s work: the connections we strive for as we hurtle through uncertain phases of our lives. He’s playing on a frequency all his own, indifferent to whether or not anyone else is humming along with him. Some tunes resonate more than others.
Song to Song
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender
Theater: Now playing, Lagoon Cinema