Song to Song is both very similar and very different to Terrence Malick’s small but precious early filmography.
Touring musicians BV (Ryan Gosling) and Faye (Rooney Mara) are identifiable as Bill and Abby, the itinerant labourers from Days of Heaven (1978). There are Malick’s signature sunsets, cuts to birds and of course a voiceover narrative providing an account of the events that take place.
But after his 20-year hiatus, Malick’s more experimental, star-studded offerings have been met with some degree of skepticism. Teasing with its resemblance to Days of Heaven, Song to Song is slightly disappointing. Rooney Mara’s voiceover only offers empty platitudes and Ryan Gosling’s romantic hero is sweet and endearing but ultimately quite boring. Labour is no longer necessary for reward: Michael Fassbender’s strutting mogul conducts his business in luxury hotels, often involving prostitutes.
The story is told impressionistically, through improvisation rather than structured scenes. Malick’s softly pornographic fish-eye lens draws attention to how bodies move; when he isn’t stealing Gosling’s scene, Fassbender’s grinning Lucifer is stealing his women.
Set at SXSW festival, a depiction of youth rebellion and counterculture might – as in Badlands (1973) – be expected. However, the only dissident voices come from Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. The promised pyrotechnics just aren’t delivered upon.
Pantheistic as ever, Malick makes several allusions to our postlapsarian condition and the lost Edens of music festivals past. Character is shaped by malevolent forces, through the temptations of success. Salvation comes from the transcendence of “real” feeling – something which is often gestured at but never fully realised.
Seduced by big names and an even bigger budget, Terrence Malick has chosen to depict the limitless luxuries of the music industry rather than the craft of its labourers. The easeful simplicity of his early work feels a long way away.
CAST: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Lykke Li, Holly Hunter
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
WRITER: Terrence Malick
SYNOPSIS: Two intersecting love triangles. A story of obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas.