Perhaps more than any other living director working today, Malick has a visual and lyrical style that identifies his movie within a few telling frames. Further more, a Malick film will not cater to you, it will not hand you a neat and tidy narrative to hold on to. No, a Malick film is a feature length poem, a tome that dances across the screen with wispy abandon. It has no care for attempts at cohesion, it would rather spend its time bending and swaying with the weight of its theme. Malick’s latest, Song to Song, is no exception.
The film, in its basest sense, is a rumination on love and sex. On what that means, on what that fuels, and what that can destroy. The films drifts in and out of several relationships that involve the stellar cast of Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett. These relationships ebb and flow from healthy, to deceptive, to destructive. Under the guise of the Austin, Texas music scene, Malick’s camera weaves in and out of set piece to set piece, backdrop to backdrop. In a sense, the film could be seen as an Austin tourism video with moments of people dancing and twirling inside that cinematic fervor that only Malick can seem to create.
That is not to say that there is no heft in Song to Song, on the contrary. There are arcs that return with a certain level of gravitas, there are character developments that will affect audience members. The underlying message that love and sexuality are forces that can both destroy us and redeem us is strong and intentional here. And in typical Malick fashion, those portrayals are both cosmic and tangential.
The problem with Song to Song, though, is that is too comfortable with its own tangential narrative approach. Characters are stock portrayals of ideas, faces to deliver his soliloquies and not much else. The conversations often feel like something straight of Beckett, almost to the point of intentional absurdity. Malick pours so much energy into his wispy shots of the city and the people within it, all while someone delivers a monologue that furthers his thematic ideas, that the traditional narrative component of a film is nearly absent. The plot isn’t just in the backseat, it is following along several cars back in the cinematic caravan.
A Terrence Malick film is a Terrence Malick film.
It is not like any other film. It is a cinematic stream of consciousness that lyrically delivers a theme that the filmmaker is intent on communicating while flashing evidence of incredible visual craft across the screen. Sometimes this can be maddening, awe-inspiring, or hypnotic. With Song to Song it is a little of all of these things.