We cannot stay where we are. We must journey forward. We must find that which is greater than fortune or fate. Nothing can bring us peace but that.
The Tree Of Life, Preacher’s Speech
The nuns taught us there were two ways through life-the way of nature and the way of grace…..Nature only wants to please itself…It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it.
The Tree Of Life, Mrs. O’Brien
In many ways, these quotes from an earlier Terrence Malick film could be lines in his newest, Song To Song. The narrative in Song To Song has a narrower focus than The Tree Of Life, but it draws from the same themes. Malick is a visual poet; his films celebrate the beauty of our physical world. He is also a filmmaker with a strong Biblical emphasis. Many of the images and themes in Song To Song suggest a paradise lost, then regained.
For purposes of this film, paradise is located in Austin, Texas. Although the story takes place against the backdrop of the Austin music scene, this is purely incidental. Song To Song is a film about human relationships, not music.
The narrative is a relatively simple one, despite Malick’s non-linear storytelling. Faye (Rooney Mara), an aspiring musician, starts an affair with Cook (Michael Fassbender), an amoral but successful record producer. She meets another aspiring musician, BV (Ryan Gosling), and sparks fly. Initially, the ambitious Faye continues to see both men.
Faye does eventually break off with Cook, who marries the naïve Rhonda (Natalie Portman). Before long, Cook and Rhonda are having threesomes with prostitutes. Cook makes Faye a career-boosting offer, which she accepts. It is not long before Faye and BV’s relationship is in trouble. Both drift to other lovers while yearning for what they have lost.
BV represents the way of grace for Faye. She speaks of their relationship in voiceover: “We thought we could just tumble and roll, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.” Cook, on the other hand, is the way of nature. Faye says, also in voiceover: “I told myself: any experience is better than no experience.”
Song To Song is heavier on voiceover than dialogue. To some extent, I think voiceovers in Malick play the same function as intertitles in silent cinema. I can respect that approach, but I think Malick needs to deliver in terms of quality. Several of the voiceovers in Song To Song struck me as intrusive and banal (“I wished that it could last forever.” “I was desperate to feel something real.”). It did not help that the voiceovers are delivered in a whisper that reminded me of a cologne ad.
Mara and Gosling both deliver good performances here-Gosling, in particular, seems well suited to Malick’s method. Fassbender and Portman do what they can with less-developed roles. Cate Blanchett is effective as a woman who becomes involved with BV.
Although music is not the focus of Song To Song, the film does feature cameos from a number of performers such as Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten, and Patti Smith. Of these, Smith is by far the most impressive. Her frank exchanges with Faye on men and relationships are a high point of the film. So is Val Kilmer’s turn as a manic rocker who attacks his speakers with a chainsaw.
DP Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree Of Life) creates gorgeous images to set the elegiac tone. One scene that sticks in my mind has Faye and BV in a field. He places a caterpillar on her shoulder. Far from being squeamish, Faye simply admires the little creature. You can almost imagine this couple as the first two people, finding and taking pleasure in small creatures of the earth.
Moments like this kept me invested in Song To Song, voiceovers and all. If you are a Malick fan, or think you might become one, I recommend checking it out.
Theme: Paradise Regained
Related Posts: Film Appreciation: Sunrise http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-sunrise/
Paradise Regained: List For Week Ending March 26, 2017 http://www.thinkingcinema.com/paradise-regained-list-for-week-ending-march-26-2017/