Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, which comes to theaters tomorrow, might be compared to La La Land. Both films star Ryan Gosling as a musician trying to make it big. Both are about balancing love and career ambition, and the corrupting temptations of fame and fortune. Both are colorful, beautiful, and full of music.
But Malick’s film is not a crowd-pleaser. It provides not escapism, but a critique of the escapist fantasies that populate our mediated lives. It’s a jolting jeremiad masquerading as poetry.
If an abundance of beauty is pleasing in La La Land, in Song to Song it unsettles and provokes. Last year I described the experience of watching Malick’s Knight of Cups (which forms a sort of cinematic diptych with Song to Song) as “a glut of beauty that is also a deprivation… Fragments of pleasure, blips of meaning, a stream of consumables not unlike the disconnected feeds and curated media experiences of our iPhone lives.” The same could be said for Song—though here the image of the iPhone (or perhaps iTunes) is more literally invoked, with its title underscoring the point.
“I thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss,” says Rooney Mara in the line which gives the film its title. Mara plays Faye, a restless hipster trying to make it in the Austin music scene. Like many in her generation, she is “desperate to feel,” open to anything (“I told myself any experience is better than no experience.”), and prefers brokenness to boredom (“I loved the pain. It felt like life.”). She experiences the pangs of transcendence in a secular age, desiring “to escape from every tie, every hold… to go ...1