Song to Song is revelatory. There’s something Malick has been trying to do for a while now, and I feel like he’s finally done it.
There are a number of tropes that are distinctive of his recent work: extreme angle shots, fisheye lens, aggressively subjective camerawork, TWIRLING, bed sheets, couples chasing each other through sparsely decorated houses. A lot of tomato critics respond with open mockery. MORE TWIRLING FROM MALICK! This doesn’t surprise me, really. If you are unwilling or unable to engage with Malick’s recent work on its own terms, I can certainly see how it could come across as a parody of a pretentious art film. Personally, I appreciate Malick’s not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks of the twirling. He just keeps doubling down on it.
Song to Song reveals something deeper about what he’s trying to do with these tropes and also why many react to it so harshly. He’s trying to capture private, intimate moments. The sorts of things you only do when no one is watching. This is very hard to do, because what makes a moment private and intimate is precisely its utter particularity and idiosyncrasy. Romantic love is typically portrayed on film through more general representational categories. To represent one character falling in love with another, a filmmaker might show the one surreptitiously watching the other doing something quietly remarkable, or might show the couple staring longingly into each other’s eyes , or might show the two triumphing over adversity as a team and then falling into each other’s arms. The sorts of private, intimate moments that constitute the emotional progression of actual relationships are too peculiar, too uncomfortable, too illegible to be readily translated to the screen. Song to Song is like 40% composed of exactly these sorts of moments, and I suspect that it makes a lot of viewers uncomfortable. To engage with it on its own terms requires a level of vulnerability and openness from the viewer that many will be unwilling or unable to muster. It’s just so fucking sincere.
I’m going to stay away from discussing too many details of the film. I only just saw it yesterday. Like all of Malick’s films, it needs to be seen more than once before one can even really begin to digest it. I’ll say it’s clearly the best new release I’ve seen this year, and it’s better than anything I saw last year. It bears a lot of structural similarities to To the Wonder. I love To the Wonder, please don’t confuse me for a hater, but I would say this is much more fully realized work. The acting is uniformly perfect, even Natalie Portman. Michael Fassbender plays a sort of Lucifer character brilliantly. Patti Fucking Smith is in the movie. Iggy Pop is in the movie. He films both moshing and twerking in full-on Malick style.
He says this is the last movie he’ll film without a script. He’s got a war film coming out next. This I think corroborates my central evaluative thought: this movie is a culmination of this last phase of his career. I am eagerly looking forward to watching it several more times over the next few months.