terrence malick is still pretty far along with this new movie, a tragicomedy love triangle starring ryan gosling, michael fassbender and rooney mara. it’s set in the austin texas music scene and features amazing cameos in the vip area from iggy pop, john lydon, patti smith and also val kilmer, who i think is playing himself, having a kind of crazy onstage , taking a chainsaw to an amp and then needing help getting into a small car. a little smaller than him, actually.
malick is still in his mid to late phase, with all the tics and mannerisms, the golden sunsets, the whispery voiceovers over fragmented moments, wide-angle compositions and disoriented off-center close-ups on pensive faces. . people impulsively do pirouettes and piggyback on the street. it’s all presented as if it were a memory flashback or a two-hour perfume ad themed around a doomed sexual obsession. however, there are some inspired visual flourishes and it’s a film with its own weird energy and drive: sometimes infuriating, sometimes riveting.
song for song is similar to his elegy for doomed romantic love, to wonder, but also, sadly, to his earlier, frankly self-parodic film, Knight of Cups. he is still quite preoccupied with testing the super rich, the super beautiful, and now, in fact, the super famous. the few non-beautiful famous people who appear are the real-life house souls found in docu-realistic installments, or the main characters’ parents, who are often affected, preoccupied, or catatonic by ill health. /p>
like in the knight of cups, malick has party scenes, a lot of scenes involving swimming pools, for which he has a hockneyesque taste. there are expensive but drab apartments and hotel rooms, and as before, he has a fetish for unfinished housing estates and construction sites in the middle of nowhere. What’s new is the background music, which has allowed him to film scripted scenes at real festivals, perhaps trying to divert some of that authentic emotion to his fictitious gas tank.
gosling stars as bv, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who has a love affair with faye, a woman on the fringes of the music world, played with some googly-eyed goblin intensity by mara. But she’s also having an affair with BV’s sleazy but charismatic and charming producer-cook, played by Fassbender, a character not too far removed from the one she played in The Shame of Steve McQueen. Cook is in dispute with BV over his writing credit on the first album, and later has an overlapping affair with a former waitress, Rhonda (Natalie Portman), involving a threesome with Faye. Meanwhile, Rhonda is in a relationship with Zoey (Bérénice Marlohe); bv has a brief run-in with amanda, an elegant older woman who clearly resembles her mother, and is played briefly but interestingly by cate blanchett. Cook’s relationship with Rhonda will lead to a horrible situation that will leave her mother (Holly Hunter) completely distraught.
everything is shown with unwavering conviction and strength; an interior monologue of regret and pain and a bittersweet acceptance of life experience, all shifted outward in poetic imagery. Malick’s absolute belief in what he is dramatizing gives these slightly absurd elements a kind of integrity, and Gosling has a very emotional scene with her elderly father. however, the strange thing is that it never becomes melodramatic precisely because the narration itself has no conventional form or fixity. all events mix and mingle in the familiar Malickian whirlwind of images, inchoate feelings, bits of poetic prose.
As for the music itself, it’s neither here nor there. Certainly, we never see Gosling on stage or in the studio, singing one of his character’s actual songs. sometimes it is very difficult to see how different and separate things are happening or changing, so the everyday concept of hurt feelings gets lost in a cloud. the characters seem to respond to things they are remembering, rather than things in the here and now. I suspect that Blanchett’s role has been mostly lost in the editing. it would be interesting to see how richard linklater would direct this story.
in fact, as faye says, we go from song to song and kiss to kiss, and it’s really forgiving. But Malick is able to keep his gyroscope of emotional ecstasy spinning almost indefinitely.