Song to Song


Song to Song. Rooney Mara might be the best dizzy princess Malick’s ever had. This one also has some of the best music. It’s also one of the few Malick’s to ever make me laugh multiple times. I was surprisingly swept up for the first hour or so. And yet… the staying power wasn’t there for me. Still good, though.

Updated Terrence Malick power rankings:

  1. Days of Heaven (as if!)
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. The Thin Red Line
  5. The Tree of Life (maybe one spot higher?)
  6. Song to Song
  7. To the Wonder
  8. Knight of Cups

That is a solid body of work.

To the Wonder

To the Wonder. This is probably a Malick-fans-only affair, given that he’s brought all his Malickisms to expected highs/belabored lows. So I liked it, naturally. It’s very chopped and fragmented, both within scenes and through time, but there is a clear arc here. Yet maybe it’s understated enough that you get as much drama out of it as you put in. The thing starts with Kurylenko’s narration, her camera, her self-documentation, so there’s an interpretation that most of it is her record. Regardless, just that little bit of self-shot camerawork helps to set up the interiority of the rest.

Affleck is given almost nothing to say, and he’s muted repeatedly even when it looks like he’s saying something. And the voices we can hear from other characters, it’s often just barely. The dance analogy I’ve heard fits well. Where words are absent, gesture and music have to carry it. It’s also like, y’know… silent film. Great score, though you too may chuckle if you’re familiar with some of the music selected (e.g. Górecki, Rachmaninov, Wagner).

Ridiculous desktop wallpaper camera porn abounds. Malick needs to sell his b-roll for the TVs in waiting rooms and airports. I love the transition from the water shot of coastal France to the tall grass in the States. And another transition from the sunlit exteriors of the U.S. to the damp claustrophobic fluorescence of Paris at night. And that final shot. Man. That made it all worth it for me.

Themes. Taking it back to the early sequence at Mont Saint-Michel shows the two becoming one, a little island drawing off from the rest. And the first early versions of how the camera is drawn, again and again, to light, tracking toward windows and doors, trying to get up and out. So that’s love as a combinatory force, bringing two into one, making the inside the outside, drawing you out of yourself (note the barely furnished home). So there’s love as awesome, and there’s love as absent. Bardem carries this part. Note how he’s sequestered himself inside too much. By the end, maybe he’s trying a little harder. Or praying at least, girding himself to get out there again, narrating a common excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I liked Pico Iyer’s review. Ebert’s take will continue to be good for extra-filmic reasons. And the Terrence Malick community blog has a nice blow-by-blow.

My Terrence Malick rankings and reviews:

  1. Days of Heaven
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. To the Wonder
  5. The Tree of Life
  6. The Thin Red Line

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life. Well, it’s beautiful. And huge bonus points to Malick for ridiculous ambition and the credibility to do it at scale with big names. But in the same way that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend movies like Solaris or 2001 or Once Upon a Time in the West or Koyaanisqatsi or something, I don’t recommend this one if you’re not willing to sit through some wanky, gorgeous, exhausting, melodramatic sequences. I felt really, really skeptical when I saw the trailers, skeptical when I started, rolled my eyes a few times when I was watching… and yet I’m warming to the idea of watching it again. In the moments where there’s actually acting, the performers are excellent. Sometimes it takes you one viewing to figure out the rules and another to participate/surrender like you need to. My current Terrence Malick rankings:

  1. Days of Heaven (with a probably insurmountable lead)
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. The Tree of Life (or tied for third?)

With this one out of the way, it’s on to The Thin Red Line.

The New World

The New World. In which the title is a metaphor. Terrence Malick is a seductive director. I thought it started a little conventionally, but partway in, it turned into something special. You’re forced to set aside Disney memories and whatever historical précis you’ve got leftover from school. Interesting to see what expected bits of history and relationship development that he delays or leaves out completely, or proceeds quickly through and moves on. Lots of amazing nature scenes and life out of doors. I love the contrast of Smith’s time in the lush forests, and then the return to grey, denuded, muddy Jamestown. Malick uses narration again, which is kind of a clever cheat. You allow characters to voice their thoughts over visuals, and that keeps you from having to dialogue all the time. Couple that with the often elliptical camera–characters rarely face to face, often staggered in distance or in gentle motion, seen over-the-shoulder or trailing behind–you just get to gaze and treat your eyes and ears. I like Ebert’s observation: “The events in his film, including the tragic battles between the Indians and the settlers, seem to be happening for the first time.” Right now I think Days of Heaven is still my favorite Malick, with Badlands coming in close third.