Song to Song Is About The Spirit of Early ’60s Antonioni Merging With Rooney Mara’s Belly Button

Terrence Malick‘s Song to Song (Broad Green, 3.17) is more or less the same movie as To The Wonder and Knight of Cups — another meandering, whispering voice-over, passively erotic Emmanuel Lubezski tour de bullshit. All directors make the same movie over and over, of course, and this, ladies and germs, is another return to Malickland…what he does, what he can’t help recreating and re-exploring. I just sat there in my seat at Broad Green headquarters, slumped and going with it and silently muttering to myself, “Yuhp, same arty twaddle.”

The older Malick gets (he’s 73), the foxier and more barefoot and twirling the girls in his movies get, and this one, a kind of Austin music industry La Ronde, has a fair amount of fucking going on. And that’s fine with me. No “sex scenes”, per se, but a lot of navel-worshipping, I can tell you. Rooney Mara‘s, I mean.

At first Song to Song is about a romantic-erotic triangle between Faye (Mara), a guitarist and band member who doesn’t seem to care about music as much as whom she’s erotically entwined with at the moment, and two attractive music industry guys — Ryan Gosling‘s BV, a songwriter-performer, and Michael Fassbender‘s Cook, a rich music mogul. I can tell you Mara is definitely the focus of the high-hard-one action or, as Quentin Tarantino put it in Reservoir Dogs, “Dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick.”

Mara seems to start off with Cook and then move on to BV. Or was it Gosling first and then Fassbender and then a really hot French girl (Berenice Marlohe) and then back to Gosling at the very end with a Cook pit-stop or two? There’s never much sense of linear time progression in a Malick film so you never really know, but she definitely does them all.

There’s something vaguely L’Avventura-esque about Song to Song…pretty, wealthy people lost in impulsive erotica, embracing momentary pleasure, bopping from song to song, bod to bod, orgasm to orgasm, and all the while trying to make things happen within the Austin music scene.  But falling away from the eternal.  And in too many cold-vibe high-rises and high-end homes and not enough folksy abodes with yards and dogs and oak trees. But with lots of rivers to gaze at.

I’m simplify as best I can recall: (a) Mara definitely becomes intimate with Gosling, Fassbender and Marlohe; (b) Gosling has affairs with Mara, Lykke Li and Cate Blanchett‘s Amanda, and (c) Fassbender — the most louche and perverse of the three — has it off with Mara, Natalie Portman‘s Rhonda (a waitress whose mother is played by Holly Hunter) and two prostitutes (or a prostitute plus Portman) during a menage a trois scene.

I was kinda hoping Fassbender would hook up with Blanchett and Marlohe, but it never happened. I was actually imagining a menage a trois between Fassbender, Gosling and Mara — that would have been something — or a menage a quatre between these three and Blanchett, even. Or a menage a cinque between these four and Val Kilmer, who is seen performing in a couple of brief outdoor-concert scenes but never gets to fuck anyone.

I do know…er, believe that Mara and Gosling end up together at the very end of Song to Song, tired of all the endless-erotic-intrigue bullshit and both having decided to live a simpler life in some backwater setting. The funniest part of the finale (for me) is that Gosling has apparently abandoned the music industry to work as an oil-derrick roughneck…yup, the exact same job that Jack Nicholson‘s Bobby Dupea, who came from a snobbish musical family, had in the beginning of Five Easy Pieces. Dupea was running away from himself in that scenario, but Gosling is cleansing himself by returning to basics…go figure.

Song To Song felt to me like an erotic paean to Mara, or Mara as she was five years ago — not long after The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and a year before Spike Jonze‘s Her, Steven Soderbergh‘s Side Effects and David Lowery‘s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, two or three years before Todd HaynesCarol and definitely three years before her all-but-meaningless supporting role in Lion.

My favorite Song to Song performer was rock priestess and poet Patti Smith, who has maybe two scenees, one of which features an anecdotal improv about her own life (i.e., how she still wears her wedding ring despite her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, having passed in ’94). I was more interested in and taken by Smith than anyone or anything else in this thing, including Mara’s navel.

From John DeFore’s Hollywood Reporter review: “Ersatz local color aside, suffice to say that Song to Song is not designed to win back onetime admirers who felt Malick’s To the Wonder and Knight of Cups drowned in their own navels.”

  • DublinMovieFan

    I would rather bore a hole to the centre of the earth with my tongue than watch a Terrence Malick film.

    • Song to Song is not oppressively boring or unpleasant to watch. I didn’t hate it, but it never took hold because it’s just another variation of the same old same old.

      • Jan Erik Kollstrøm

        Compared to your recent Malick reviews this is almost a qualified rave…

        • Patrick Murtha

          Rooney Mara + Antonioni reference = Must see! (for me, anyway).

    • Patrick Murtha

      I am glad that all these projects have seen the light of day finally. I hate it when completed and near-completed films are hidden from view.

    • AnnaZed


  • bentrane

    Rooney Mara is about as sexy as a block of ice.

    • otto

      you are insane. Mara’s sexuality is rooted in her inaccessibility and quiet femininity. I would take Mara over just about any other is-everyone-looking-at-me actress.

      • AstralWeeks666

        Saoirse Ronan gives off a similar vibe although she projects a more accessible vibe.

    • Clockwork Taxi

      Sexiest woman of her generation.

    • Bobby Peru

      Totally agree. Cold, remote and zero heat let alone passion.

      • John Cope

        Sometimes that can work but just as often it does not. Having said that I genuinely thought she looked really hot in Pan of all things (she was photographed beautifully).

  • SJR

    What’s the appeal for financiers to fund the same movie over and over again? These Malick films will get poor reviews, no box office, no awards, what’s their angle? micro budget and streaming/digital sales big? I don’t get it.

    • Patrick Murtha

      Malick married into money, real money, on his third go to the altar, and I believe that has made, ahem, a difference in his situation.

      • Jeff

        That makes sense, he has also reached the next level where the producers and money people get bragging rights and merit badges among their social circles for “producing” the next Malick movie. Its how a lot of these big time auteurs make high budgeted art movies that young filmmakers couldn’t get a budget for.

  • Patrick Murtha

    I like your menage ideas, or even a hot solo sex scene between Gosling and Fassbender.

  • Hardcore Henry V

    Nice write-up, Jeff! I know these things are time-consuming to post, but these are the kinda entries your site needs more of, IMHO.

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  • TheRealBadHatHarry

    At least he’s gazing at someone ELSE’S naval for a change.

    • lazarus

      Wasn’t enough seamen for you in the previous films, sailor?

      John Ford would be proud.

      • TheRealBadHatHarry

        Too much is never enough.

  • DougW

    Uh, just wondering, but based on the title I assume there’s some music in this film. No comment on that? Just which actors hook up with each other?

    • Music is such a faint element in this film….really.

      • Patrick Murtha

        John DeFore in The Hollywood Reporter: “Those who followed rumors about Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, which made headlines years ago as the reclusive filmmaker took cast and crew into the thick of real-life music festivals, may be under the impression the Austin-set relationship film is about music. They should get over that idea before entering the theater. Though its protagonists purportedly are musicians, Song to Song has as little to do with music-making as the majority of its settings — skyscraper condos with commanding views and cold interiors — have to do with the Old Austin that nurtured a famous music scene before techies and carpetbaggers took over the city.”

        The socio-economic point here is interesting. What is the take of Malick fans on the fact that the Trilogy of Anomie focuses on enormously privileged people? Does this matter, or not especially? Does it just make the parallel to Antonioni’s similar trilogy more intense?

    • Music? Uhm, barely. Very peripherally.

  • freeek

    I guess that Mara moment is over, too.

    • Reverent and free

      This was filmed back when she was 26. My question is how much longer at 32 she can get away with playing ingenues.

  • MrRogerThornhill

    Interesting statement from Malick from last October regarding Radegund, his next film:

    But Malick, having recently finished shooting his upcoming World War Two drama, Radegund, in Germany and Austria, stated that he has “repented and gone back to working with a much tighter script.” He further insisted that “it actually makes it easier to improvise when you have rails underneath you.”


  • z2knees

    Scratching my head wondering how Jeff dismisses TM now yet has has Radegund as a Best Picture contender next year.