Freefall: on Song to Song

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

Malick seems to be getting in tune, finding a post Tree of Life life. Song to Song is at times flawed, but at its best, as freefall cinema, this “fucking record” can indeed be magnificent, its soundtrack overdose reminding the Scorsese of the 90s. “I thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.” While “they” do that, all’s fine. From memory to memory, from play to play, from association to association, the river flows. But then the director must deal with a plot and search heavily melodramatic moments: welcome to gravity.

Anyhow, there is less preaching. No cosmic imagery, or almost. Less scenario variations. There is nothing profoundly new in this film and yet it is fresher than Knight of Cups as Knight of Cups was fresher than To the Wonder, what finds a sort of echo in Faye’s story: “Fallen so low. I had to find my way out of you... to life.” We are once more – and now more clearly – promised a new beginning: “I got to go back and start it over. Like I kid. Didn’t had the right heart in me.” This time one feels a little expectation about it even if this new beginning is one of absolute circularity. Out of you to... you.

A (human) sacrifice. The idea of ascension is important in this film.

Dark screen, a tense soundtrack, as in Sunrise. The opening shot is incredible, a door (naturally...) slowly opening with Faye and Cook on each side of the wall, as if playing hide and seek. We watch fragments of the lives of the characters we will meet, the film starting to shape in the director's spiral. Faye tells us: “I wanted experience. I told myself: ‘Any experience is better than no experience.’ I wanted to live. Sing my song.” She wants to live her own life, just vivre sa vie. It had to be rough for a while and so on.

We will meet the mephistophelic guy on the other side of the door, Cook. He plays the fallen man, with similar thoughts to The Tree of Life’s architect: “I was once like you. Didn’t know what I know now. To think what I once was, what I am now.”
He runs the show and he warns us: nothing is real, nothing exists, it’s all a stageshow, just freefall. By now the guided tour is not necessary... The self-portrait continuous: “The world wants to be deceived.” “Here I reign, king.” The necessity to destroy and corrupt. Bloody cinephile visions. The asteroid, a Tree of Life’s reminiscence. The mushroom, naturally: “It’s soaked in God.” “Nobody was where we have been.” He lights the torches like in Apocalypse Now. The end of the river. A deep, dark river it is. Dark as the sun bathing the orgies. “What part of me you want?” He wants the part he doesn’t know. Fear excites him. Fear is a topic in this film. “Tell me what scares you.” “No, but what really scares you?” Answer: “I never knew my family.” Cook’s erotics is driven by fear, what is scarcely surprising at this point.

This director uses strong shots with symbolic suggestions to end his films. Not this time. The end is deliciously implausible and clichéd but works out very well. Bv and Faye decide to start a simple virtuous, working life. He goes ahead. She tells us about her love and all ends with a kiss at sunset in that slightly Bergmenesque rocks. “This, only this.” (“There is only this. All else is unreal.”, The New World) It is a memory of one of their first escapades, underlining the circular movement of the spiral.
Song to Song is probably the most serene (?) version of the director’s interminable confessions since Badlands. Adapting one of the songs: If you dont like his pictures, don’t shake his tree. Fair enough.
The themes and metaphors are the usual ones but generally refreshed. Examples:

To experiment
“He did everything. He exhausted every poison, he knew every form of love, suffering, madness, so that he could reach the unknown. He experimented.”

I doubt Godard is totally strange to this apparition of Rimbaud.

So he did. This program is made clearer than in the crucial The Tree of Life and it is made so through the quintessential outlaw, rebel, vagabond poet, Arthur Rimbaud, already quoted in To the Wonder. “Learn all the rules when you’re young, ‘cause that makes Mom and Dad happy. And then throw the fucking lot of them out the window.” The sovereignty of experimentation/experience is not to be separated from artistic expression: “The music it is all about feeling free. So you don’t have to do nothing to be free”, as one of the characters says. The experiment, the director's experiment, is, of course, the very film.
The unknow. The impossible. Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, you name it. Cook says: “I want the part that I don’t know, that you don’t know yourself.” The cinema that cinema never imagined possible.


“You aren’t who you think you are.” This is the first time identity questioning comes to the foreground, with Malick (re-) introducing the soul in his musings. “Who am I?” “Am I a good person?”

Fay wears a thousand hair-styles, as Kit and Holly were always changing names. Fantastic the instability of her face, as if she is and is not the same person. She is the perfect women-kit-doll.

Persona seems to be around here at times.


“Maybe you need this world. The falser, the show.” Maybe? Knight of Cups was about the movie world (or the world of movie people). This one is about the music one. The rock festival is this experiment's big metaphor and a new one. “Fuck the system. We have our one system. We have our own rules. Don’t answer to no one.” One can say this experiment finds a good mirror in this world, rebel and yet increasingly domesticated. Malick didn’t follow Rimbaud regarding the right time to leave poetry.

If the rock concert is essentially a new element, the party as a metaphor comes from the last film, which also dealt with erotic excesses, giving much relevance to beds and bedrooms. The analogy with prostitution is also again explicit. “I sell an illusion, you known, I sell a daydream to these guys.”


“You gave moma a new home.” Definitely. Apartments, homes, big, small, all kinds. Pools and more pools. The city, Metropolis, is also a character, more discrete but always present.


“It wouldn’t be a very good job if I didn’t like kids, would it?”

Life and love as a play. “X marks the spot.” BV, the guitar man: “Just tell me a complete lie. Say anything you want to me. That’s the fun about me.” As it was said, this film is great as long the main characters are filmed as kids from play to play, from song to song. Noted was the allusion to Jules et Jim I played with the flame of life. (compare with Nous avons joué avec les sources de la vie et nous avons perdus.)


“Do you trust this man?”, asks dad to Fay? Faye tells Bv about Cook: “Don’t trust him.” Bv himself is cheated by the two. “Are you a good liar?”, he asks during a Godardian interrogatory.

Never the characters confronted the camera so often.


Feet, shoes and so on keep fascinating this director. One notes that shoes are gaining more relevance. I leave it to you if this is to be considered a major development in his work.


BV has a family, as Fay has one. Not Cook, but that’s his song’s theme in Mexico. His imaginary family, this is. This kings present condition seems to consist in being unable to stop filming a new episode of its story for more than 5 minutes. Baby it hurts, baby it hurts, baby it hurts to be alone.