Apathy and Excess

I decided to watch Song to Song (2017) – as most of my bad decisions come about – on a lonely night at home.

If I’m being completely honest, the trailer intrigued me mostly because of Ryan Gosling’s appearance in it. Also, the cast as a whole looked stellar (Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and PATTI SMITH!!!) and sequences of Texas landscapes seemed dreamy.

From the first seconds of the opening scene, I’m reminded that this is a film directed by Terrence Malick. My only other experience with a Malick film was The Tree of Life (2011). In high school, my friend and I struggled through all 139 minutes of Brad Pitt’s longing stares interspersed by shot after shot of sunbursts – a mess of existentialism and gorgeous imagery that we could not manage to string together into any form of narrative sense. Immediately, I knew Song to Song would be the same.  I considered turning it off at several points, but the new releases on Apple TV weren’t giving me anything else inspiring, so more out of laziness than anything, I kept it on.

There is not a single moment in Song to Song I’m not confused – I don’t understand who is sleeping with who, who loves who, how any of them have managed to keep themselves alive, why I’m listening to countless voiceovers about meaningless and despair while viewing images of couples frolicking, more of Malick’s favorite sunbursts. None of it makes sense. Narrative and storyline are concepts Malick seems to be entirely uninterested in. How long can we sit with a film without the narrative tropes we have come to rely on? A worthy experiment, I seem to be failing.  

I’m reminded of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960). Both films are filled with beautiful people in beautiful landscapes who are searching for something *more* while doing absolutely nothing of use. Maybe I feel more sympathetic towards L'Avventura because its characters seemed much farther from myself. The film’s black and white, Italian haze creates an aura of an almost-delightfully naive way of life, where Song to Song's urban, Texas grit leaves me yearning for more inspired realism on part of its protagonists. The young characters have ambitious careers that require the opposite of apathy.

My brother walked in the door with ten minutes left in the film; I hit pause to catch up with him and never ended up finishing it. No matter how endearing Gosling’s Canadian accent and keyboard playing may be, I simply did not feel compelled enough to care about the outcome of these characters’ debaucheries. I can’t even remember their names. I found myself apathetic towards them because of their own apathetic attitudes towards everything.

As Gosling says to Mara, “I didn’t know why I was coming to this party, but then I saw you and I thought, now that’s why.” This is how I hoped to feel about Song to Song, but I never found the ‘why.’ –Linne Halpern

Linne Halpern '18 is an English and American Studies double major at Wesleyan University. She is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.

Song to Song (2017)
Written and directed by Terrance Malick
Runtime: 129 min

Rating: R