Director Terrence Malick is well known for being one of the most creative filmmakers in the industry, with bizarre and polarizing films like The Tree of Life and Knight of Cups among his portfolio. But his new film, Song to Song, might just be the strangest of all. Billed as an experimental romantic drama and filled with music, the movie features an all-star cast made up of both actors and musicians. And given its low-key setting in the Austin indie music scene, it'd make a lot of sense if Song to Song is a true story.
In actuality, though, it's not. The film, like most of the films Malick has directed, was also written by him — but good luck figuring out where he got his idea for it. Malick is perhaps the most elusive filmmaker in Hollywood, and he rarely gives public appearances or interviews. However, in support of this film, he actually did both when he showed up for a Q&A at SXSW over the weekend. While there, the director revealed that there was no completed script for the film, and that he spent 40 days filming the movie around Austin — where he lives. One thing he made clear, though, is that Song to Song doesn't really have a story, and it isn't meant to.
Michael Fassbender is the main character of the film, a music executive who makes various relationships with different people throughout the movie's runtime. Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, and Val Kilmer all have roles in the film, but there was never any guarantee of their scenes making it into the final cut, as Malick filmed them continuously — even when they weren't acting. "We keep rolling to keep it spontaneous," he said at the Q&A, according to Variety's Ramin Setoodeh, adding that he prefers "bits and pieces" of his characters’ lives rather than a traditional story structure. "If you try to make things happen, they start to feel presented," he also said. "The action has been premeditated. It starts to feel like theater, which is wonderful in its own right. But you don’t want the movies to be like theater."
It was also revealed at SXSW that Malick did have a few inspirations for the film, although they're fairly abstract. One revelation was that Malick's most specific direction to Fassbender was that he should play his character like Satan from Paradise Lost. It was also revealed that the film's original title — Weightless — comes from a quote by Virginia Wolf: "How can I proceed now, I said, without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless, without illusion," according to Christ O'Falt at Indiewire, who also quoted Malick as taking some inspiration from Austin's music scene: "You can’t live in Austin and escape the music," the director said about his decision to base his story in the city and have it involve music.
Song to Song is definitely not a true story, but it's meant to be realistic a slice of life. And since director Terrence Malick filmed his actors constantly, there's a chance that some real moments did actually end up on screen, making it kind of partly true in a weird, experimental sense — which is probably jus how Malick would want it to be interpreted.