Text to Text: DIA and Terrence Malick’s modern romance

I have a certain affinity for DIA that few other people seem to have. There’s an oddness to them that feels organic. With most K-pop groups, weirdness usually manifests every now and then in their music, their videos, or their personalities on variety shows. With DIA, it’s a mixture of all of them and more. Although not too different at first sight, their latest video for single “Will you go out with me?” is possibly the strangest direction they have taken to date.

I was dumbstruck to see a video by a Korean girl group that was inspired by Terrence Malick. For those of you who don’t know, Malick, once the revered king of American independent cinema, is now a divisive critical figure. His films are bracingly humanistic, finding minute details in broad locations like the Pacific Theatre of World War II or the creation of earth itself. After a hiatus of 20 years following his first two films, Malick’s style began to change. His work became more dense and abstract, alienating much of his early fans. It is those who have fallen out of love with him who were quick to criticise his latest film Song to Song for its copious use of his now favourite motifs. Whispered voice-over, characters walking backwards, sparse use of dialogue. These are the things that make a Terrence Malick film, and these are the things that DIA used.

Song to Song is a film about relationships, Austin, Texas, and relationships taking place there. Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Fassbender are all musicians stuck in a confused love triangle in one of America’s foremost music scene cities. Their relationships do not play out as usual, though very little time is given to the character’s stories and how they connect. More important are the small moments when they are together. Very little is spoken, but so much is revealed through their body language. Anyone can understand this intimacy; it’s at once distant thanks to how little we know about them but utterly romantic because each gesture is clearly filled with history. Rooney Mara’s eyes are her tell. Her gaze can dart around, looking everywhere except in the eyes of her lover or gaze with force and love as if she can’t look anywhere but at him. Malick’s current style is boiled down into those eyes.

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It’s hard to believe that DIA could replicate something this intricate, and the truth is they don’t really. What they do, however, is use his motifs to frame their story into something that is in some ways a continuation of Song to Song; a continuation of how Malick sees relationships.

“Will you go out with me?” opens with a short scene that is 100 percent Malick. The camera slowly glides behind Chaeyeon as she walks through Tokyo, looking at her phone. She does the backwards walk to face the camera and the hushed poetic voice-over. While I see this mostly as a set up for the main body of the video, it has its own particular similarities with Song to Song that are not quite as evident as these motifs.

The voice-over sees Chaeyeon thinking of a boy she knows. It’s somewhat unclear as to how she relates to this boy except that she has feelings for him. She says she shouldn’t call and that she misses him today more than ever. It sounds like he could be her boyfriend or an ex. This lack of definition turns out to be story of the song and video, though, as we see that Chaeyeon is trying to pluck up the courage to ask him out. The blurred boundaries of her relationship are like that of Mara, Gosling, and Fassbender’s in Song to Song. We see each of them meet and interact as a trio, but Mara is simultaneously sleeping with both of them. She sees Fassbender, who is a top music executive, because he can further her career ,and seemingly is genuinely in love with Gosling. But due to the lack of concrete details, both of these explanations could not be called completely true. The difference between Mara and Chaeyeon is maybe that Mara wanted to keep the hazy lines of her relationships so as to maintain a distance from potential heartbreak.

The specificity of the location is also key. Malick always presents his characters not just in terms of how they react with one another, but also in how they interact with their environment. In Song to Song, the ever present sunlight keeps characters from hiding themselves as they walk through music festivals or in the rocky Texan deserts. Where Malick likes to reveal his characters in more natural settings, “Will you go out with me?” drops Chaeyeon under the neon skyline of Tokyo. The absolute lack of nature tells us she will not be finding an intimate spot for her and the boy. She is swaddled by artificial light yet does not stray away from it. In fact her interaction with this space is the most interesting part of the whole video.

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The main story of the video shows Chaeyeon texting the boy, sending him pictures of where she is with her groupmates. The video distills Malick’s hands off approach to relationships even further, making the bond purely digital rather than gestural. It makes perfect sense to me that if Rooney Mara’s character went on a trip like this she would most certainly send pictures to Ryan Gosling’s character and many texts lamenting how much she misses him. Chaeyeon doesn’t even have to be in the same room as the boy she is pining after to create a relationship. If small details truly reveal how a relationship works in today’s world, how someone texts is probably the biggest indicator of this.

The unlikely pairing of nine young Korean girls and an elusive film director is certainly a new one. DIA continue to craft peculiar perspectives on K-pop, previously making fun of ridiculous aegyo (cuteness) with the satirical “My Friend’s Boyfriend” and using Harry Potter in a way that makes you think, “what has this got to do with Harry Potter?” in “Mr. Potter.” “Will you go out with me?” has proven to be surprisingly profound. Through their own unique style and that of Terrence Malick, they have shed light on what it is to be in a relationship, which when distilled further (as they both would be compelled to do) illuminates what is to be a human.

What do you think of these comparisons? What’s your favourite DIA song and Terrence Malick film? Let us know your picks and thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.