Knight of Cups July 24, 2016
To give an auteur’s work a C grade is depressing enough as it is, but because Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is thrillingly shot and riskier than anything being made right now, I figure it’d be best to avoid trying to write a detailed review and summary as a way to more directly map out pieces of information and unfiltered opinion that characterize my introspection as cohesively as possible:
(1) Knight of Cups is Terrence Malick’s seventh film. He began his cinematic career with 1973’s Badlands, a stunning lovers-on-the-run sweeper. Despite a twenty year gap between 1978’s Days of Heaven and 1998’s The Thin Red Line, Malick’s stamp on American cinema is remarkable to the point of being unable to criticize. Even if an offering doesn’t strike you as strongly as a conventionally “good” film might, it still strikes you, even if that striking is sometimes deterred by boredom and sometimes deterred by the inescapable feeling that all in front of you is utterly pretentious and utterly masturbatory.
(2) I’m indifferent to Knight of Cups.
(3) The film follows Rick, a Hollywood screenwriter played by Christian Bale, as he travels around the city indulging himself in his industry’s many excesses in an attempt to distract himself from the vast emptiness that he feels.
(4) Knight of Cups jumps back and forth between the present and the past, and is divided into eight chapters, six of them dedicated to relationships with the women in his life.
(5) Those women are played by Imogen Poots (as a carefree fling), Cate Blanchett (as his ex-wife), Freida Pinto (as a sensuous model Rick finds himself entranced by), Teresa Palmer (as a rebellious stripper to whom he takes a temporary liking), Natalie Portman (as a woman he loved but jilted), and Isabel Lucas (as an unaffected youth that could provide Rick with the optimistic future he so desperately needs). These actresses, despite their varying levels of fame and acclaim, are equally bewitching, and are the most interesting things about the film.
(6) Knight of Cups is sumptuously filmed, as all of Malick’s films are, and it contains boundlessly thought-provoking ideas that comment on the dangerous fixation the entertainment industry has on pleasure and how it can affect those constantly bombarded by it.
(7) On many occasion did I wish Knight of Cups were made as a traditional movie: its ensemble collects the greatest talents currently working in movies, and its story carries the capability of being a modern-day La Dolce Vita in the ways last year’s Youth tried to be. It could be one of the best movies ever made about Hollywood, but is too mercurial and scattershot to have any effect on us.
(8) Aside from its expansive visual palette and its array of exhilarating images, Knight of Cups does nothing and says nothing, a fatal mistake for a film dealing with such weighty abstractions.
(9) I loved looking at this movie. It’s like living in a dream. It’s dizzying in its movement and is able to make even the most basic elements of life seem meaningful, alien even. I just can’t bear anything else about it, especially for two hours.
(9) Spoken dialogue is always more effective than voiceover, even if a given voiceover is philosophical, melodramatic, and eloquent.
(10) Four decades later, Malick is still among cinema’s most mesmerizingly talented filmmakers. Knight of Cups is as wondrously unwilling to conform as it is staunchly mundane. Its visual energy is given nothing to grab on to, and so we’re left with materialistic thrills that eventually drift away into pretty nothingness. C