KNIGHT OF CUPS
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
RELEASE DATE: 03/04/2016
STARRING: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett,
Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Freida Pinto,
Antonio Banderas, and Wes Bentley.
Terrence Malick and Christian Bale team up to deliver a sublime and surreal experience that will leave you scratching your head.
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is the first spoken word you hear recited over sweeping images of vast landscapes and Christian Bale seamlessly making his way through it all. Immediately you know you’re watching a Malick film. Dreamlike, poetic, like something you conjured up while sitting hillside under the influence of some questionable psychedelics. What does it all mean? Does it matter?
Those familiar with Terrence Malick’s work know the kind of film they’re getting into before they pop in their To the Wonder blu-rays or get settled into their seats at the local cineplex for the 7pm screening of The Tree of Life. These aren’t the kind of movies with a strong narrative and overly developed characters spewing loads of dialogue. But what you get in the trade-off for those things is something unexampled and sublime, unlike any moving picture you can imagine.
Heading into filming for Knight of Cups the cast weren’t given scripts ahead of time and knew nothing about the story. After watching it, I can see why. The plot of the film is pretty much non existent. Rick (Christian Bale) is a Hollywood hotshot who seems infatuated with a bunch of different women and has a strained relationship with his father and brother. He never seems to be completely satisfied with any particular romantic relationship and the film refers to him looking for his “pearl” – whether he finds her is all part of the ride that you, the viewer, must take.
We all have our fair share of doubt in our purpose in this thing called life. Your receptors have been overloaded since birth on the proper steps one should take in order to achieve success and the rewards that follow. Some hit the mark clearly and others fall short of their goals. But one thing I’m pretty certain of is… all of us question the outcome. Rick is a man who seemingly has it all. Beautiful women at his disposal, immaculate houses, famous friends, and yet he still is unhappy. Uncertain of his place and yearning for something more. He questions every decision he has made in his adult life and where it has led him. He has a longing to escape the mundane and find something more fulfilling, which even if you don’t admit it, I think all of us can relate to.
Knight of Cups is a reference to a tarot card which has a clear meaning to those that believe in it, “A person who is a bringer of ideas, opportunities and offers. He is constantly bored, and in constant need of stimulation, but also artistic and refined. He represents a person who is amiable, intelligent, and full of high principles, but a dreamer who can be easily persuaded or discouraged.” All these characteristics embody the film’s leading player (and the film itself), but like any tarot card or psychic reading, the results can easily apply to anyone. That’s where the film’s major flaw comes into play.
You never get a real sense of who you’re dealing with throughout the movie. Rick’s motivations and who he is are so thinly veiled you’re not sure what to make of him. I don’t know if he’s truly abhorrent or if he’s misunderstood. Why do things seem to fall apart for him? Everything is so subjective that it allows you to form your own ideas, whether that’s the film’s objective, I’m not sure.
The most clear achievement of the film resides in it’s looks. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is once again setting the bar for filmmakers everywhere. People are wandering all over the place in Knight of Cups. Almost every scene has the camera following someone walking towards something (or diving into a pool) and Lubezki manages to make that rhythm hypnotic. When things are stagnant, he unleashes images of barren wastelands or neon night clubs that still seemed charged with energy.
Out of the rather impressive array of cast recruited by Malick for this project, no one stood out as a clear front runner, instead everyone worked harmoniously to produce the best product they could muster. Bale and Wes Bentley (who plays Rick’s troubled brother) both fed off Brian Dennehy’s (the father) stern and indifferent manner quite believably. Of all the love interests Rick flirts with, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett seemed to be the ones that stay with you, maybe it’s because they had more screen time.
The cloudy fog of uncertainty and mystery that surrounds this jigsaw puzzle of a film is best captured in two moments. The first coming off a breakup, Rick has a vision of his former love and a child playing in a room filled with smoke. I interpreted it as a kind of “what it could have been” moment that’s now gone, literally, up in smoke. The other moment comes from a line that I believe best encapsulates the overall theme of the film, “you think when you reach a certain age things will start making sense and you find you are just as lost as before. I guess that’s what damnation is…”