Knight of Cups
Director: Terrence Malick
A) 2 hours of random and pretentious images of nonsense. Bordering on self-parody.
B) A glorious, masterful and unique glimpse into the existnetial experience.
C) Somewhere it between.
While it's never really that simple (or appropriate) to put a film into such categories, that seems to be the general consensus I have found when reading reviews for this film.
Before I begin my review, I feel I should note as a disclaimer: I thought the Tree of Life was an modern day masterpiece, and To The Wonder, while not holding it in the same esteem, still a very accomplishment piece of cinema. I feel there is reason to immediately bring Malicks latests 2 films into consideration, as Knight of Cups follows on the similar polarising method with it's non-lineaer experimental narratives. There are many similarities between the 3 films apparent, whether its cinematic methods, concepts or visuals. The opening scenes, for example, capture the Northern Lights in a way that made me immediately think of the Galaxies seen in the Tree of Life or the sweeping fields and skies of To The Wonder. There even features another slow continuous shot of a young child running within a house.
Knight of Cups follows Rick (Christian Bale) as a screenwriter struggling for purpose as he fails to escape the clutches of a lush but hollow hollywood lifestyle. We witnesses him sharing the screen with one female to the next, yet hardly interacting with his co-stars in the traditional sense. This includes his ex-wife Cate Blanchett and a string of love interests (ranging from Natalie Portman and Imogen Poots to Teresa Palmer among others). While some may look at this, as one person cunningly commented in response to the films trailer on youtube, as "white rich guy problems". It's so much more than that. It really is. The true marvel I find with Malick's films is that when you stop looking for answers you gain something profound in it. We linger in the troubled mindset of Rick and it's joyfully mysterious. Malick and Bale take you into Rick's world without giving you any sense of direction, whether it is his time spent with his female co-stars or his brother (Wes Bentley), father or friends (such as Kevin Corrigan). Much of this is spent of Rick dealing with loss, regret and, most significantly, uncertainty. Its not exactly an existential mid life crisis. Or dealign with the loss of a brother. It's the human condition. Its something we can find a connection to despite seemingly dissimilar experiences. Because Malick creates the perfect atmosphere of the human experience.
We are puzzled with whats going on because so is Rick. To be honest, watching the film made me actually appreciate To The Wonder a lot more. I'm now fully on board with the concept that Malick isn't run out of ideas post Tree of Life. Instead, his pursuing the truly personal and mundane ideas we all face. But drawing on this concepts with different characters, underlining themes and more. It's quite extraordinary. Like Tree of Life we find our protagonist searching through beautiful scenery of landscapes and deserts, but in this case it is expertly juxtaposed with movie backdrops, stages and hollywood parties. Where the dichotomy of superficial surroundings and natural environment perfectly encapsulates Ricks crisis of how his has spent his life. We see a study of spiritual emptiness in a materialistic world but in which evokes a universal truth that most people can relate to. Furthermore, the symbolism of the ocean and water (reminding me a bit of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander) where Bale and his co-stars all share at one point or another throughout the film is truly fascinating.
With Emmanuel Lubezki once gain at the helm, its no surprise that the film is gorgeously shot. The roaming camera work is extraordinary, whether it traces soaring freeways, deserts or Rick's working environment of movie studio backdrops. It's not just that its looks beautiful, but it successful evokes the feeling of a wondering and lost existence. Whats more surprising is how well the occasional GoPro footage was utilised, seen as Bale parties or drives for example. It supplements a very personnel and rampant approach, yet Malick smartly doesn't rely too heavy on it.
One of the most surprising elements of the film was not the unconventional narrative or lack of dialogue, but rather the random cameos that appeared throughout. It seems apparent Malick and co pretty much rocked up to a couple of LA parties and just started filming. It is where we encounter the likes of comedians Nick Kroll and Joe Lo Truglio plus actors Jason Clarke and Joe Manganiello. Or hollywood meetings where we find Dan Harmon (creator of TVs Community). Blink and you'll miss Nick Offerman in the background at a film studio. Its truly dazzling and, in a slight way, quite meta.
B. Of course, never doubted it.