Christian Bale stars as Rick, a disillusioned, lost, some may call womanizer, who wanders the earth, never fully aware of what he wants out of the life he is living. The camera, shot eloquently by the rapid legend Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant), rarely leaves from Rick's point of view, as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays over head. We walk along, the film is divided by tarot card titles (“The Moon”, “Judgement”, “High Priestess” etc.). Rick visits a fortune teller, who deems him the Knight of Cups, setting a life standard metaphor between the fairy tales we read as children, with knights saving princesses. He is a Hollywood writer, but ultimately just a man, who lives and breaths alongside the many lovers throughout his life. They are played by an all-star cast of muses- Freida Pinto, Cate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, and Natalie Portman. Each one represents stages in his life: a marriage (Blanchett), a fling (Pinto), an affair (Portman), or just a one-night stand (Poots). We view him from afar, holding hands on beaches, sliding through Las Vegas nightclubs, consuming a lavish party (reminiscent of Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty) thrown by his friend Tonio (Antonio Banderas), often walking behind in the Los Angeles valley, and living an empty high life of existence.
If you are aware of Terrence Malick's films, then you know that this is the unflinching style that the director has made his own. Press notes reveal that there was not even a script to work with for Knight of Cups, as more and more, his films have little dialogue, since the secluded director has expressed he prefers none. His Tree of Life was an enlightened film; a poetic gesture in cinema, interpreting the creation of life, the beauty of family, and the fragility of it all. While his 2012 To the Wonder was a unique look at love and marriage between a man and a woman, which continued the far removed narrative style of Malick's first film, the 1973 rebel-classic Badlands. This only makes this latest effort even more of an achievement, as he not only doubles down, but triples down, by daring audiences to experience something different from the status quo.
From what little plot we gather, Rick lost his younger brother to a suicide, and is now left with an equally depressed brother Barry (Wes Bentley) and a father (Brian Dennehy) who sees himself as a failure. A scene depicts him washing his hands in actual blood, symbolizing the burden that he carries for his children. Their mother (Cherry Jones) often views them from afar or runs from a violent argument between the men, that nobody can control. She is the embodiment of stability, which is something that Rick can't seem to commit to in his own relationships with the opposite sex. Yet, there is an interesting family dynamic, an interpretation that can be seen as symbolic of the many roles men and women play in life, seemingly similar to a deck of tarot cards: the provider, the caretaker, the friend, the burden, or the loved one.
Each person who views Knight of Cups will have a different reaction to it. Some will be in awe, others will walk out of the theater (I had at least 18 people at my screening). I imagine some may find it misogynistic, boring, beautiful, a piece of art, and on and on. Whatever you want to call it, I think it is the riskiest piece of film that Malick has ever made. Think about it, in a world of Donald Trumps, cell phone ADD, a Comic book movie every other week, and the decline of western education; in 2016 a director dared to challenge us. He showed me at least, that a poster, flying in the wind can look beautiful, among the very world that I am living in. I hope I continue to see the world this way, for there is a vibrant life all around us, I just need to keep looking.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: KNIGHT OF CUPS
STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE; KATE BLANCHETT; NATALIE PORTMAN; WES BENTLY
DIRECTED BY: TERRENCE MALICK
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
A funny thing happened after my screening of Knight of Cups, the newest cinematic experience from director Terrence Malick. For some reason, I grabbed one of the mini-posters of the film that was on a table as I left the theater, stuffing it in a side pocket of my backpack. While walking home, on a windy night in Chicago, the poster went flying out of my bag into the air, and like the plastic bag in American Beauty, I found it to be graceful, chaotic, and symbolic of the cinematic adventure that I had just been on. See, when you watch a movie through the eyes of a director such as Malick, you leave a theater feeling different. You look at buildings differently, you look at the light with a glitter in your eye, and notice that to live outside of a movie is to really be alive. This experience is mine, and mine alone, and recommending Knight of Cups would be wrong to do, so pay no attention to the 4 star rating, especially since it is not a movie for everyone. All I can ask is for you to continue to read.