D/W: Terrence Malick. DP: Emmanuel Lubezki. Starring: Christian Bale/Cate Blanchett/Natalie Portman/Wes Bentley/Teresa Palmer/Freida Pinto/Brian Dennehy/Imogen Poots/Cherry Jones.
I imagine filmmaker Terrence Malick as that charming yet introverted kid in the playground. So immersed in his imaginative world he mostly plays on his own. Every now and then letting another kid break into his barriers and run to keep up with the rules of creation in his mind. Malick’s last two films 2012’s To The Wonder and 2011’s The Tree of Life were released somewhat close to one another. Having worked on Knight of Cups for a few years now as well as another upcoming project supposedly titled Weightless, the reclusive director finally brings his signature beauty to Los Angeles.
Knight of Cups meanders along with Rick (Christian Bale) as he contemplates his failed relationships, apathy, family and existence in the city of Los Angeles. Cut up into chapters the film is almost a group of novellas mostly revolving around the introduction of different women. Pixie punk darling Bella (Imogen Poots), Rick’s ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), new ‘friend’ Helen (Freida Pinto), Australian stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer), and new married lover Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) are this collection of characters that move in and out of Rick’s life. All do well, but this is not a film with acting turns. Knight of Cups is movement and space, actors as bodies within Malick’s frame.
You hardly remember Bale’s characters name as the film has voice-over from multiple characters, very little dialogue, but tremendous amounts of sound. Characters address each other through voice-over in a story like manner. This might seem dream like in description, but it is rather more like a hazy state of in-between. Bale’s Rick seems to stand in rooms and absorb–lost in trails of thought. Knight of Cups is thus not a film concerned with story or acting or conflict, but rather about being.
Here Malick works again with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity). There are plenty of gorgeous nature porn shots as well as souring landscapes of Los Angeles. The film is seduction in itself set in a city that circles many down the drain of money, sex, power and disastrous disengagement. Knight of Cups is more cohesive than say Tree of Life whose family melodrama felt out of sync with the scale of Malick’s concepts. Here the streamline is more focused. To say Malick is a visual storyteller is an understatement. He does not simply use images in service of a story, rather he builds the story out of images and sequences.
In other words, Knight of Cups is the visual equivalent to a Cormac McCarthy novel. Where McCarthy abandons quotation marks Malick rejects linear storytelling and standard narrative structure. The film forces you to enter into Rick’s state of mind. Like his previous work, you must bend, be patient and surrender. As a former Los Angeles resident Knight of Cups is a beautiful wander through the delusions of a high priced lifestyle sitting atop a gruesome underbelly. Most likely one will get out of the film what you bring to it. I certainty fell into Rick’s pangs, but as usual Malick is not for the non-believer.