Wilson’s review published on Letterboxd:
If To the Wonder is an exhalation of romance; the exhaustion of everything, including the divine, then Knight of Cups is the same, without even the glimmer of the absence of the mercy of God. Terence Malick’s last three films have felt like a cycle, a triptych. The Garden of Earthly Delights. Where The Tree of Life seems to be about the mercy of God, or the mercy of nature; To the Wonder seems concerned with God’s absence, replacing it wholly with transcendental love, of the body; Knight of Cups is the absence of both. It is bereft cinema, where Malick has removed love and religion and transcendentalism.
The film is shot through with grief, taking a similar set-up to The Tree of Life but with a fatalistic emptiness. Knight of Cups is another very personal film from Malick. As he dispensed with the first part of his career, the historical epics have ran there course, he has delved deeper into himself. Personal, solipsistic. He has replaced World War 2, Starkweather and Pocahontas; with his childhood, a love affair and now the emptiness of Hollywood and the self. His film’s get darker, as we wind towards the present self.
Knight of Cups is listless. It is searching, moving. He has ventured into the slipstream between the viaducts of your dreams, as the song would have it. It is roads, roads, roads, water, water water; they fly, the camera spinning into the air to track the essence of flight. It is always moving, running into the heart of darkness, it never sits still, chasing and tumbling. The very earth shakes to make him move, he cannot stop. And yet, the Malickian dichotomy sits at the heart of the film: it is always moving, but never getting anywhere. It is perpetual motion to merely stand still. It is small scenes of spiritless ennui that are continually presented, as Malick goes beyond conversation, beyond moments of drama. The film is at odds with itself.
Though, it is occasionally punctured by moments of lucidity, as the glittering, glimmer of Hollywood is undermined, where real streets intrude upon the dreamy sets. Where real people, of failing bodies, show up to counterpoint the perfection of Rick’s nameless, faceless women of memory. The women of this film are of memory, a very male memory. They are bodies, carnality is at the forefront. This is another step into the new sensual world of Malick, but Knight of Cups removes the love. It is plastic, nihilistic. The love of To the Wonder is another false religion. You have to move again, move on again. Another road. And again. Knight of Cups is a film without connection, the individual becomes the only aspect of worth. Look how that works out for him.
The film begins with John Bunyon’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, but it ends with a new beginning, silence. I imagine you can read the film anyway that you want, but it feels like he found nothing, except what is. Did he make the Celestial City? I simply don’t see it. He may keep moving, but Bunyon feels a part of the beginning of the film, cast aside by the end of the film.
The film is another extension of Malick’s internal world. As he fully realises his position of being film’s Scott Walker. He has puts his early Walker Brothers material behind him, he has done his Scott 1 through 4, beloved by everyone. With To the Wonder and Knight of Cups he has made his Tilt, The Drift. The audiences have departed, the critics befuddled, but the work remains. He has travelled his own path, into his own world. This is the very opposite of The Whole Equation. It is cinematic Astral Weeks.