Knight of Cups ★★★★½

I'm a little disappointed, but not really surprised, that this is getting savaged by critics. Late period Terrence Malick films are pretty much the dictionary definition of Not For Everyone, and this film continues the almost entirely plot-free stream of consciousness style of filmmaking seen in To The Wonder. That's a film that I liked a lot, but Knight of Cups has the advantage of having a justification for its stylistic eccentricities. The film is a visual representation of the protagonist dreaming, sometimes literally but always metaphorically. The film is framed around the story of a sleeping prince and Rick, being the stand in for that prince, spends the entire film "asleep" and trying to wake up into the life he really wants (which is really just the same search for transcendence that every Malick character undergoes). So Rick goes off on his spiritual quest, trying to shock himself awake, and Malick takes us on a beautiful two hour journey through mansions, strip clubs, night clubs, concerts and the streets of Los Angeles. This quest, far from being the empty perfume commercial that critics have snarked about, has an emotional through line that persists through the film's dream logic and elliptical storytelling. Part of what makes the emotions of the film work is how accurate it is as a portrait of depression and grief; Rick isn't just some bored rich guy but a man still grappling with his brother's suicide and locked into a catatonic state of depression. The entire film is essentially Rick's repeated failed attempts to self-medicate his emotional and spiritual pain with physical pleasure. But those pleasure are always fleeting. Unfortunately for Rick, though, he's hooked and the city of Los Angeles is his dealer.

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