jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
98 (up from 90)
It's taken me four previous attempts to even orchestrate some sort of intelligent response to this rewatch of Knight of Cups and they've all had different ideas to present within this behemoth masterwork. Malick tackles existentialism in nearly each work he creates, but dare I say that this is perhaps the most prime example of his work in regards to existentialism. He depicts Rick as a man who has so much success, yet only wants satisfaction within his human psych. Wandering aimlessly, we find him in a desert, the last place we'd expect any character introduction to end up. But, I'll come back to this.
Each woman is a luring knot in Rick's quest for authenticity in his living choice. He believes that women are the key to his happiness, his self-fulfilling prophecy of guidance and ambition. Each women, different from the next, represents the change in emotion Rick experiences. He meets a man, Tonio, who says each women is comparably a flavor of ice cream, and once you tire of that one specific flavor, you try another. Rick does this idea. One is a rebellious women. The other is a married woman, whom he cannot have. His ex-wife, Nancy, was the first of this idea. The family woman, the loving woman. She mentions that Rick, at the end of their marriage, become isolate and changed. He tired of her. He never believed that he deserved love after that, until Elizabeth unlocks that chest. He picked such unusual and youthful and deplorable women because he believed he deserved such types after hurting Nancy. He cannot break that.
He has it all, yet wants none of it. Materialism in Los Angeles is fuelled by the latest clothing and style. At a party, Rick watches almost in disarray as women fling themselves over men and men dance around, without a worry. They're rich, they never have to worry ever again. They made themselves to the point that they can rebuild themselves. Lusting over each other and personal possessions almost seems to cause Rick a sense of despising; he has become a part of this lifestyle for which he doesn't want to elude to the fact that he has the power to be exactly like them.
Rick's family life is another component. He has a brother who killed himself and the film thrusts the audience right in the middle of the aftermath. He has a brother, Barry, who is almost too dangerous for his own being and a father who creates anger and destruction, himself. It is presumed that the deceased brother killed himself over the father's overbearing power and disobedience towards his children. Barry and Joseph, the father, are often seen in a fighting match of anger, perhaps blaming the other. Rick see this and feels empty. But does he feel empty for the right reason? We don't really know, but this seems like to be the piece of Knight of Cups that best represents Malick's own life; his brother killed himself after the stress of becoming a guitar player. He broke his hands, wanting to quit. His father flew to him, and ultimately, Malick's own brother died shortly afterwards. These segments seem to be Malick's therapy session; trying to forgive for not helping.
The beginning of the film has Rick in the desert, wandering around, still looking for his purpose. This, I believe, is meant to be the end of the film, and the events after the opening are a reflection of what Rick has thought lead to his ending up in the desert. The narrator, Ben Kingsley, isn't merely a man telling the fairytale, he is a part of this journey. He is God, seeing his Child wistfully wander without a source of direction, trying to guide him in the path of right. When he talks, as Rick engages in the antics he does, God seems disappointed with him. His words of love and tenderness are thrown at Rick periodically through the film, but it seems Rick ignores the call. It's only then he unlocks his heart and finally listens to the life he was meant to have.
"There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth"- Freidrich Nietzsche