Knight of Cups

Terrence Malick's La Dolce Vita.

An actor walks throughout a world of lustrous surfaces, desperately searching for a contentment which seems to be perpetually out of reach. Malick shoots much of the film on empty sound stages and hollow back-lots - the world these people inhabit is one of unspoken artifice, all-encompassing but distinctly off-kilter (the constant trips to unnamed beaches act as a visual and spiritual release from this suffocating falseness). There's a fascination here with the glamour of celebrity, and rather than attempt to craft biting (read tired) satire, Malick is content to observe, the excesses seen here taking on an alien, almost mythical quality (a roof-top party is set to pounding electronic music, Ben Kingsley's unnamed narrator speaks of the soul, we see the image of an anonymous party-goer alone with fake wings). I'm also continually impressed with the implementation of digital, certain shots taken with what I can only assume to be a Go-Pro, giving images a welcome sense of digital abstraction, Malick and Lubezki unafraid of utilising every cinematic tool in their disposal to craft something beautiful.

Whilst many will regard this as nothing more than a poetic damnation of celebrity culture, it's clear that Malick is digging much deeper than that. At it's core, this is a film about depression, about a man who searches for connection through others but finds himself unable to do anything but (consciously or unconsciously) push them away. The narrative here is cyclical, the many women in the protagonist's life representative of a greater need; a love, a look or a moment in time in which some true sense of self can be attained. It plays into To the Wonder's exploration of what we attempt to find through love, yet in Knight of Cups this takes on a more human quality, the 'light in another person's eyes' being the one thing that can truly allow Bale's character to break free from his inner angst. [16/10/18: reading back on this section of the review feels vaguely problematic. Not sure what I would make of it now].

And it's truly fascinating to once again see how autobiographical Malick has let his later-period films become - Bale's relationship with his old and possibly deceased father is one which contains many echoes of Jack and his father in Tree of Life, the death of a brother alluded to once more, in many ways this entire arc acting as the inevitable conclusion of all we saw in his earlier masterpiece. But rather than damn his father, there's now a sense of understanding - I feel that Malick is a man who has constantly struggled with a deep depression, and moments here ache with the acknowledgment that the emotional distance which has crippled Malick's protagonists (and by extension Malick) is one that only his father may truly understand.

Once again a poetic, personal and spiritually evocative exploration of the momentary made massive (although your mileage may vary, as 8 people walked out of my screening). Please never stop, Malick.

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