Knight of Cups ★★★★★

Film #1 of My Definitive Ranking of Terrance Malick

Though I still haven't processed the entirety of this film, I can easily say this will be hard to beat for the finest of 2016.

Malick (and Lubezki), with their last three efforts, have created a visual language entirely their own. Its dismissed by most as pretentious drivel, but for the lucky few who fall victim to its intense profundity and alluringly fractured narratives, the films make for an experience unlike any other. Knight of Cups is brutal and unflinching, starkly less majestic than Tree of Life but nearly as powerful in its intentions. It all feels so metaphorical, yet the camera feels free and unintentional all the same. Christian Bale's improvised narrations feel intensely philosophical and beautifully lyrical, free of implied meaning and refreshingly interpretive.

It's the story of a man lost in the indulgences of the world, struggling to find meaning in a life rife with insincerity. Nature is noticeably portrayed as the more nurturing counterpart to the unforgiving concrete jungle, but it's clear his inability to love and know someone on a profound level is not going to be cured by any walk on the beach. It's a fevered plunge into the decadent world of LA, both other worldly and gritty all the same.

A film as layered and immersive as this is rare. If I had to take a stab at its "message", I'd say that Malick is trying to convey that we are not one thing, but many things. Not our former selves, but instead constantly existing in a state of evolutionary change and compulsory dissatisfaction with our current selves. Our past is lost, and this is why we long for it. Our attempts to return to it are fleeting, and those to forget it are dangerous. We are molded by the  environment we exist in, and whatever meaning we seek in life is sure to remain hidden from us.

This is bona-fide visual poetry, cinema as a prayer to anyone listening. It could be taken as a loose sequel to Tree of Life thematically, as it ponders many of the same questions. This is another stab from Malick to understand the meaning of life through art, and watching him do so has made for some of the most memorable and important films of my life. This is a divisive masterpiece, one that will lead many to believe Terrance is nothing more than an indulgent, pretentious hack intent on cementing himself as one of the more intellectual film makers of our time. Contrarily, I'll be eternally grateful to be alive during this period of his career, watching him use art as a vehicle to grapple with his own existence.

There's no film maker currently working that is more confident and intentional than Malick (and Lubezki for that matter). They could be making films that will win Oscars and awards, but instead they make these meditative, divisive masterpieces in a time when audiences seem to have a taste for visually arresting cinema. They are doing their own thing, and doing it god damn well at that.

I loved, loved, loved Knight of Cups, and I love love love Terrance Malick. I need to see this a few more times though to write a cohesive review.

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