Paul Morgendorffer’s review published on Letterboxd:
After we went home following our watching “Knight of Cups”, we took our dog on a walk around the apartment complex. Neither of us really spoke much. It was a comfortable silence. And the dog sniffed around, and looked around - and so did I. For some reason, after watching Malick’s film, I found myself visualizing everything around me like he would through Emmanuel Lubezki’s lens. The floating frame, and the schizophrenic cuts; the voiceover that made it flow rather than feel scattered. The yellow streetlight on the trees, and the way they looked with the nighttime sky as I looked up. And then, it struck me. I was walking behind my fiancé and his dog, watching from behind their backs. For ten seconds there, my eyes saw the world like Malick did - and for the first time in a long time, I’ve been affected by a movie in such a way that is very rare for a cinephile; and what we all fell in love with the movies for in the first place.
But, this isn’t the first time Malick has used his now trademark style, nor that many other filmmakers have honed some of it for their own work. So why did this just hit me?
“Knight of Cups” is about a nihilistic man - and it’s spirituality is so confused, that I can’t fully wrap my head around it being a hopeful film or not - nor can I really figure out what this says about what I saw in “The Thin Red Line”, “The New World”, and “The Tree of Life” before it.
Right now, I’m almost catatonic. I’ve been ambushed.
And then, I was standing outside my apartment with our dog and questioning where all this beauty came from, and how us and nature aren’t any different - no matter how much we accredit ourselves as a species.
And when I used to think this was Malick’s faith coming through in his work, I brought to mind the faith crises in “To the Wonder”, and then once again started to realize that Malick may be onto something way more piercing than I had originally thought. I can’t recall the last time one film in an auteur’s filmography has made me completely reinterpret every single film they made beforehand. In fact, they usually compliment one another into finding the bigger picture, or shift over the years with the changes of a shifting artist. They usually don't shift collectively over one entry.
Malick pulled the rug from under my feet, and when we returned in from that walk outside, I looked at the dog, happy and purely innocent as can be, and I impulsively started to cry.
I remember Ebert, and Brody, and many other critics who were influential in their work - and I remember being a teenager and finding it a little overt when, in some of their reviews, they mention some film experiences that would cause them to take walks and ponder life itself.
An existential walk in the nighttime? Eh. I’ve always known films to be powerful… and I've known they’re enlightening… and I've known they're an artform that, just like any other medium, can shift your thought. But, these philosophical walks seemed almost cliché by design.
Tonight, Malick made me that cliché.