Knight of Cups ★★

"All those years living a life with someone I didn't even know"

Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival #9

Terrence Malick has a distinct aura as a filmmaker; that is seen every time a new feature of his is released. People speculate and anticipate it for months and in this case in particular, even years. He’s unpredictability and cheer audacity as a film director, makes him a name that everyone (even those who do not like his work) likes to follow. I am one of those who actually likes the majority of his films; especially his earlier oeuvre. Days of Heaven, for example, is filled with majestic beauty, fantastic cinematography and score and it has at its chore an idyllic love story. Badlands on the other hand is a more energetic, lively piece bursting with momentum. His more recent pictures though navigate into different waters; they are more spiritual, experimental, ambiguous and more challenging views. These films are marked by their slow pace, heavy use of voice-over and little dialogue as most of the storytelling is done through images.

Knight of Cups basically pursues that same ongoing path that the director has been diving into in the last twenty years or so; the problem is that unlike what you would think, Malick does not seem to have mastered this kind of storytelling that’s personal to him, in fact, quite the contrary occurs, he seems to be more and more disengaged with his own style. Cups doesn’t have a single line of dialogue for Christ sake! All there is is narration in front of slightly linked images. The plot is extremely thin, and most audiences won’t even be able to grasp it because they will be sleeping. The narrative cogs are pulled through shady, unclear voice-over and images of Christian Bale wondering about.

With that said and remarked, I think it is pretty safe to point out that this film is not for everyone. Main audiences will not be infatuated with Knight of Cups, as in fact, main audiences will sleep through it. If you thought that Tree of Life was demanding and dull, then my friend beware, ‘cause this is a more challenging, glacially paced feature. Plus we have the aggravating fact that this is not nearly as rewarding as Life is, as that picture has moments of true awe and spectacle that somehow over compensate the film’s ambiguity and deliberately sluggish pace. Most of the times in Cups we just have a poker-faced Christian Bale tottering from parties to strip clubs, and then to mountains ect. For most of the movie’s run time we solely contemplate Bale walking through his own life without any kind of interest or facial expression.

This being a Terrence Malick production, it is certain that the movie is filled with heavy symbolism; he tells much of the picture’s story through those. Malick doesn’t expose his characters and plot through conventional narrative but through the use of visual metaphors and stimulation.

Knight of Cups follows an actor who’s drawn to two sides of himself, one is the materialistic side that’s led by his desire for cars, money, beach houses, drugs and women; then there’s the other side of him who’s attracted to nature. There’s a carnal and natural facet to Rick and both of them are dueling. Here Malick conveys and observes how we are possessed by our possessions and how we project ourselves into objects; we think that we are our money, car, profession or house, and while we think this way, we are never going to be able to discover ourselves and fulfill who we are. One also notices that Rick is haunted by his father’s image. Even though Rick has grown up to be a much wealthier, luxurious man than is father, on the reelz he ain’t no happier than him. This plain simply demonstrates what above was articulated.

Rick is confused with his existence and with the meaning of the same. At a point in the film he even goes to a tarot card reader with the means of finding some guidance and path to follow, which then again showcases one of the film’s main motifs, which is the lack of fulfillment and sense of detachment.
This is a guy that’s pulled towards what society promotes, and that is materialism, superficiality and hedonism, but those are messing up his life. He’s not able to have stable relationships nor is he able to connect with others, even his own brother, he feels alienated and loss. This is shown quite directly through the fact that Rick spends the whole fucking picture meandering about with seemingly no direction. He feels disconnected from his surroundings and thus the element of him zig-zagging his way through the picture.

All of these ideas and themes are curious and interesting no questions asked, but those weren’t enough to make this experience an entertaining or engaging one, as in fact, Knight of Cups was a bore. The theater was packed, filled with probably six hundred people or so, and I do believe that my girlfriend was not the only one sleeping through this screening. As I looked back from my seat I saw the bored, irked faces of an audience that was struggling to keep itself awake. And when the film ended and the credits started to roll, there was a clear hesitation from members of the audience to applaud the film; the spectators were reluctant to applaud ‘cause they had just awaken from their siesta.

This is Cups biggest issue, despite conveying some interesting thoughts and having a thematic that’s appealing, the truth is that these subjects are not approached in the most commendable fashion. Does it sound exciting to see Malick tackle how celebrity life isn’t able to truly fulfill you as a human being? Sure! It sounds extremely intriguing. But unfortunately the result is a picture that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue, a linear narrative or even a plot; a film that is glacially slow paced, tremendously disengaging and unrewarding. Even I who tried hard to be invested in it, even I who usually even likes his pictures, even I, found this picture to be a near painful watch as I wished for the movie’s ending.

Rating: C-

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