Knight of Cups ★★★★½

85/100

"Are you alone?"

"Of course."

Knight of Cups is a glistening, melodious ride, split up into chapters for not only narrative purposes but also in search of a purely breezy experience. It ends as soon as it begins, sweeping the viewer into its dizzying spell and carrying them to their own personal destination. Whether Terrence Malick's latest arrives at an endpoint of enlightening spirituality or frustration is also entirely dependent on personal taste and preference, and not only what you bring to it, but how you actively participate in its wonders.

It is, from start to finish, an unabashedly "Malickian" extravaganza, and if you've ever dismissed his previous efforts as pretentious shit without any further elaboration, then I would suggest that you stay far away from this, both for your sake and many others. However, that's not to say that Knight of Cups is an angelic work of art with no room for criticism (those who say "If you don't like it you're WRONG!" are just as pitiful), as it seems the most susceptible to it, both in its personal underpinnings and freewheeling visual language. It revolves around a flavorful LA journey, segmenting love affairs and turmoil so each movement feels like another step in evolution. It's also Malick's funniest to date, and whether that's a positive or negative for you will have to do with your ability to brush off some of the overtly simple exclamations ("I think you're weak" is an actual line) and typical Malick trademarks (be ready for a ton of beaches).

And yet, it's the complete unleashing of soulful beauty, as if Terrence Malick is bearing his wandering pains and sufferings to his viewers, that sells its transcendent core. For one thing, Emmanuel Lubezki and Malick were made for each other, and it is the seamless blend of form and content that results in one of the most beautiful works, since, well, To the Wonder and The Tree of Life. Its sunsets are illuminating, its experimental portions dive into a style more similar to Late-Godard and Korine, and each segment has an unmistakable flow to visuals and sounds. Even in scenes where a traditional film would move towards reflecting the energy of the situation, Malick keeps floating us viewers down a particular river, concluding in a glorious, astonishing final coda.

In fact, its cumulative effect is so stunning and immeasurable that I'm sure I'm either underrating or overrating its virtues, and discussing it as an immediately digestible work is a flat-out misdirection. The films of Terrence Malick continue to reveal divinely devastating details through their poetic, groundbreaking flourishes as the days go on, and Knight of Cups, at its core, is another magnificent expansion of Malick's searching trek through the human heart. It swirls and moves, dances and grooves, and flies in the face of convention. A cinematic excursion into excess has been done before, but not with such fluidity and grace. While somewhat creaky in theme, Malick transforms a classical picture into a tone-poem of clouds and birds, sinners and saints, following their spiritual energies into the unknown, relaying the confetti-dusted darkness against the everlasting embrace of two humans in love.

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