There was a time you had to wait decades for Terrence Malick to release another film. Then came The Tree of Life and off the back of that a flurry of films. To The Wonder followed, now Knight Of Cups and before long his next outing Weightless. But with each passing film Malick’s interest in narrative filmmaking seems to diminish.
If the auteur theory is ever to be proven then Malick will be one of the filmmakers held up as an example. His films, certainly in his latter career, are unmistakably his. With Knight Of Cups you can tick off elements that quintessentially define a Malick movie. The stunning visuals, the existential musings that lead to nowhere in particular, the whispered, hushed voice overs, the slow, ponderous wandering camera, the fascination with nature and man’s place alongside and juxtaposed with it. They’re all here, present and correct.
Malick’s films are like art installations, the narrative is superfluous, bordering on irrelevant, to what he is trying to communicate. Here the film even opens with a Dali-esque visual of a woman, shot in black and white, covered in paint. It is, like so much of Malick’s work, strikingly incomprehensible.
In terms of plot Christian Bale sums it up best when his character asks, “How do I begin?”. The film follows Bale’s Hollywood writer looking back on a collection of people who have impacted his life. There are the free spirits of Imogen Poots and Teresa Palmer, his damaged brother Wes Bentley, women he has wronged Natalie Portman and ex-wife Cate Blanchett, model Freida Pinto and young nymph Isabel Lucas.
If you’re not a fan of Terrence Malick Knight Of Cups is going to do little to convert you. If anything this is the most Malick-y of Malick movies. It’s a sprawling yet intimate think piece that never offers you anything other than an excuse to bask in its beauty and take from that what you will. At one point it is whispered that, “Dreams are nice but you can’t live in them”. Well thanks to long time Malick cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki you get an idea of what they would look like when projected onto a screen.
There are echoes to The Tree Of Life here, the constant reminder of family, the glorious, sun-kissed flashbacks to a forgotten childhood. As per usual Malick’s film is so seeped in that sense of nostalgic memory, even when at it’s more haunting existentialism, that it’s undeniably hypnotic.
You have to earn the right to make a movie like Knight Of Cups. There can be no question that Malick has earned that right. A film of this nature does not attract the kind of cast Cups possess without a certain pedigree of filmmaker offering something special to collaborate with.
Listless, often inaccessible but unquestionably beautiful to behold and leaving an indelible mark on the memory, Knight Of Cups is Terrence Malick at his most gloriously different.