Director Terrence Malick really is a master of experimental cinema – both in terms of experimental content and visual direction. His newest endeavour, Knight of Cups (2015), follows in the same vein as his previous films The Tree of Life (2011) and To The Wonder (2012). But does it live up to Malick’s reputation as the master of his craft? Its synopsis is as follows:
A screenwriter living in Los Angeles tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him. While he’s successful in his career, his life feels empty. Haunted by the death of one brother and the dire circumstances of the other, he finds temporary solace in the Hollywood excess that defines his existence. Women provide a distraction to the daily pain he must endure. And every encounter that comes his way brings him closer to finding his place in the world. (source)
Here is a selection of thoughts I had whilst watching this strange film.
- Like all of Terrence Malick’s films, Knight of Cups is absolutely gorgeous to watch. It is visually stunning, with some shots so beautiful that they can elicit a gasp of delight from the most jaded of cinematography enthusiasts.
- Unfortunately, for me, the wonderment stops at just about there.
- I loved Malick’s The Tree of Life – I absolutely loved it, dinosaur sequence and all, even the bits where Sean Penn absent-mindedly touches things whilst staring off into the distance. It was a truly beautiful film, a work of art.
- But for me, Knight of Cups was so empty, and apart from the insanely beautiful cinematography and direction, there wasn’t much to engage with. It’s kind of exactly like The Tree of Life, except it doesn’t work as well.
- You could spend all of your life thinking about this film and trying to work it out, but I doubt you’d get anywhere. The themes of the film are blatant and in your face, but the way the themes are interpreted by the actors feels very empty and non-committal.
- What Terrence Malick did for this film was to get the actors to make up their own dialogue as they went along, and film them as they did so, for hours and hours at a time. As a result, some sequences are so awkward (the party scene in particular) as it feels like certain actors don’t really know what to do with themselves.
- I wrote a million notes about the possible symbolism in the film, about how each segment is named after a tarot card and what this could mean for both the segments and the overall story, but it all really amounts to naught given that the contents of the film were essentially made up as it went along. Kind of frustrating.
- The highlight for me was Cate Blanchett’s performance. She is a goddess. There are approximately one million actor cameos in Knight of Cups, particularly in the aforementioned party scene, but Blanchett stands out as someone who acts the non-script with what feels like an actual purpose.
- Cinematographer Emmanuel Luzbecki also worked on Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), another visual accomplishment. I will probably have to do a cinematography post on this one, because it is so artfully composed, even if the rest didn’t quite work for me.
- Ultimately, if you’re wanting to see Knight of Cups, just be prepared for its stupendous beauty, and also to see Christian Bale staring into the distance every scene or so. You’re going to see a lot of this:
Watch the trailer here.