There is nothing more exciting than awaiting the next visually cinematic poem from director Terrence Malick. His latest opus ‘Knight of Cups’ is a grandiose feast of genres that is a masterwork. It tackles midlife crisis, the superficiality of Hollywood, and finding the meaning of life and love through a variety of beautiful goddesses. This is Malick at his finest as he breaks all the rules of moviemaking. It’s whispery, it’s stunning and vastly elliptical. Don’t expect a chronological plot or a paint-by-the-numbers script. No, this is Malick using cinematic artistry to tell his narrative through a plethora of images and sounds. With the collaboration of one of the greatest cinematographers of all time Emmanuel Lubezki (winner of three consecutive Academy Awards for ‘Gravity,’ ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Revenant’), the decadent world of Los Angeles has never appeared so hauntingly beautiful.
If you surrender to Malick’s visuals, you will find an auteur at the top of his craft. He employs snippets of dialogue and voice-over that drift in and out of a scene like a dream. The camera is always in motion acting like a stream of consciousness. He is brilliantly capturing the memories and experiences of a man on an existential journey. He makes you pay attention to what you are seeing. Pay attention to life. Live for the moment. Don’t worry about the past or agonize about the future. All we have is right now. The camera is always searching for something. Time keeps on moving forward. Some experiences fade away and others open up to eternity. It’s quite simply pure visual storytelling that Malick utilized in 2011’s ‘The Tree of Life.’ Someone once said that the director is like a man with a great butterfly net grabbing at images.
‘Knight of Cups’ follows a screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) on the cusp of mega-success. As the story opens, we hear the late actor John Gielgud recite ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and see celestial images before the camera settles on the modern civilization of Los Angeles. Brian Dennehy plays Rick’s father and voices over a tale of a knight who succumbs to a sleep potion. Rick’s spiritual journey begins when he gets jolted out of bed from an earthquake. He seems tormented and lost. Why is he so unhappy? He appears to have it all – money, good-looks and beautiful women. The film takes us through a series of romantic relationships with Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman among others. Poot’s character tells Rick, “You don’t want love, you want a love experience.” We find out that he was married once to a doctor (Blanchett) and lived in a well-manicured enclave of Los Angeles. There is also a passionate relationship with a married woman (Portman) that brings back pleasurable as well as painful memories.
Rick descends into the Hollywood and Las Vegas party scene. He has trysts with escorts and strippers but although they are fleeting encounters they are important memories for him. There is an industry party at a Hollywood mogul’s mansion where stars like Antonio Banderas and Ryan O’Neal are enjoying the opulence. All the while, there are leggy models and starlets flirting with Rick. He appears to struggle in these social settings like an introvert forced to take advantage of this adult playground. There are also painful family moments with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Dennehy) as they attempt to blame each other for the death of their third brother. The reason it all works so effectively well is the quirky and masterful performance by Bale. We see the contempt on his face. He should be happy but there is something missing. Is it possible that he regrets losing one of the women in his life?
‘Knight of Cups’ is like no other film that you will see this year. Malick portrays the protagonist on a spiritual journey from dark to light. It is one of the most unique depictions of Hollywood excess put on film. The film’s title comes from a tarot card. Here’s a man that feels lost and consumed by the partying and all of the indulgences that Hollywood has to offer. He realizes that debauchery is getting him nowhere in life but he is lured to it anyway. He knows that he has committed mistakes in his life but seeks redemption. In some respects, don’t we all seek that in life? ‘Knight of Cups’ is a visual masterpiece and should not be missed. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/vl6BWTIZeOg.