Posted by: ckckred | March 28, 2016

Knight of Cups

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In the world of cinema, despite its magnitude, it’s often difficult for a filmmaker to establish a voice that is unique, individual, and inimitable. Amongst this elite coalition are Stanley Kubrick, Luis Buñuel, and Terrence Malick. Since Badlands, Malick has created some of the most wondrous and dreamy pictures of the last several decades, renown for placing an emphasis on the natural background to act as a metaphor for his characters’ emotional states. Because of the surreal temperament of his work, Malick’s films are an acquired taste, with detractors arguing that the filmmaker focuses too heavily on visuals sacrificing the narrative component of his features. Knight of Cups will certainly not sway any Malick doubters and will likely even turn off many Malick fans in general. Yet for the filmmaker’s biggest devotees (a group this writer happily subscribes too), Knight of Cups is an ocular paradise that features some of Malick’s most grandiose thematic material of tragedy and romance.

Much like The Tree of Life and To The Wonder beforehand, Knight of Cups is told in a very nonlinear and experimental fashion, focusing on Rick (Christian Bale), a screenwriter who traverses Hollywood lost in thought, struggling to find comfort in his family and attempting to find love through a revolving door of women. As with the two abovementioned pictures, Knight of Cups is told through fragmented scenes and cryptic narration that analyzes the human psyche. Expressed through a Godardian episodic structure, Knight is segmented into eight chapters, each titled after different kinds of tarot cards. Characters appear and disappear in, with supporting roles by Cate Blanchett, Antonio Banderas, and Natalie Portman entering the picture for short durations and even featuring brief cameos from Nick Offerman and Cherry Jones. Malick’s directing process hints that much was left on the cutting floor, meaning any number of these characters could have received extended backgrounds in a nonexistent cut, further alluding to Knight’s enigmatic story.

Yet unlike The Tree of Life or To The Wonder, or for that matter any previous Malick picture, Knight of Cups is set not within the colorful backdrops that have defined such pictures like The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven but the industrial playground of Los Angeles, a startling move given that Malick is essentially the least Hollywood-esque American filmmaker working today. Yet Malick finds beauty within L.A., taking advantage of the Southern Californian landscape by capturing its desert plains and illustrious shorelines as well as the concrete jungle that dominates the city. It’s a testament to Malick’s direction as well as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s eye that can bring to light the splendor from bare parking lots and cluttered roads.

It’s through such scenery that Malick illustrates the dual nature of Hollywood, contrasting the luxury and glamor projected on screen to the bitter reality that roams the streets of L.A. Rick acts as a representation of his home city: he lives a colorful lifestyle, bouncing through nightclubs and inviting strippers back into his luxurious apartment, yet is unfulfilled by such superficial pleasures and desires, looking for genuine contentment in his life. In a way, this is Terrence Malick’s interpretation of , underscoring the juxtaposition between fantasy and actuality.

Repeated viewings will undeniably yield new light upon Malick’s intentions yet I’m convinced that Knight of Cups is a masterwork of the human condition, one that will surely resonate for quite some time. Similar to Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, Knight takes apart the consciousness of an artist, scrutinizing the personal and emotional events that define an individual. Hopefully like Synecdoche, Knight will garner a greater appreciation in future years, when audiences rediscover its eloquence and articulateness.

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Responses

  1. Agree with most of what you said, though Luzbeki is starting to irritate me. I really enjoyed this one. Why it aired in Australia last year is something I’ll never know

    • Glad to see someone else enjoyed Knight of Cups, I’m a fan of Lubezki’s cinematography though; his camerawork was probably the only thing I liked in Birdman.

      You guys got this last year? Knight of Cups came out here only a few weeks ago and I think it’s still only playing in New York and LA.

      • That is bizarre that Australia of all places gets it before any one else.

        I liked Luzbeki in Birdman… Then the Revenant which looked identical in terms of how he movies his camera around… it was at least different in the Knight of Cups, and I prefer it to his other work which seems all samey to me these days. No doubting his talent though, obviously

      • Most Malick movies do stress a lot of handheld motion and gliding shots; I think Lubezski’s cinematography fits perfectly with Malick’s direction and it has never bothered me. Visually, Birman looked amazing but Iñárritu doesn’t give viewers any time to breath by staging the entire movie as a single tracking shot.

        By the way, I heard that during the shooting of Malick’s next movie, he was seen at a Slayer and Eyehategod concert with Ryan Gosling. I’m not sure if he was doing any filming but if Tom Araya and Kerry King make it on screen, that would be the coolest thing ever.

      • Hahaha! At a Slayer gig, gold. Tom Araya deserves to be in a movie, the guy is a legend. Kerry King though is a cunt, fuck that guy. He is the reason Lombardo left (the most recent time).

        I agree his cinematography fits a Malick movie like a glove, but comparing the Revenant and Birdman…. the camera-work is very samey. At least in KoC it was a slightly differed style from Birdman and The Revenant.

      • Yeah, Kerry’s outspokenness can be a little irritating and I’m disappointed that Lombardo left the band. I am a fan of Paul Bostaph’s drumming, with God Hates Us All being my favorite of the post-Seasons albums, though his tenure was during Slayer’s slump in the 90s. And even though I thought Repentless was a mess, they still deliver a killer live show: I watched them on their tour with Carcass and Testament and they all delivered an amazing performance.

      • Lombardo basically left cos of King. He had the verse to ask why he hadn’t been paid for a years worth of touring and then later found out he was kicked out after reading a news article on the internet. Pretty shitty way to kick a band member out – that kinda happened to me once, booted out of a band via a two line email. Thanks dicks, at least I dodged a bullet there

        Bostaph is great. The band he came from, Forbidden, is great. And HELL YEAH they still put on a show. Crazy thing tho man… youtube a slayer show from say… 2010. Then watch the Wacken one from 2014. Tom Araya sounds like he is on vocal steroids!! He had been struggling for years, right back to War at the Warfield (I think that was the live DVD title, from around 2002/2003)…. buuuut, in that 2014 vid he CRUSHES!!!

        And I cannot complain about Jeff’s replacement either – I fucking LOVE early Exodus. 😀

        Out of curiosity, how were Testament? Who was playing guitar (if you know)? And how did Chuck Billy sound?

        sorry, massive reply there. I’ll stop now

      • No problem man. Slayer is a beast live. I too am a big fan of Exodus and Gary Holt slew the guitar alongside Kerry.

        I’m a huge Testament guy and they delivered a killer performance. Glen Drover was actually filling in for Skolnick on the date I went to, playing alongside Peterson. And I absolutely love Death, so I was happy to see Gene Hoglan on the drums and Steve DiGiorgio on the bass. Billy crushes it as a frontman, he’s always been pretty underrated in my book. That was probably the best line-up I’ve seen, with three of my all-time favorite bands delivering the goods.

      • Ahh nice, good to hear Peterson is still there. That mofo knows how to write a riff! Glen Drover… he is from Megadeth isn’t he? The new incarnation? Anyway that kinda sucks a bit missing out on Skolnick, that guy can fucking PLAY.

        So Hoglan was on the drums eh? That would have been freaking awesome. I went to a drum workshop he did – coolest guy ever. And he signed my snare drum 😀

        And I agree – Billy is underrated. One of the best vocalist in thrash IMO, though the best voice was Paul Baloff – RIP. Steve Souza ain’t half bad either. Sounds like Bon Scott after smoking a carton of cigs ;D

      • I think Drover was in the United Abominations line-up (Dave Mustaine’s guitar players these days have the lives of flies). He did a good job but I would have definitely preferred to see Skolnick.

        You got to take a drum workshop with Hoglan? That’s the coolest thing ever. Amazing drummer, second to Lombardo in my mind (probably from all those nights as a drum tech for Slayer).

        While Baloff kicked ass as a frontman, my favorite Exodus vocalist is Souza. It looks like Brian Johnson’s out of AC/DC, they should get Souza to fill in. There are plenty of great thrash frontmen, I think my top three would be James Hetfield (80s incarnation, not his voice today), John Bush, and Billy.

      • John Bush is underrated.

        Hehe I got to go to a drum workshop with Lombardo as well, that was pretty awesome. He is my favourite, as a fan and as a drummer

      • I’m a big John Bush guy. I don’t dislike Belladonna’s voice, I just much prefer Bush as the frontman for Anthrax. Sound of White Noise is my favorite ‘Thrax record.

        Lombardo is a beast at the double bass. Godfather of extreme metal drummer.

      • Lombardo is a beast, and a wicked nice guy. Got to speak to him for five mins one on one, it was amazing! And during the question time I got to ask all these technical questions about how he does/if he plans his fills, and how he uses double-bass etc. And it was FREE!

        Anthrax were the first metal band I got into, not counting Metallica. And goddamn I love Bush’s voice, but Belladonna does it for me. I prefer Bush in Armored Saint, his voice matches their sound better. That being said, Sound of White Noise is killer album

      • Bush’s era of Anthrax is so heavily underrated. Don’t get me wrong, Belladonna’s a talented guy and I enjoyed seeing him perform last winter. But Bush does it for me and I much prefer his voice. Plus Armored Saint kicks major ass.

  2. Still not out here, but good to read your take on it; I haven’t read many reviews yet but I gather it has been met with some hostility. I enjoy Malick’s work, and I’d say three of his films are bona fide classics (The Thin Red Line, Badlands and Days Of Heaven), whereas the more recent evolution of his style has its plus and minus points for me. I did like The Tree Of Life, but To The Wonder was just OK. Lots of beautiful images, of course, but not enough meat on the bones for my liking. I’m looking forward to seeing this – it’s so weird to have this recent run of his after all those years of silence.

    • Thanks Stu. I actually don’t know anyone else who has actually seen this. It’s still in pretty limited release and I don’t know when it will start to expand.

      If you didn’t like To The Wonder too much, this will probably not be your thing. It’s very experimental and surreal and if you’re not 100% down with Malick’s style, it’d be hard to follow.

      • I’d heard a couple of podcasts about it, but I guess they saw preview screenings. It seems to have been in the can for well over a year, but I guess there’s no rush.

    • heh, no High Rise for us but hey, we got Knight of Cups five months early! I’d love someone to explain to me how this all works!

  3. Nice review, very well written. I wasn’t interested in this before, but I may have to check it out now. What did you think of To the Wonder? I found it forgettable, surprising for a Malick effort. In my mind Knight of Cups seemed more in line with that one, and I was not so intrigued by it.

    • Thanks man. I was a big fan of To The Wonder (I have a link provided below); it is very much stylistically the same as Knight of Cups: cryptic narration, surreal imagery, nonlinear narrative. If Wonder wasn’t your thing, then I’d recommend approaching this with caution.

      https://cinematicfilmblog.com/2013/06/10/to-the-wonder/

  4. […] has posted a review of Knight of Cups that seems to be one of the few that align with my liking of the […]

  5. This is a fantastic review of a film I’m still trying to make heads and tails of, several days after watching. Mostly I liked it. It resonates still with a kind of power and beauty few films are able to create and though much of the sifting through the psyche of Rick went over my head at the time, I think when you get right down to it this is a surprisingly simple tale of finding contentment. I loved the juxtaposition of Rick trying to find happiness in a place that is so superficial and shallow, glossy and beautiful on the surface but nothing really there underneath. Yeah, you’ve convinced me I will be giving this one a really positive review. Thanks for the inspiration

    • Thanks man. I actually waited a week or so before I started writing my review; I needed some time to wrap my head around Malick’s intentions. But now I’m confident in saying that Knight of Cups is a great movie, one that has really resonated with me. I hear Malick’s next movie is coming out soon, can’t wait to see that.

  6. I think it goes without saying that Malick is for an acquired taste and sadly I havent been able to acquire that taste, especially when it comes to his recent work.Which would include The New World, To the Wonder and this one. I think his films have gotten more and more ponderous and this one was I think the epitomy of that. Found it to be too vaccous and empty but glad you had a better time with it

    • Malick’s movies are almost certainly not for everyone but his filmmaking style really resonates with me. Have you seen Badlands? I’d recommend watching that if you haven’t; it’s Malick’s most narratively-driven feature.

      • I have, and I kinda love it. I’m a big fan of all three of his early features; Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, The Thin Red Line is probably my favorite, but he’s kinda lost me ever since his films have started to lose a proper narrative structure. Tree of Life is an exception because I think its one of those films where not having a narrative was necessary and there really is something very poetic and beautiful about that film, but The New World, To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, I just hate.

      • I love all of his movies, but I can totally understand your reaction. I think Malick’s movies are very personal and individualistic and if you just can’t latch onto its specific theme then it’s hard to enjoy the ride.

  7. Malick certainly has a unique vision and he’s one of those rare filmmakers who could pull off a film without a script! Now, whether said film is enjoyable or not is another matter. I REALLY want to love Knight of Cups but I really struggled w/ it… it’s like watching a visual poetry for 2 hrs. I think it’d have worked better as a short film as I don’t think I have the patience to sit through it as a feature. That said, I didn’t hate it, just not something I want to see again.

    • Malick’s recent movies have been extremely avant-garde (and his work in general has always been very experimental to begin with). Personally I love Malick’s style and I could watch the 5-hour director’s cut of Knight of Cups that’s probably stashed away somewhere. That being said, most of the people who I know who’ve seen this weren’t big fans,

  8. […] Knight of Cups […]


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