Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: May 6th
Four years having passed since his semi-autobiographic film To the Wonder, American auteur Terrence Malick resumes his critically polarising streak of post-Thin Red Line epics with the release of Knight of Cups, an eerily poetic piece of cinema. Starring Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Ben Kingsley, Nick Offerman and Imogen Poots, this, his seventh feature, is not exactly the star-studded ensemble film you might envisage, rather it is an experiment in video art disguising itself as a drama.
Broken into eight parts, each segment serving as an interpretation of a different Tarot Card, Knight of Cups follows Rick (Bale), a much sought after screenwriter, whose depression prevents him from being able to work. He cannot write, nor has he finished any previous assignments set out for him. Yet his stagnation hardly seems to bother anybody, much less himself. In fact, never is it seen even him attempting to put words on paper, or develop any class of an idea into a story. His sole action is to strike up relationships, flitting from one meaningful, but transient affair to another. Reluctant to challenge his own self, Rick’s main objective in the film is to maintain balance. If his mind is awash with fears, anxieties and conflicts, then his external surrounds ought to be serene, numb, virtually unpopulated, controllable and utopian.
Hence, he fills his life with intimacy, sexual gratification and beautiful women. It is a total male fantasy, a setting where every woman longs to be with him: the writer who never needs to struggle behind a desk. The main question is whether his life is actually as idyllic as it seems, or that his view is edited into fragments, selectively chosen to omit the conflicts.
Alienating in its disconnectedness, the entire two-hour work plays like a dystopian dream, scarcely populated and chillingly ambient. On top of this, the interactions between characters can be equally as haunting, as either people talk at Rick, his responses never clear, or entire conversations are taken out of sync with the scene’s motion, the dialogue ending up distant, and barely human. Yet, there are times when the viewer is unsure if what is being said is actually happening, or if it is merely inner-monologues, personal thoughts mixed together as if to seem like conversations,
The jarring effect of multiple, often unidentifiable voices, speaking out their inner-most thoughts adds to the icy atmosphere of the work, the end-result echoing such equally challenging films as Alan Renais’ Last Year at Marienbad, or the non-narrative documentary works of Ron Fricke, Godfrey Reggio, or later-era Jean Luc Godard. A mature co-opting of various tropes popularised in the Nouvelle Vague; its existentialism, the jump cuts, the film’s occasional bout of self-consciousness, Knight of Cups is utterly fascinating, even when tedious.
Filmed with grace, not a single shot inserted for the purpose of filling time, this has a great many characteristics, that if combined would have the critics screaming “masterpiece”. Yet, at the moment, and only based upon a single viewing, there are several pieces of this puzzle missing, the most important being, the supposed revelation of Rick’s, gained from his experience with each woman. Make no mistake, this is not a film which will be crystal clear upon a single viewing, even if, unfortunately a single viewing might be too much for a great many viewers. This is a film for filmmakers, critics, people who have seen a Tarkovsky more than once, and people who can see a Tarkovsky more than once. This is Terrence Malick at his most experimental and for that reason, extreme patience is required.