Movie Review: Knight of Cups (2016)
Wanted: Beautiful actress to run away from camera, laughing. Dancer’s twirls a plus. No dialogue necessary. Contact: Terrence Malick.
“Knight of Cups” is a movie about a man who’s lost his way (spiritually) directed by a director who’s lost his way (artistically). His art has overwhelmed narrative. The movie’s beautiful to look at, and occasionally wise, but it’s as blocked as its main character.
Rick (Christian Bale) is in almost every scene but says maybe 10 words aloud—mostly “What’s your name?” to the latest beautiful girl. Not a bug; by design. From IMDb:
While there wasn’t an actual script, Terrence Malick would write multiple pages of dialogue for some of the actors ... Despite playing the lead character, Christian Bale received no writing for himself. This prompted Bale to try to sneak a peek of the other actors’ pages to ascertain what he could expect in each scene.
Although a script was never used, Terence Malick wrote a 17-page monologue for Joel Kinnaman's character.
Joel Kinnaman was in the movie? Now what does that say? You write 17 pages for a guy who’s barely there and nothing for the guy who’s in every scene? Screenwriters can take heart. Malick is showing us how necessary they are.
What do we know about Rick? He appears to be a movie director who directs nothing—so like Malick from 1978 to 1998. He’s brother to an angry minister (Wes Bentley, I’ve missed you), son to an angry father (Brian Dennehy, ditto), and diplomat, or maybe simply witness, during histrionic, plate-breaking scenes between the two. All of this, per Malick, without dialogue. It’s voiceover. It’s memory.
Rick is trying to fulfill himself spiritually by chasing, or being chased by, the latest impossibly beautiful woman: punk rock (Imogene Poots), model (Freida Pinto), stripper (Teresa Palmer), doctor (Cate Blanchett), married woman (Natalie Portman). Toss in Japanese Girls #1 and 2 and models #1 and 2. They flirt; sex is suggested, or at least bedsheets; there’s partying. One by one, they ride in the passenger seat of his convertible, and raise their hands in the air and whoop it up. They run away from him at the beach. Then a shadow creeps over their face, a disappointment. What’s the disappointment? Who knows? Who knows why they appear, why they stay, why they leave. They just do. Because he’s on a spiritual journey.
Does Malick know how boring this guy is? He’s stuck in his own head. “Where did I go wrong?” he says to himself. “Wake up,” others say. “How do I begin?” he says to himself. “Wake up,” others say. Psychiatrists should see this film. It actually made me wonder if Malick has some form of Asperger’s. He thinks it’s spirit/soul but it could just be chemicals.
Let’s face it, most spiritual journeys are undertaken by people who don’t have to work for a living. Get a job at 7-Eleven and then talk to me about spiritual suffering. Take the bus. “Knight of Cups” is the story of a man who got everything he ever wanted but it’s not what he wanted.
But that’s not the problem with the movie. The problem is in the telling—or lack of it. If “The Thin Red Line” was 60 percent narrative, this is 10. Or five. It’s the story of a man who can’t connect with others directed by a guy who can’t, or won’t, connect with us. And its ending epiphany? Rick talks up “The lightness in the eyes of others.” That’s the pearl he’s been looking for all this time. And that’s why most spiritual journeys are a drag. They almost always come back to the obvious or mundane.
I like the earthquake scene. I like the home invasion scene—the burglars who can’t believe this guy doesn’t have anything to steal. Because those are actually scenes. Things are happening. Then they dissolve. Then there’s another beautiful girl.
I like this voice-over thought from Rick near the end:
So much love
That never gets out
Or this from another of Rick’s guru/fathers:
[God] shows His love not by helping avoid suffering, but by sending you suffering, by keeping you there. To suffer binds you to something higher than yourself, higher than your own will. Takes you from the world to find what lies beyond it.
Well, normally I would like that. But here? Suffering is Teresa Palmer and Freida Pinto and the beach? Suffering is 7-Eleven, Terrence. Or Syria.
Near the end, the father, dying, says this is voiceover:
You think when you reach a certain age things will start making sense. And you find out that you are just as lost as you were before. I suppose that’s what damnation is. The pieces of your life never to come together, just splashed out there.
Which is the movie. The movie is the pieces of Rick’s life just splashed out there. The movie is damnation.
Terrence: Wake up. Please.