Terrence Malick. That name again. You know that name. He was (and is) a genius, right? Long ago there was Badlands ... Martin Sheen ... Sissy Spacek. Days Of Heaven and then a 20 year hiatus. A movie. Another 7 years off. And every so often since, becoming more and more inclined to meditate for us onscreen. In Knight Of Cups Malick makes interesting, gorgeous things happen, but does it make for a satisfying movie? What. Are you looking for?
Rick (Christian Bale) rides the waves of his life as a Hollywood writer using only the flex of his knees. As the waves tumble grandly in, his board rises and falls, knees flex. His head maintains a constant level. Turning disenchantment into art. He's on a journey, seeking his insides, told through elegant vignettes of his interactions with six women. The sections are named for cards in the Tarot.
You reach a certain age. Or you make a big mistake. Or you simply awaken to the fact that you've been flying blind all along. Things happen in Knight Of Cups, family fights, robberies, yet Cups feels defiantly plot-less. Or maybe we're just lucky enough to be present as Malick wanders through the forest of his past, figuring things out. (Could be just me, though, having spent two of the last four years running as fast away from my life as possible, and the other two wondering why, and how to get back.) Which I suppose is the beauty of a movie like Knight Of Cups, on which Malick lets you imprint what you will.
Yet you, too, might be vexed, as audiences were by such indifference toward convention. Or maybe you're moved. Or both, as you wind your way through Malick's gorgeous, hypnotic, meandering reverie. Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick's Director of Photography gets it, obviously; his fluid steadicam never stops moving. Rotating its eye calmly, smoothly. Always pushing the narrative forward even when nothing happens. Things happen in Knight Of Cups, family fights, robberies, but the pace never once falters. There may be an arc, but there's hardly a crescendo. You're floating down the lazy river on Malick's raft - oh here's Natalie Portman crying bitter tears, there's a neon strip club, let's walk down this hallway together, let's drive down this freeway - all at a seamless, 90-beats-per-minute remove.
Cheekily, credits advise you to play the movie loud. Which might be a practical thing. Voiceovers whisper, as interior as can be, dialog is quiet, nearly incidental. Music means as much as anything else in Knight Of Cups, mixed right in there at the same level as anything else. Languid, soft. John Cage would approve, as while watching (at normal volume) you might hear a neighbor's music, or someone walking upstairs, and think it's part of the movie. Maybe it is. Do play it loud, because Hanan Townshend's music is fantastic. And when you do hear it, is the dialog clunky - "so much love inside us that never gets out" - or is it merely, to the point?
As with The Tree Of Life, in Knight Of Cups Malick ultimately captures, expertly, painfully, beautifully, the ache of a remembered childhood, when we'd believe anything, and the sun setting through the trees signaled something different on the way. Knight Of Cups seems as any twilight reverie, when everything outside the window is a still blue-gray, and there's a haunting aesthetic remove from emotional reality.
Lastly you see the wall approaching. Knight Of Cups isn't really a movie. It's something in which to burrow, and again when you can't sleep. Maybe you can get things sorted. Recommended.