Knight of Cups
Knight of Cups borders on the inaccessible as we follow the protagonist on a soul-defining journey of redemption and self-discovery. Terrence Malick has never been a stickler for linear narrative or a simple three-act structure and his new film certainly follows suit.
We follow washed-up writer Rick (Christian Bale) on an amoral jaunt through Los Angeles, where the narrative cruises into the surreal and possesses an almost poetic quality. The film is sectioned into tarot-titled chapters, each signifying a period in Rick’s life linked to a past relationship. An earthquake in the beginning scenes seemingly echoes a disruption in Rick’s own situation as we see him stumble through Hollywood, struggling to connect with those whom he holds dear. As Imogen Potts’ character, Della, wistfully reflects, Rick does not “want love”; rather he “only wants the experience”.
In a wholly abstract way, Knight of Cups can be read as an exploration of love as a concept and Malick highlights the extreme effects romance has on the soul through Rick’s ever-failing relationships; but this is one of many possible readings. The hauntingly beautiful visuals and fragmented dialogue, played against a background ensemble of naturalistic sounds, offer a sense of realism and leave much to the viewer’s interpretation (the use of unfinished dialogue cut off at key moments of speech being a clear example).
It would be impossible and unfair to compare Knight of Cups against run-of-the-mill Hollywood dramas; Malick does not adhere to the typical Hollywood style, instead largely abandoning literary and theatrical tropes for pure visual pleasure. However, one must consider whether his later films have lost their experimental edge and have ventured into unapproachable territory.
The bare-bones plot and disjointed editing style are expected of Malick, but Knight of Cups lacks a definitive message, and the true nature of the film is sometimes foggy and hard to navigate. The dialogue is largely based of deep philosophical musings of the mind and whilst these complement the visual beauty of the film, they also offer no support to the understanding of the plot and leave the audience without an anchor to the main narrative. At times viewers may find themselves just as lost as the main character, ever traipsing through the misty, dreamlike world of Malick’s painted Hollywood. But what a world to be lost in.
Knight of Cups is released nationwide on 6th May 2016.
Watch the trailer for Knight of Cups here: