Friday, January 8, 2016


If there's one thing to take away from Knight Of Cups its that it kind of dispels some of the rumors a lot of folks still buy in to about Terrence Malick. Like Tree Of Life & To The Wonder before it, Knight Of Cups is another semi-autobiographical tale that's partially inspired by Malick's life. In the film Christian Bale essentially plays Terrence Malick ("Rick") - a disenfranchised screenwriter with relationship problems wandering through the decedent underbelly of the entertainment industry (like the tarot card story of The Knight Of Cups, Rick is a bored, flighty, artistic dreamer).
There's this mystique about Terrence Malick that some folks don't want to let go. He's often made out to be this JD Salinger-esque figure in the movie biz because he didn't put out a film in the 20 year span between Days Of Heaven (1978) & The Thin Red Line (1998). But the thing is, he wasn't somewhere off in seclusion meditating on a mountain (this is an image I seriously feel like some folks had of him). Terrence Malick was somewhat active behind the scenes in both film & theater. It's well documented at this point that between the late 70's throughout the 80's Malick did everything from ghostwriting & script touch-ups, to starting & stopping various film & theater projects.
For more on Malick's personal life I highly recommend reading the latest edition of One Big Soul which sheds a lot of light on his so-called "inactive" period (the subplot concerning Rick's brothers in Knight Of Cups is exactly like Malick's real relationship with his late brothers).

Personally, I enjoyed Knight Of Cups overall but I wouldn't really recommend it to just anyone. Not even the casual Malick fan (if there is such a thing). To quote my friend/PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Leanne Kubicz - Terrence Malick absolutely went "full Malick" on this one (I know that sounds dreadful to some of you but I love that. Knight Of Cups is kind of like Terrence Malick's Inland Empire in that there isn't much of a filter). Because I'm such a big fan of his recent work, I do feel the strange need to be a little protective/territorial no matter how understandably frustrating he can be at times. At this point everyone should know what they're getting in to when it comes to a Terrence Malick film. I never understand all the recent negative/snarky reviews from critics & bloggers who are familiar with his work & style yet always manage to get worked up and angry as if, at this point, they don't know what to expect from a post Thin Red Line Terrence Malick movie. For those who do want something different from the filmmaker, this is his first film set outside of a rural territory/small town, and he works with an ensemble cast of some unlikely actors. This is also his first movie broken up in to chapters. 
Knight Of Cups falls right in line with the style of Tree Of Life & To The Wonder (all three films kind of act as a trilogy for Malick's personal life). There's lots of dreamy/breathy voiceover narration that'll probably make the average person roll their eyes. Emmanuel Lubeski uses the same style of cinematography as his previous collaborations with Malick (I still find it odd that folks have issues with his Malick-related work while his work for Alejandro Innaritu gets blind praise).

Visual similarities between Terrence Malick & Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu...
Tree Of Life / The Revenant

Tree Of Life / The Revenant

To The Wonder / The Revenant

The New World / The Revenant
I’m almost convinced at this point that Alejandro Inarritu is lightweight obsessed with Terrence Malick so much that he not only utilizes Malick’s current cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in the same exact way, but he even releases his films around the same time as Malick (sidenote - I had the pleasure of seeing The Revenant last night at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music and while it was entertaining, it also hammers home my point). I know Innaritu & Lubezki are connected through the Mexican film scene but no one started using Lubezki’s current style until Malick did with The New World (2005).

In Knight Of Cups Malick draws visual inspiration from filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsy & Michael Mann...
Solaris (Tarkovsky) / Knight Of Cups
Michael Mann-esque cityscape: Miami Vice (Mann) / Knight Of Cups
Miami Vice / Knight Of Cups

I can only speak for myself when I say that Malick's exploration of inner-turmoil, confusion and just that overall feeling of "blah" speaks to me right now more than any other filmmaker (with the exception of Carlos Reygadas). And you know this feeling has to be true because it takes a lot of courage/balls for anyone to openly admit something like that and actually mean it (I often face ridicule from my friends and my fiancée for my love of Terrence Malick's films). I think we all know that Malick is looked at as more of a joke/slow-moving target than a serious filmmaker these days.
It's easy to watch Knight Of Cups and claim that nothing happens or it isn't about anything (like some early reviews have been saying). But that is kind of the point (sorry to sound pretentious and blindly defensive at the same time, but it's true). This film draws inspiration from a period in Malick's life when he was feeling kind of "blah" and a little cloudy. Christian Bale's silent/brooding/confused performance in Knight Of Cups falls right in line with Ben Affleck in To The Wonder & Sean Penn/Hunter McCracken in Tree Of Life (which makes sense as all of these actors are essentially portraying Terrence Malick at different stages of his life). 

The Thin Red Line / Knight Of Cups

My only (major) issue with Knight Of Cups is that it makes Rick out to be kind of a hypocrite. Throughout the film there's this unspoken vibe we get from him as if he's quietly judging all the glutinous materialistic folks he's surrounded by in the entertainment industry, yet at the same time we see him driving fancy cars and frolicking around with beautiful women. I wonder if this inner-conflict was intentional or if Terrence Malick really is a clueless hypocrite that doesn't realize he's judging the same lifestyle he possibly indulged in at one point.
The female presence in Knight Of Cups is bound to ruffle some feathers. With the exception of Cate Blanchett, every woman we see serves no purpose except to pout, be moody and look attractive.

Knight Of Cups is a breath of fresh air from all the imitation Malick films that have surfaced since Tree Of Life (The Better Angels Mud, Take Shelter, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Birdman, The Revenant, etc). While some of the aforementioned films got Malick's stamp of approval (The Better Angels) and are somewhat enjoyable (Mud), most of the Malick-influenced films are underwhelming (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) or just downright bad/overrated (Take Shelter). It's time dad came back to reclaim his (small) throne.

Tree Of Life / The Better Angels

If you enjoyed To The Wonder (yes, enjoyed) along with the recent work of Nicholas Winding Refn (I'm convinced Malick was partially inspired by Drive & Only God Forgives) then this is for you. If you hated To The Wonder then just save yourself the aggravation and stay away...


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