Terrence Malick makes me feel stupid. His most recent films have a way of saying so much while at the same time conveying so little as they explore the deepest recesses of the director’s inner most thoughts. At least, that’s what I think. I honestly have no idea what the man is trying to say in his films. Knight of Cups is no different.
The film focuses on Rick (Christian Bale) and the various relationships he has with select other people. It’s split into eight chapters, with each one representing a different person and titled after a tarot card. Rick himself is the Knight of Cups, but there is also the Moon, Judgement, Death, etc. Most of the relationships are with women, such as his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) or a stripper, Karen (Teresa Palmer), he meets. But we also see how he reacts around his brother Barry (Wes Bentley) and his father Joseph (Brian Dennehy).
I actually had to rely on the official synopsis for the description of the film because it’s difficult to know what it’s about while actually watching it. It’s mostly Bale wandering around the streets and fancy houses and apartments of Los Angeles and Las Vegas having what I assume is an existential crisis about life and the people that are a part of his. It’s all very glamourous, but there’s not a whole lot of substance.
Like most of Malick’s other work, the cinematography for Knight of Cups can be beautiful at times. Scenes of Bale wandering the desert (don’t ask me why) or frolicking in the waves at the beach with his ladies (he does that a lot) look gorgeous and calming. There’s no doubting Malick’s ability to capture an image. It’s telling a story where he runs into obscurity.
Knight of Cups is essentially a two hour trip into the inner monologue of a person. There is this nearly constant narration by Christian Bale’s character who rambles on about life and relationships and who knows what else. Almost every line is some pompous and overly complicated metaphor. Nothing about the film is simple or easy to understand. It’s monotonous enough to put even the most dedicated of viewers to sleep. Not to worry though, because you’ll be just as confused when you wake up as when you fell asleep. There is no timeline to follow, just an endless stream of consciousness.
After suffering through The Tree of Life and To The Wonder I was hoping that Knight of Cups would be different. It isn’t. I had hoped that those two were just a misunderstanding, and that I would have a better appreciation of Terrence Malick. I don’t. Knight of Cups is like an obscure work of art. If Malick is your type of artist then by all means enjoy it, but for me no matter how long I stare at it, I still have no idea of what I’m looking at.