Editor’s Note: Knight of Cups opens in limited theatrical release March 4, 2016.
There are obvious flaws with Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. Many people have, and will continue to look negatively upon this film. What they forget, though, is that this film isn’t targeted towards a broad audience - Knight of Cups is reserved for the narrow category among people, general public and cinephiles alike, who are swept away by the transcendent nature of Malick’s previous works. I’ve read reviews which say “put a bullet through my head,” while others call this film “a beautiful and absorbing cinematic experience.” How then, can a film be so divisive amongst critics and audiences?
With Knight of Cups, Malick proves that there are few limitations to his work.
Simple, because art is subjective. And yes, Malick’s newest directional effort is surely a work of art, regardless of your opinions on it. With Knight of Cups, Malick proves that there are few limitations to his work - he is free to engage in his individualistic and distinguishable style, something that’s evident with every movie he makes. The opening sequence in The Tree of Life was heavily criticized, and the critical reception at first was poor. Yet, as the ratings slowly went up, one thing was abundantly apparent about Malick: he is a director who disregards popular opinion, someone who crafts films that are personal to himself. And this, though is sounds simple, is a key concept absent from many modern filmmakers. It’s apparent that Malick isn’t worried about the people who made discredit his work, even after the failure of To The Wonder, he returns with a somewhat similar film, in both structure and concept.
It’s evident that this is one of Malick’s most passionate films, one which through experimentation and the absence of limitations, he was able to make for himself, first and foremost.
Yet, there’s something about Knight of Cups that seems oddly personal to Malick’s experiences. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but it’s exactly the type of injection he needed in To The Wonder, and finally found in Knight of Cups. Whereas To The Wonder feels fairly distant in its scope and story, it’s evident that Malick crafts a far more engaging and spiritual story with Knight of Cups. As the years pass, and Malick grows older, it seems as though he’s still learning about the world. The themes, namely the correlation between wealth and unhappiness, are well delivered with the minimal amount of narration that Malick includes. There’s little in the way of dialogue or direct character development, yet throughout the 120 minute runtime, you establish a connection with Rick, portrayed by Christian Bale.
Knight of Cups takes the audience on a visually engaging, spiritual journey. And within that journey, he presents to the audience a flawed man; a troubled, broken, lonely yet hopeful man. Though Knight of Cups lacks the backstory of films such as The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life, it’s evident that this is one of Malick’s most passionate films, one which through experimentation and the absence of limitations, he was able to make for himself, first and foremost. Many will mock Malick and his work for being pretentious or self-assured, yet the beauty behind Knight of Cups is that you can see the filmmaker seeping through cracks of the film itself. Of course, with such divisive experimentation, people will criticize both Terrence Malick and Emmanuelle Luzbeki. Yet, because of the passion and heart Malick poured into this film, which translates through to the audience, there is doubt in my mind that the criticism will be registered. Because in reality, if a filmmaker isn’t making a film for themselves, one which holds some kind of personal value to them, then why make a film at all?
Boasting his trademark unconventional style, Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups is as flawed and complicated as Rick (Christian Bale), the troubled screenwriter at the heart of the film.