Or, as I like to call it, Special-K. Terrence Malick and his editors have modeled their film on the time and space bending properties of a psychoactive trip. One second you’re in a swanky Los Angeles apartment, the next on the ruins of a burnt-down gas station. Sometimes it’s Rick’s (Christian Bale) voice whispering contemplative narrations in your ear, sometimes it’s his father’s, lover’s, brothers… A time comes when you wonder if it will ever end. After an eternity, it’s over before you know it.
Rick, you’d have to say, is familiar with the feeling. He’s a successful Hollywood something – I never did catch what – but there are a number of people who walk him around large studio backlots, promising to make him rich. Their voices are distant and farcical; objects are more interesting. There are girls at parties; girls in pools; and long hair blowing in the headwind of convertibles. For the expendable ones, Malick keeps the camera below the belt.
The women that Rick really loves – like Nancy (Cate Blanchett) or Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) – are more complex, and filmed accordingly. Though there is no denying a certain level of objectification for every role, and a subservience to the widescreen grandeur that has become iconically Malick’s.
You know what else is subservient? The plot. It might, generously, be called episodic. Rick falls in love a bunch of times, and then out again. He listens to the ramblings of his juvenile brother and suffering father. Whatever episode he’s in (unless it’s in space), Rick is prodding the walls or the floor with stoic fascination, and then a plane flies by and he watches it disappear. He always wants to be somewhere else, maybe in another movie. Things are much simpler for the Dark Knight.
Knight of Cups shares its title with a tarot card that I’ll let you Wikify on your own. Suffice to say he’s in a (highly privileged) battle for his soul. It resonates through Wojciech Kilar’s Exodus, a plodding musical theme that crescendos in a rousing call to arms. Also, through the medieval chapter titles: The Tower, The Hanged Man, The High Priestess. That last one, depending on your interpretation, might refer to Isabel (Isabel Lucas) and her medieval effect on Rick’s pants.
I’m yet to mention the sexiness of Antonio Banderas, Imogen Poots, or Ben Kingsley’s voice. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is equally lovely; the fluid sound design is especially so. But for all the loveliness, the viewer’s engagement doesn’t seem to have been a priority. You could have a bad trip or a good one. The mood is everything.
Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Knight of Cups releases on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 23rd of March.