Last night I sat through Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups (Broad Green, 3.4) at Santa Barbara’s Arlington theatre. I didn’t watch or absorb it — I “sat through” it like I was waiting for an overdue bus. Knight of Cups flatlines. It’s about warm climes and lassitude and a truly profound lack of effort by everyone involved, particularly Malick. What a tragic journey he’s been on since The Tree of Life. Self-wanking, anal-cavity-residing…the man is so lost it looks like home to him. And it is a kind of home, I gather, that producers Sarah Green and Nicholas Gonda have seemingly created for the guy. Take your time, Terry…take your sweet-ass time.
Once regarded as one of Hollywood’s great auteurist kings (Badlands, Days of Heaven) but more recently renowned for his whispery mood-trip films (a tendency that began with The Thin Red Line) and for indulging in meditative reveries to a point that the reveries become the whole effing movie, Malick, free to operate within his own cloistered realm, lives to “paint” and dither and go all doodly-doo and mystical and digressive when the mood strikes, which is apparently all the time when he’s shooting.
40 years ago I was convinced Malick had seen the burning bush and was passing along God’s-eye visions, and now look at him.
Knight of Cups is To The Wonder Goes To Southern California with a lot more dough and a greater variety of hot women. They could re-title it Terrence Malick’s Wide, Wide World of Delectable, Half-Dressed, Model-Thin Fuck Bunnies. They could also retitle it Terrence Malick’s Beaches…boy, does he love going to the beach at magic hour and sloshing barefoot through the tides! This meandering dream-doze movie is all beaches, all deserts, all swanky condos and office towers and absurdly arrogant McMansions. And all half-captured moods and fall-away moments and conversational snippets.
Who am I? Why am I so damn lazy? Can I do anything besides wander around and gaze at stuff? Either Bale is on Percocets or I need to drop a Percocet the next time I watch this.
The most attention-getting thing that happens in Knight of Cups is a semi-serious earthquake (lasts around ten seconds, feels like a 7 or 7.5). The second is a home robbery by a couple of shaved-head Latinos. The third is a nude blonde standing on an outdoor balcony (possibly Bale’s). The rest is spiritual ether and vapor and kicking sand.
If you know Los Angeles you know Malick is hitting all the visually arresting spots within a 100-mile range — the beaches, downtown LA, Venice, Malibu, LAX, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree rock formations, etc. Malick’s Los Angeles is like Woody Allen‘s Manhattan — all affluent eye candy. I’ve wandered around all these places and looked up at the sky and have channelled the same moods and thoughts that Christian Bale‘s Rick seems to be having. I’ve done it over and over. I know this realm up and down.
Rick is described in the press notes, by the way, as a screenwriter but is way too successful with too many beautiful women to be a scribbler — only directors get laid by women this hot.
I was sitting in my Arlington seat and going “you aren’t worth my time, man …you’ve got lots of money and opportunity and apparently some degree of talent, and all you can do is wander around and fuck beautiful women and feel kind of depressed about it. Asshole!”
Actual dialogue from Knight of Cups, passed along by Brian Dennehy‘s character, i.e., Bale’s dad: “Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep. And now the prince has all but destroyed his once-potent mystique because the spirits have told him to deliver movies that operate as purely visual dream fugues, which has led to an abandonment of any semblance of conventional narrative. This plus his now-customary prolonged fiddle-faddling in post-production has fed a growing notion that the prince is a gifted but flaky eccentric — i.e., Mr. Wackadoodle.”
Yes, I’m lying — Dennehy’s story ends with the words “deep sleep.”
Press notes: “Rick (Bale) is a comedy writer” — this gloomy Gus is a comedy writer? — “living in present-day Santa Monica. He longs for something other, something beyond the life he knows, without knowing quite what it is, or how to go about finding it. He doesn’t know which way to turn. The death of his brother, Billy, hangs over him like a shadow. His father, Joseph (Dennehy), bears a sense of guilt for Billy’s death. A surviving brother, Barry (Wes Bentley), down on his luck, has just moved to LA from where they grew up, in Missouri. Rick has been helping him get back on his feet.
“Rick seeks distraction in the company of women: Della (Imogen Poots); Nancy (Cate Blanchett), a physician he was once married to; a model named Helen (Freida Pinto); Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a woman he made pregnant; a stripper named Karen (Teresa Palmer); and Isabel (Isabel Lucas), a young woman who helps him to see his way forward.” Trust me, nobody in this film “sees his way forward” or backward or sideways. This is a film about what it’s like to camp in a narrow passage where the moon don’t shine.
I became gradually infuriated by Emmanuel Lubezski‘s choice of lenses, most of which deliver a kind of horizontal taffy-pull effect. [See clip above.] Knight of Cups‘s aspect ratio is 2.39:1, but the images reminded me of a certain setting on my GoPro camera — you can choose one that makes objects look a teeny bit wider than their actual, natural proportions. It’s not 100% consistent but you can definitely see this effect in the above Blanchett footage, and it began to drive me nuts after 20 minutes or so.
After an hour or so I hit the bathroom and then decided to take a break in the lobby. I noticed six or seven departures — couples, singles, three girls, an older couple. Knight of Cups is a kind of career-suicide movie. You could call it a kind of ISIS recruitment film.