Knight of Cups
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Review by Jordan
The emotional isolation of a contemplative man, whose fleeting encounters with beautiful strangers furthers his own self-loathing and solidifies his position as one unable to reconnect to a life he no longer has any control over, is a lonely, disquieting place to be. Why are these women drawn to him? They say he has love to give, but admit that while he means his promises they don’t come from the heart, and ultimately these connections are as fleeting as any semblance of hope afforded to the vain wanderers that occupy Terrence Malick’s version of LA.
For his seventh feature film, released in the most prolific period of his career, the director once known for his mesmerising ability to marry a purposeful narrative with related pondering on the essence of life on an ever-changing Earth has opted to forgo any obligation to storytelling to instead use the medium of film to convey a single state of mind. The Tree of Life, and in particular To the Wonder hinted of his preference for denying a traditional structure, and here he has abandoned it altogether; a problem arising in that there is no exploration of love, loss and the uncontrollable whims of nature that has been so intoxicating in the past, but rather one constant thread of helplessness.
Christian Bale plays the silent protagonist of Rick bravely and without any hint of pretension, and through conversations heard mostly in the background behind the whirling camera and sweeping score the factors that have steered his life become clear. He is the Prince spoken of in an early narration, who has been sent by his father to Egypt to find a pearl but there allowed himself to be tricked and for his very purpose to become a memory out of reach. He has drunk from the stranger’s cup, and wears this disappointment knowingly on his face. While there are many other talented actors that appear, it’s a stretch to say that they’re in supporting roles… their appearance is necessary only to show their character’s beauty, self-serving natures and ultimately shallowness. The female cast, all of whom play love interests, includes Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Cate Blanchett, Teresa Palmer, Natalie Portman and Isabel Lucas, though you’d be hard pressed to identify Lucas in her fleeting appearance. Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy offer more substance as Rick’s brother and father respectively, Antonio Banderas offers a cameo showcasing the pinnacle of empty celebrity reveling and Jason Clarke is one of a few recognisable faces lost in the crowds.
Ultimately, Knight of Cups is less a film than a thought; an idea shot and edited in a typically stunning fashion but with no form to demand a constant stream of attention. In crafting an insight into the viewpoint of a man suffering through an existential crisis, Malick has succeeded in his intention tremendously, but this is not an entertaining topic and no effort is made to make it so. Rick is a man yearned for by an ex-wife he emotionally betrayed and a slew of young models who realize and accept that nothing in their life is lasting, and nothing from the crashing of the waves, the scale of a mountain, buzzing masses of celebrities or the wastelands of the Hollywood slums can make him feel alive.
People use people and ultimately nothing matters if the pearl can’t be found. The Prince though has fallen asleep, and all he has is dreams.