I’m guessing that if I were to ask any Malick fan which of his films I should watch first, Knight of Cups would be near the bottom of everybody’s lists. But alas, this Malick newbie decided to dive headfirst into his filmography with his most recent work, a fascinating rejection of conventional film techniques outside of having a working camera. I know enough about the director to know that this isn’t something new for him, but it’s nonetheless a very interesting approach to filmmaking in general.
This makes it even more interesting that the film is set in Los Angeles, the heart of the film industry and a departure from the settings of Malick’s previous efforts. A hedonistic world drenched with ennui is on full display here, these images and feelings captured in Rick’s wandering or in a Hollywood house party or in the cavalcade of women passing in and out of Rick’s life. As Rick, Christian Bale does quite a bit of walking and looking at things using eyes, and it’s a performance that’s difficult to judge on conventional terms; after all, Malick doesn’t seem all that driven to craft typical character or story arcs.
It works for this film, though, one that has the initial presentation of a film making a grand statement about life but has the execution of an observational study of life. There are voiceovers reiterating thematic statements, tarot cards and characters serving as symbols, and allegorical stories of a ‘pearl’ Rick is looking for, but I don’t think Malick is trying to say any one thing here. Depression, existential crisis, life, death…there are a ton of buzzwords that can be applied to the film, but Malick has his characters move within and around and in between, attempting to capture the uncertainties of life, the constant movement, the fleeting pleasures and interactions. The Lubezki-Malick camera is very fluid, a stream of consciousness lens that observes rather than creates. The film is worth watching just for the dazzling photography, but it’s also worth watching for its ability to tap into the human experience. I’d say many would categorize much of this film as a bunch of dull, philosophical bullshit. That may very well be, but it works for me.
-The casts for this and Weightless are to die for. I mean, holy shit. Malick can get anyone he wants.
Photo credit: Knight of Cups, FilmNation Entertainment