Relationships are organic things. They evolve, adapt, blossom and, for one reason or another, perish.
Building on this premise, legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick uses the theme of journey to examine the metamorphosis of a man on his quest for love and fulfillment in the LA-set Knight of Cups. This being the City of Angels, our protagonist Rick (Bale) is – of course – a screenwriter, whose life is marked by –what else? – excess and emptiness. In answering the question “Where did I go wrong?”, more aspects of Rick’s past are revealed, including failed marriage to Nancy (Blanchett) and a budding romance with model Helen (Pinto),before we find him having an affair with the equally unhappy Elizabeth (Portman), who might turn out to be his one chance at salvation.
And so we witness the various incarnations of love, from the hormonal rush of courtship to the bitter scars left by a divorce. Technically echoing his recent work like To the Wonder and The Tree of Life, Malick goes about telling the story in a highly fragmented, freely associative way. Characters drift into the picture unannounced, only to drop out again unexplained. Seemingly random shots of geological formations or snippets of performance art are inserted at irregular intervals. In short, those who look for conventional narrative logic in their movies will not be pleased. That said, this film is propelled by such a strong sense of rhythm – the cuts so intuitively yet precisely timed, the changes of pace so masterfully controlled – you can’t help but get swept up in its maker’s momentous, psychedelic, thoroughly compelling stream of consciousness.
And not unlike the waves off the coast of Malibu, heavily featured and beautifully photographed by two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, our lonesome hero’s musings on searching and finding seem also to culminate in an exquisite sigh of regret, a tentative hope for change.
Knight of Cups | Directed by Terrence Malick (USA 2015) with Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto. Starts September 10
Originally published in issue #141, September 2015.