It’s easy, and not entirely inaccurate, to regard Knight of Cups as the apotheosis of “Malickian.” Terrence Malick’s latest film, centring on the idle thoughts and innumerable conquests of Christian Bale’s Hollywood A-lister (think Coppola’s Somewhere – Los Angeles as purgatory), has all the easily-parodied tropes that have come to define the director’s work. The breathy, insubstantial voiceover. The ethereal, gliding camera. The dissolution of narrative, with scripted scenes obscured by oneiric editing and obfuscatory sound design.
While Knight of Cups is unlikely to satisfy anyone lukewarm on the director’s lyrical filmmaking style, it nonetheless represents a (minor) artistic evolution. Knight of Cups is defined by low-key experimentation, subtle divergences from Malick’s template. Low-fidelity bursts of digital footage intermittently capture raw, emotional moments. The camera is entranced by planes and helicopters, rather than birds: awed by these emblems of human progress, magnificent and distant. We’re drawn to the beginning: the beach, hands, bare feets, naked bodies. Less successful is Malick’s fascination with the maimed and the impoverished – in context, it comes across as ghoulish.
The incompleteness of the chaptered narrative feels paradoxically purposeful: neither fleeting love, nor extreme affluence, nor slender slices of divinity can fill the chasm of existential emptiness.