My Week With Malick #1: Knight of Cups

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I may be in over my head…

I am all for movies that are difficult and go for atmosphere over plot, but the first entry in My Week With Malick feels like the very opposite of a line that I certainly never expected to see in one of his films: “My life is like Call of Duty on easy.” Apparently, Christian Bale was forced to improvise while everyone else got dialogue, and this makes the entire work feel very “white people problems” in the worst way possible due to his non performance, meant to represent gloom and doom over the horrors of having lots of sex with beautiful women. Sure, I can appreciate a good tone poem, but the voice overs drag the entire work into more-than-vaguely meaningless, rather than hidden meaning, territory.

But I get ahead of myself: Knight of Cups focuses on a successful male screenwriter named Rick who is depressed and whose story is divided into sections named after Tarot Cards. The era of his bitter ex-wife is called Judgement, his first female lover (a manic pixie dream girl played by Imogen Poots) is The Moon, and so on. But this summary overstates the narrative to an obscene degree. My memories of Tree of Life are fuzzy but I do recall there being a story you could track even if it went from all of creation to childhood in a small town, and the rhythms of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography combined with the editing make the movie come across as lost. No doubt some will try and find reasons to justify this narrative because of the mental state of our lead, but I find the calm, natural background chatter combined with the high-faluting voiceover to be suffocating. The opacity is so rubbed in our faces that we grow used to it and can puzzle out some details, but it forever comes back to Rick and no others. The women may be used to criticize the objectification in modern Hollywood (does Malick even care about that topic?) but satire is more effective when you don’t fall guilty to the same crimes you are accusing others of, with only Cate Blanchett scraping a personality out. When the film doesn’t wander through a dream state that feels more along the lines of a choking fog, it focuses on Rick’s family history and gets into harder (in the sense of solidity rather than difficulty-trust me, that clarification needed to be made) territory, feeling angry and tonally bumpy. There is beauty to be found here, but it’s seen early on, and from there it revisits the same old well to diminishing returns. The drowning sensation is ever-present and the hallucinations caused by lack of oxygen only feel like a trip with some healthy distance.

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