Review by Jonathan Godfrey for Mr. Will Wong
Picasso once said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” Such insight is revelatory when considering the work of Terrence Malick. You see, Malick’s work has always been fodder for misunderstanding, and his latest Film is no exception.
Similar to his previous pictures, Knight of Cups is a visually-driven adventure, a maze of imagery easy to get lost in. It’s led by Christian Bale (Rick), who plays a jaded screenwriter drifting though the Hollywood Hills. There in the vapid world of excess and ego he undergoes many experiences, and each is preceded by an allegorical chapter heading. The Moon, The Tower and The High Priestess are Rick’s beautiful distractions. Whereas Judgment, Death and Freedom are the women who guide him towards wisdom. The journey itself comes from the “Hymn of the Pearl,” an ancient poem from an ancient text about an eastern prince. The prince is tasked with heading west to retrieve a guarded pearl. In the west he is quickly fooled into forgetting where he came from, and why he left. It’s an insightful interpretation of the human condition, and how in our quest for rewards we lose ourselves.
The sense of losing one’s self is apparent when viewing the Film. Our eyes wander from one frame to the next without any explanation as to why. And the sound is contrasted in such a way as to make one listen, but not hear what’s being said. It’s challenging, but it’s an enigma worth the effort. Malick takes his time crafting his films. Like Picasso posits, he takes something familiar and then removes all traces of reality. This allows the audience to have a certain intimacy with the content while still being challenged by its intent. For example, a bevy a celebrities accompany Bale on screen, (e.g. Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Frieda Pinto, etc). And a number of picturesque palaces are shown and walked through. While on the other hand the poor and the sick are well-documented, and nature is explored. We are given a yin to every yang, which is edifying on the path to enlightenment.
It can appear overwhelming, but it’s also beautiful to watch. The Revenant’s Emmanuel Lubeski is Cups’ cinematographer, and a team of trusted editors stitch his work together well. Like the tarot card the Film is named after, the Knight of Cups portrays a white knight calmly leading us towards transcendence. If you’re interested in something metaphysical this is a must watch. However, it’s not for most, and it’s not something one can talk about around the water cooler. It’s there to evoke internal reflection, so if you’re looking to free your mind take Cups’ pill, go down its rabbit hole, and enjoy your time in wonderland.
eOne Films release KNIGHT OF CUPS Friday, March 18, 2015.
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