Knight of Cups - Cup Bearer
| Malick has delivered another stream of consciousness treatise. As beautifully shot as any of his work, Knight of Cups is a series of moments from a man's life, strung together in no particular order, narrated by the thoughts in the heads of his characters. One would be forgiven for confusing this with his recent work, The Tree of Life, which meandered through a man's entire life time. Here, Malick focuses on the relationships within a man's life, a film maker's life. A film about a film maker's relationships.
Malick usually hits a certain sweet spot for me while at the same time, frustrating me like a burr under my saddle. One the one hand, I respond to visually luscious films. I like to watch films and I want there to be amazing things to see while I am watching them. Malick knows how to make a film incredible to watch. His recent films have focused on a sterile yet rich visual poetry which is hard to take your eyes off of. And in many ways, his visuals reflect a very realistic, literal way of seeing the world. We don't look through our eyes the way films are usually filmed. We do look through them the way Malick shoots his films. And although we do this chronologically, we don't remember those visions that way. We remember them the way Malick captures them. So on the one hand Knight of Cups, like The Tree of Life before it, sparks a passion in me in how it is visualized.
The piece that is grating on me, is how his lackadaisical approach to narrative feels designed to obfuscate. I get all the arguments about nuance and questions and if I felt he was actually getting to some of that I would probably eat it up like the popcorn I'm devouring as I watch it. But there is a part in each Malick film where I wonder why I'm watching it. I begin to realize his film isn't speaking to me, that I am not the audience. And while, that in itself may not be a fatal flaw, it is the lack of accessibility here that frustrates me. Why isn't is interested in making a film that speaks to audiences beyond rich white straight male film makers? Why isn't his job to get us into his head as well? Perhaps there is something wrong with a film that can't be related to beyond such a limited scope.
Having said all that, there remains something relentlessly compelling about his approach. I do appreciate the way he likes to film small moments, moments which aren't necessarily the kinds that get filmed when stories are told. I do appreciate the way he narrates his story similarly with somewhat random thoughts; again, not the thoughts that would normally be used to narrate a story. There is a refreshingness to this approach as it offers something different.
I don't believe there is a shot in the entire film which isn't tracking. The film is constantly moving. This mimics a real world experience and in that way, draws us in. But it is also a bit relentless which pulls us out of it. There are these constant contradictory emotions for me in his work and Knight of Cups brought this into stark relief for me.
Knight of Cups is a fairly restrained movie for Malick. In terms of both running time and the images he captures, the film is tighter, more vanilla, perhaps less indulgent, that previous films. While I praise him for holding himself in check, in some ways the fact the film is less daunting exposes the cracks. Again the cracks for me are the ways its story is so disinteresting to me, how little it sparks my feelings. It's form may thrill me but its content leaves me cold.
So while much of this worked for me in The Tree of Life, I felt Knight of Cups only partially worked for me. There are things about it which will stick with me and which I found interesting, but there is much in the middle that felt disposable, less meaningful, and forgettable. I want my next conversation with Malick to be about something a little more interesting.