Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups

Richard Brody discusses the American director’s new film about Hollywood ennui
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Christian Bale and Natalie Portman star in Knight of Cups (2015)
Perhaps no film in the history of cinema follows the movement of memory as faithfully, as passionately, or as profoundly as Terrence Malick’s new film, “Knight of Cups.” It’s an instant classic in several genres—the confessional, the inside-Hollywood story, the Dantesque midlife-crisis drama, the religious quest, the romantic struggle, the sexual reverie, the family melodrama—because the protagonist’s life, like most people’s lives, involves intertwined strains of activity that don’t just overlap but are inseparable from each other. The movie runs less than two hours and its focus is intimate, but its span seems enormous—not least because Malick has made a character who’s something of an alter ego, and he endows that character with an artistic identity and imagination as vast and as vital as his own.

As such, “Knight of Cups” is one of the great recent bursts of cinematic artistry, a carnival of images and sounds that have a sensual beauty, of light and movement, of gesture and inflection, rarely matched in any movie that isn’t Malick’s own. Here, he—and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki—surpass themselves. Where “The Tree of Life” is filled with memories, is even about memory, “Knight of Cups” is close to a first-person act of remembering, and the ecstatic power of its images and sounds is a virtual manifesto, and confession, of the cinematic mind at work. It’s a mighty act of self-portraiture in dramatic action and in directorial creation. And because “Knight of Cups” is about the world of movie-making itself and is set mainly in and around Hollywood, it’s also a vision of the modern world, the world of inescapable images and of their dubious demiurges, of whom the movie’s protagonist, a screenwriter named Rick (played by Christian Bale), is one. [Read More]

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