REVIEW: Knight of Cups (2016) dir. Terrence Malick

3/11-3/17 @ KENDALL


It was so exhilarating I almost felt insane. Really. I was sometimes distracted by how excited it made me, the potential that I would pull a Crispin Glover on the audience and get up screaming, “I’m strong!” It was so hypnotizing, so clean and momentous, cosmically emotionally fraught and, as we should know to expect, cosmically… cosmic. It felt huge and sprawling while exacting and tight and perfectly centered around these emotional, uncomfortably true, foci in my chest.

It may not be for everyone, as no Malick movie ever is, but for those people it’s for – and I’d recommend finding out if you’re unsure – it will be all in and abundantly for you. It’s about a man reeling from a life he isn’t unsure why he lived as he did, his father and brother, a family loss, about the various enchanting women he’s known in the realm he’s known them. It’s about beginning again, moving, regret, reflecting on a life lived in perversions of love, delusions of love, a parade of images like a Ron Fricke film but about emotionality, though also about image, incredibly beautiful images. It’s most potent parts for me span focus on his father, him as a son, money, luxury, dirt, disease, Hollywood, homelessness, death, hate, sickness, regret, regret, regret, movies, the highway, Terrence Malick, reconciling that we live on the earth with the fact of the earth. It’s about beauty, absolutely about beauty, human beauty, the sickness of human beauty, sex. It made me think of that David Berman line, “I feel insane when you get in my bed.”

It’s about some incredible writing that you barely have time to catch, little snippets, some so beautiful, like, “You don’t want love, you want a love experience” or “Treat this world as it deserves, there are no principles, just circumstances. Nobody’s home.”

Most concretely it’s about bad faith, in the Sartrean sense, an idea about self-deceived living within structures that don’t exist but that we actively create and are blinded, though often dumbly complacent, within. It’s about a man (Christian Bale) reeling from a life lived in bad faith, finally delivered and now burdened with huge regret, huge, detached, pain about the way he has lived and what that means for him now, the things that exist as a result of that blind bad faith that he has now to contend with. It’s also about the manufacturing of bad faith, unsqueamishly panning to billboards and consumables, everywhere luxury, and rancid, miserable little caught clips of conversation from the manufacturers, the rich, deluded people marketing bad faith to themselves and the world, cocky video game analogies about “winning” in a life lived like “Call of Duty on easy.”

I read a sort of scathing review that said something about Malick finally making a movie for “an audience of one,” implying he is the only one who can watch it. I think that’s ridiculous, and that you will too, but that “an audience of one” is not so far off. It, like very little else, is so potently about the actual internal man, the single person, and is so relatable in doing so that it crosses some border I maintain, between me and every them, so that I become isolated in its web, the experience of it terrifyingly personal. I think that’s why I felt so insane. It was like everything true about me, all of the bad faith faultiness, was discharged in public and there was no uproar. It was the thrill of exposing myself to the world and there being something viable there, the potential for living a life outside of bad faith, and that I could, as it beckons us to, “begin.”

Knight of Cups
dir. Terrence Malick
118 min.

Screening at Kendall Square Cinema – Click here for tickets and showtimes

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