‘Knight of Cups’ should be Terrence Malick’s swan song

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

I’d been warned.

I asked the kid at the concession stand if he’d seen “Knight of Cups” and he said yes.

So, how was it?

Slight pause. “Artistic.”

Uh oh….

Knight of Cups

‘Knight of Cups’ is reason enough that director Terrence Malick should stop, before viewers forget his former brilliance. Credit: thefilmstage.com

There was a time — back in the ‘70s — when a Terrence Malick film wasn’t “artistic.” Well, yes it was, but it was also so much more. Brilliant. Inspiring. Moving. Unforgettable.

But that was over 40 years ago, when he turned out back-to-back masterpieces, “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven.”

These days he makes beautiful crap. Like “The Tree of Life.” Like “To The Wonder.” Like … sigh … “Knight of Cups.”

The film opens with a voice from the dead. Literally. The late Sir John Gielgud recites “The `Pilgrim’s Progress” in his patented dulcet tones.

Then we see Christian Bale — yes, the Dark Knight himself — and we hear (in voice-over): “All these years living the life of someone I don’t know.”

Followed by: “See those palm trees? They tell you anything’s possible.”

Now there’s a girl. A fabulous-looking brunette who balances on walls as if they were tightropes and uses a top hat for a prop. Later there will be a fabulous-looking blonde who twirls.

Still later, there’s Cate Blanchett who is Bales’ ex-wife or ex-girlfriend or ex-something. (Full Disclosure: I actually have no idea who she is, but other reviewers have described her as one or the other).

They have an exchange.

Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick

Cate: “Are you sorry you brought me here?

Christian: “Are you sorry you came?”

Me: “I’m sorry any of us are here.”

A nude blonde walks on a balcony. Two nude nymphets enjoy a pillow fight.

Natalie Portman shows up. She’s married to another man, but is sleeping with Bale. She’s pregnant.  She doesn’t know if the father is her husband or her lover.

At some point — pre-Portman, I think — another fabulous-looking woman (brunette again, I think) declares, “I don’t want to wreak havoc in men’s lives anymore.”

Christian says, “I can’t remember the man I wanted to be.”

I think, “I can’t remember the man I wanted Terrence Malick to be.”

But by now, I have discerned something of a plot spooned in among the stunning shots of deserts and clouds and girls (The cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubeski, who’s won three Oscars in a row).

Apparently, Bale is a screenwriter. Hence the palm trees comment and later, a behind-the-studio-gates glimpse of an extra dressed like Marie Antoinette and a well-groomed cow pony. (They are not together).

Bale (I think) is on the cusp o being a Big Deal Screenwriter. Hence he attends a perfectly shallow Hollywood Party with more undulating women than in the opening credits of a James Bond movie, circa Roger Moore.

Okay, I admit it. My mind wandered.  What exactly is the difference between a sprite and a gamine? Is the former more likely to twirl while the latter is more likely to walk along walls with a man’s hat in hand? (File under Subject for Further Research.)

And let’s examine this statement, “Women are like flavors. One day you like raspberry and then you tire of it and you want strawberry.”

If I were a flavor, what flavor would I be? Can I change flavors? Am I more flavorful during months with R’s in them?

The last film that annoyed me like this  (not counting Malick’s own later works) was Alain Resnais’s pretentiously opaque “Last Year at Marienbad,” which I saw in college (The film was made much earlier, in 1961.)

I’m too old for this stuff.  More crucially, Terrence Malick is too old for this stuff.

Someone, please stop him before he films again. Leave us our precious memories of what he was, not what he’s become.

 

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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