|Knight of Cups|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terrence Malick|
|Written by||Terrence Malick|
|Music by||Hanan Townshend|
|Distributed by||Broad Green Pictures|
|Box office||$1.1 million|
Knight of Cups is a 2015 American experimental drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick and produced by Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green and Ken Kao. The film features an ensemble cast, starring Christian Bale as the central character.
The film follows depressed screenwriter Rick (Bale) on an odyssey through Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a series of adventures with colorful figures, identified by eight tarot cards, with Bale as the Knight of Cups. The film is loosely inspired by, and at times quotes directly from, the 1678 Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, the Acts of Thomas passage "Hymn of the Pearl," and Suhrawardi's A Tale of the Western Exile.
After over two years in post-production, the film premiered in the main competition section at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival on February 8, 2015 to mixed reviews. It was released in the United States on March 4, 2016, by Broad Green Pictures to more mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Rick is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, California. He is successful in his career, but his life feels empty. Haunted by the death of one brother and the dire circumstances of the other, he finds temporary solace in Hollywood excess. Women provide a distraction from the daily pain he endures, and every encounter brings him closer to finding his place in the world.
The film is divided into eight chapters (each named after a tarot card, except the final chapter, "Freedom"), plus a prologue, each loosely based around the central character's relationship with somebody in his life:
I. The Moon - Della, a rebellious young woman.
II. The Hanged Man - His brother Barry and father Joseph.
III. The Hermit - Tonio, an amoral playboy.
IV. Judgment - His physician ex-wife Nancy.
V. The Tower - Helen, a serene model.
VI. The High Priestess - Karen, a spirited, playful stripper.
VII. Death - Elizabeth, a married woman with whom he has a relationship and who becomes pregnant with a child that may be his.
VIII. Freedom - Isabel, an innocent who helps him see a way forward.
- Christian Bale as Rick
- Cate Blanchett as Nancy
- Natalie Portman as Elizabeth
- Brian Dennehy as Joseph
- Antonio Banderas as Tonio
- Wes Bentley as Barry
- Isabel Lucas as Isabel
- Teresa Palmer as Karen
- Imogen Poots as Della
- Armin Mueller-Stahl as Fr. Zeitlinger
- Freida Pinto as Helen
- Cherry Jones as Ruth
- Nick Offerman as Scott
- Clifton Collins Jr. as Jordan
- Dane DeHaan as Paul
- Thomas Lennon as Tom
- Joel Kinnaman as Errol
- Jason Clarke as Johnny
- Katia Winter as Katia
- Nicky Whelan as Nicky
- Shea Whigham as Jim
- Ryan O'Neal as Ryan
- Joe Manganiello as Joe
- Michael Wincott as Herb
- Kevin Corrigan as Gus
- Fabio as Fabio
- Joe Lo Truglio as Guest
- Nick Kroll as Nick
- Dan Harmon as Dan (uncredited)
- Erin McGathy as Erin (uncredited)
Ben Kingsley is among the many narrators, but does not appear in the film.
Themes and motifs
Knight of Cups directly quotes a variety of dream vision works, including John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Mark Frost and David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and the Hymn of the Pearl from the Acts of Thomas. The film freely oscillates between depicting Rick's memory, dreams, and "real" experiences, becoming a stream-of-consciousness series of moments and thoughts. Quotations from the Hymn of the Pearl are read in voice-over by Rick's father in the beginning of the film, with many of the lines corresponding to Rick's experiences and feelings. Much like the Hymn of the Pearl's protagonist, Rick is expected to awaken from his "deep sleep" by remembering "the pearl".
Drugs, drinking, and other means to altered states of consciousness play a large role in the film. Pivotal scenes include the glittery high-rise party the film begins with, at a mansion full of Hollywood elites (where a patron invites Rick to a ketamine party, another patron wears a virtual reality headset, and two children play Wii Sports), and Rick's kaleidoscopic journey to Las Vegas with Karen. Various characters speak about drugs, with Clifton Collins Jr.'s character Jordan suggesting to Nick Offerman's character Scott that "the sweet spot is one Xanny, four white wines" and Karen saying, "You see, I took drugs once, and it kind of opened up this window for me. I call it the Window of Truth."
In November 2011, the film was announced with Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Isabel Lucas mentioned as cast. It was also announced the film would be shot back-to-back with Song to Song, with production beginning in 2012. For preparation, Bale read Walker Percy's book The Moviegoer, on Malick's suggestion.
Production on the film began in June 2012 and lasted nine weeks. During production, many of the cast and crew were spotted filming throughout Los Angeles County and Las Vegas, as most of the filming took place on the streets and in public places.
Although a script was written, Bale received no pages from it, while all other cast members received only pages of internal and verbal monologue for each shooting day. Bale later said that while filming, he was unclear about what the final film would actually be. During production, Malick used a process he calls "torpedoing", where a character is thrown into a scene without the other actors' advance knowledge, forcing them to improvise. In addition to a traditional studio, the cast also recorded their voice-over work in nontraditional places, such as in a van or by the side of the road.
|Knight of Cups (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||April 4, 2016|
|1.||"Fantasy On a Theme by Thomas Tallis"||3:48|
|3.||"Water Theme No. 1"||3:42|
|4.||"The Death of Ase from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 (Excerpt)"||4:43|
|8.||"Solveig's Song from Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55"||5:36|
|9.||"Water Theme No. 2"||1:58|
|10.||"Thomas Tallis Theme"||1:56|
|11.||"6 Epigraphes Antiques: Pour L'Egyptienne (Excerpt)"||1:49|
|15.||"Water Theme No. 3"||1:55|
|16.||"Dilbar Dilbara Mera"||6:34|
The film premiered in the main competition section at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival on February 8, 2015. Shortly after, Broad Green Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film. The film had its American premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival on February 7, 2016, and was released in the United States on March 4, 2016.
Knight of Cups has received mixed reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds a 47% approval rating based on 174 reviews, with an average rating of 5.67 out of 10. The site's consensus reads, "Knight of Cups finds Terrence Malick delving deeper into the painterly visual milieu he's explored in recent efforts, but even hardcore fans may struggle with the diminishing narrative returns." On Metacritic, the film currently has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Justin Chang of Variety called the film "flawed but fascinating" and a "feverish plunge into the toxic cloud of decadence" as Malick offers a "corrosive critique of Hollywood hedonism". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter said that the "resolutely poetic and impressionist" film "conveys most bracingly [the] fleeting nature of human exchange", but the end result "is a certain tedium and repetitiveness along with the rhythmic niceties and imaginative riffs... this one mostly operates on a more dramatically mundane, private and even narcissistic level [than The Tree of Life]".
Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times praised the film's "dreamlike" nature, but also stated that "you keep waiting for the film to come together, for Rick to emerge as a character rather than a cipher, for the women to seem less interchangeable — in short, for a point to it all. By its end, I was still waiting." Stephanie Zacharek of TIME wrote that the director "understands so little about women" and argued, "For loyal Malick fans, the woozy dream-logic visuals here may be enough. But this director is hardly the perceptive student of human nature he's cracked up to be." In The Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoontz wrote, "I'm all for directors making audiences think, but ultimately, those thoughts need to lead us somewhere."
Some critics, however, were very positive, with Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, who gave the film four out of four stars, stating, "Nobody else is making films like this. Not at this level...The sheer freedom of it is intoxicating." He did, however, acknowledge how it would be "impenetrable and intolerable" for most audiences, and that "Knight of Cups is not a young man's movie...[It's a] philosophically engaged, beatific, starchild-as-old-man's movie." In another highly positive review, Richard Brody of The New Yorker described the film as "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" and considered it "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." Later, in a 2016 BBC poll, Seitz voted Knight of Cups the fifth-greatest film since 2000.
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