Christian Bale gallivants aimlessly and stares bemusedly in Terrence Malick’s vapid odyssey. There’s no doubt about it, Terrence Malick is a genius filmmaker, but with that said he seems to be caught up in his genius. It seems as if he’s searching for a new way of storytelling and he hasn’t arrived there quite yet, making his films have a rather unfinished or untapped feel about them. There is greatness in Knight of Cups, in the camera-work and the hypnotic vision Malick presents us with, but at the same time I’m severely baffled when it comes to pin-pointing what it all means or to where it all leads.
Surely, it can be a good thing to not know what something means and admire it all the more for its audacious and perplexing nature, as is the case with the works of Dali and even some of Malick’s earlier entries. The problem here, is that Malick doesn’t give us enough to work with even though he believes what he’s given us is enough. Knight of Cups has a paradoxical nature that underlines its entirety. The images are presented as telling when they mostly represent superficiality, or protagonist is on the search for greatness or virtue yet continually taps into his vices and the film is supposed to be thought-inducing when its resulting ideas don’t seem to lead anywhere. If anything, Knight of Cups is mystifying but meandering.
A story beat is established towards the beginning of the film that leans on an excerpt from Pilgram’s Progress in which a man is on a pilgrimage towards the Celestial City and if there’s is a story, i’d guess that to the backbone of it. But then, everything that unravels in the films seems to alienate itself and reaffirm the pilgrim’s passage in a way. Rick (Christian Bale) drifts aimlessly from one faceless beauty to another and does seem to be on the pursuit of something greater, what’s curious is that Malick leads Rick to Vegas, a place regarded as the Mecca of vice itself. I’d call it pretentious, but I don’t know if you can call something that’s aiming at striking down pretentiousness. Or must you be pretentious in order to strike down that which is? Honestly, once again, I don’t know, I’ve got ideas, but I’m nowhere remotely close to certainty with any of them. I’d love it if Malick just when back to writing a fabulous script and adapting it like he did with Badlands, but I guess thats not happening and now we’ve got his version of Malick that is both equally impressive and frustrating.