vanities, says the Preacher,
Anything written and directed by Terence Malik is bound to be
non-linear. And this one
Rick (Christian Bale) is the main character, and he spends a
lot of time by himself, wandering in isolated stretches.
Even the big city seems to be mostly empty whenever he’s
wandering in it, as if he’s so determined to be alone with his
introspection that he doesn’t notice others that much.
Except maybe the occasional homeless person, who doesn’t
seem any more dispossessed than he does.
“Knight of Cups” is really a series of seemingly
disconnected images that defy sequence, so there’s no discernible
plot, either. Oh, there
are some remarkable people who come to fill up the screen:
most notably Cate Blanchett (who seems to be an old flame)
and Natalie Portman (where the relationship seems more contemporary,
but still failed). In
the end, we’re back to Rick, wandering off by himself again.
Maybe looking at clouds.
Or passing cars. Or
mannequins in a shop window. Or
trees rustling in the breeze. Or
Rick, being a handsome young man, appears to have no shortage
of beautiful women filling his visual screen.
In fact, he seems to be welcome at fashion photography
shoots, where skinny lovelies pose unceasingly.
Rarely does anybody say very much.
His brother appears, obviously distraught about things,
arguing with their father, who seems to be more an apparition than a
real presence. But every
adult male carries within him images of his father, because, for
better and for worse, that’s the primary relationship that forged
his own male identity.
Rick often gets philosophical, but not really whimsical.
He says he feels like he’s looking in the ocean for that
one valuable pearl, and hasn’t yet found it, which seems to be
code for he really hasn’t found any fulfilling purpose to his
life. He talks vaguely
about needing to go from the darkness to the light, which sounds
remotely religious, and there are even some random quotes from the
Psalms, delivered in somebody else’s sonorous overdub, but they,
too, disappear from the screen quickly, like all the other fleeting
images. There seems to
be some obsession with helicopters, as if just hovering over
everything, never landing, like Rick.
And some practiced fascination with the empty, open road
(usually falling away very rapidly).
If the idea is that we’re supposed to feel Rick’s
disconnectedness, then it’s working.
But in the screening I attended, many walked out, and some
laughed out loud at the end, as if punctuating the ludicrousness of
trying to make any sense of it all.
Which may be precisely the life lesson that Terence Malik
wishes to teach us here.