Knight of Cups: Terrence Malick’s Search of Love, Starring Christian Bale and Six Gorgeous Women

knight_of_cups_posterWritten and directed by Terrence Malick, Knight of Cups follows writer Rick (Christian Bale) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he searches for true love and self.

As he moves through a landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Rick grapples over complicated relationships with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy).

His quest to break the spell of his disenchantment takes him on a series of adventures with six alluring women: rebellious Della (Imogen Poots); his physician ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett); a serene model Helen (Freida Pinto); a woman he wronged in the past Elizabeth (Natalie Portman); a spirited and playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer); and an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas), who helps him see a way forward.

Rick moves in a daze through a strange and overwhelming dreamscape, but can he wake up to the beauty, humanity and rhythms of life around him? The deeper he searches, the more the journey becomes his destination.

The title of Malick’s seventh film refers to the tarot card depicting a romantic adventurer guided by his emotions.  The film offers both a vision of modern life and an intensely personal experience of memory, family, and love.

Nature of the Search?

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

— Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den,and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.”

— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Passage, Cinema as Personal Journey …

knight_of_cups_11_bale_blanchettThe sensual dream of Terrence Malick’s new film, Knight of Cups, takes audiences on a ride of personal experience. The film unfolds through the innermost memories, desires and dreams of Rick, a successful writer who appears to have it all, but is nevertheless grappling intensely with the things we all grapple with: love, temptation, family, memory, meaning, faith, the way forward.

As he struggles to find the right path, he discovers that the exploration itself– the readiness to take an open-minded, open-hearted trip through the awesome, mystifying fabric of life–might be more vital and exciting than the answers for which he yearns.

The film, shot by Malick’s longtime cinematographer, three-time Academy Award winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, offers a vision of pure cinema, in which an intermix of breathtaking visuals, raw emotions and rich symbolism transport the viewer into an intimate space of reflection, giving each viewer a uniquely individual, non-conventional journey and personal take on the story.

knight_of_cups_10_baleSince his first film, the starkly poetic Midwestern crime drama Badlands, Malick has become renowned as the foremost poet of American cinema.  In films that span from the World War II classic The Thin Red Line to his recent exploration of personal and cosmic time in The Tree of Life, Malick has worked with raw images the way an alchemist works with metals – bending and fusing them into an elixir of moods, states-of-mind and both the most transient and transcendent of feelings. Increasingly, he has moved beyond the constricted structure of conventional films – utilizing in-the-moment improvisation, untethered, roaming cameras, and bottomless emotional excavation to capture moments at their most genuinely and sometimes provocatively organic.

Knight of Cups takes this rhapsodic, multi-layered style deeper than the usual, finding Malick at his most intuitive and freeform. But for the first time, the setting is contemporary California –mythic land of unbridled dreams and mad quests, where Rick, a man who has attained all the financial trappings of twenty-first-century achievement, has reached a moment of all-too-familiar modern crisis.

He wanders amid rank luxury, eroticism and sunlight, but he feels lost, impoverished and in the dark–haunted by a brother’s death, alternately seduced and underwhelmed by current pleasures and wondering if, despite his coating of success, he’s “living the life of someone I don’t know.”

knight_of_cups_9_portmanRick’s search for self, for a reconciliation with the past and for transforming love takes him into the arms of six women, a kind of Greek chorus who test, question and carry him further in his odyssey.

As they do this, the film weaves through vast folkloric references, from the tarot deck to the timeless legend of a prince in search of a pearl. Through this blending of contemporary relationships and the most

primal mythology, Malick invites viewers to dive into their own direct experience with this film – to merge their own memories, inquiries and yearnings into it the way one does with an epic symphony or panoramic view that opens up to an infinite span of emotional locales.

 Knight of Cups begins with a passage from John Bunyan’s pioneering meditation on the individual’s quest: The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come. Though written in 1678, for centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was among the most widely-read books in the world. Its story of a man’s demon- and obstacle-filled trek from The City of Destruction to save his soul became the godfather of pop-culture adventures in search of redemption.

Like pilgrims of every era, Rick yearns to restore a sense of enchantment, but his path is obstructed by a very modern tangle of family wounds, lifestyle temptations and that recognizable crossroads where high-tech illusions meet our most base and ancient desires. The twenty-first-century nature of the film’s journey struck a distinct nerve for each member of cast and crew.

knight_of_cups_8_portman_baleNatalie Portman sums up Rick’s open-ended search for what will sustain him, which sweeps up her character in tumultuous events: “Amid the frivolity and excess and extravagance of Los Angeles, I see Rick as trying to regain his soul and confront the depths of his life.”

Producer Sarah Green sees Rick’s journey as that of a man trying to snap out of a liminal state of sleepwalking. “In the beginning of the film, Rick is surrounded by beauty and he’s fascinated by it; but he isn’t able to go any further than the surface. He keeps missing the point until he has a moment of waking up … then he falls asleep again … then comes another awakening. And as soon as his gaze starts to go deeper, he starts to change. In my view, Rick is just beginning his life as the movie ends. I see all this potential opening in him.”

For Green, who has been working with Malick since The New World, Malick’s seventh film moves his cinematic expression forward yet again. “Terry, along with Chivo, his longtime cinematographer, have been changing cinematic language,” she observes. “They’ve forged a process and a style that allows movies to speak to us in a new way – and the more Terry and his team have refined their process, the further they are able to take it. It’s gotten to a point where you really can’t explain Terry’s movies in words. You simply have to experience them. It’s an experiential process making them and it is an equally experiential process for each person watching.”

knight_of_cups_7_blanchettProducer Nicolas Gonda, who first worked with Malick on The New World, was especially intrigued to see Rick’s journey progress through present-day Los Angeles – marking the first time Malick has set a film in the eponymous City of Angels. “It’s something he’s wanted to do for years,” notes Gonda. “Los Angeles has been part of Terry’s journey and, as such a keen observer of nature and human nature, he sets his sights on the city in his own way. You have some familiar elements: the parties, the beaches, the skyline. But his Los Angeles has infinite depth – it’s an onion that has countless layers and perspectives, and through this lens we’re able to see such an iconic city in ways we’ve never seen before.”

Gonda believes the film won’t, and in a sense can’t, speak to any two people the same way. “We are all journeyers and adventurers in our own fashion,” he comments. “And I think what Terry’s films do for me and many others, by looking so deeply at the environments we move through, is remind us of the potential of the journey. Without ever giving a map to that point, or being didactic, his films help one explore the terrain and perhaps the direction you want to go in. This film is like a mirror –everyone will see something different reflected back, and this is one of Terry’s great achievements. His films seem to speak to you wherever you are in your life or in this moment.”

For producer Ken Kao, Rick’s encounters with six decidedly beautiful, but also complicated, lovers become his points on the journey. “I believe this gauntlet of women in Rick’s life are almost like benchmarks, or milestones, of who Rick is and how he’s developing as a person,” Kao describes.  “It’s always seductive to think another person will give you the easy answer to what’s missing in you, but Rick comes to see that isn’t exactly what he’s looking for.”

knight_of_cups_6_baleKao also sees the film as giving filmgoers a rich alternative to the typical two hours of passive viewing at the movies. “I think this is the next evolution of Terry’s filmmaking,” he states. “Knight of Cups is bolder, edgier and has his most contemporary setting. There are a lot of things different from Terry’s previous films, but like all his films, you cannot turn off your mind. For those looking for a different kind of film, be prepared to have a truly personal experience.”

Knight of Cups is produced by Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green and Ken Kao.  The crew includes three-time Oscar winner cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant), production designer Jack Fisk, costume designer Jacqueline West, and composer Hanan Townshend.