Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Knight of Cups": Malick presents a dream-like montage for a screenwriters life; a kind of heterosexual "Judas Kiss"

Knight of Cups” is another experimental, visionary, and sometimes psychedelic modern day film by Terrence Malick, who seems determined to make a heterosexual version of “Judas Kiss”.

The film has an overlay of inspiration: the 1676 allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, as well as the “Hymn of the Pearl” and the “Acts of Thomas” from the Catholic apocrypha (not part of the standard New Testament).

In modern Los Angeles, vagabond screenwriter Rick sometimes fails at assigned contracts but still somehow gets hired to write other movies.  I don’t think I could use him to write my “DADT Epiphany”.  He seems to look for energy in his personal life, where he has affairs with six women, each with a different backstory.  Do his past lost love affairs generate the plots of the screenplays he finally gets written?

Rick is played by Christian Bale, who looks lean and a little grizzled.  In an early scene, he deals with an earthquake while in his modern garden apartment somewhere in the Valley. He is not quite as handsome as his character in “The Big Short” (Dec. 23, 2015);  the hair on his arms and legs seems diminished, but there are plenty of scenes where women go after his body. Rick seems to like to be seduced or attacked by aggressive females. Ben Kingsley provides the voice for his stream of conciousness.

The film is in eight named segments, six of them corresponding to the different women, played by stars including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Isabel Lucas.  Wes Bentley plays his vagabond brother.  Antonio Banderas is the hermit.

The film focuses on the posh surreal beauty of a smog-free LA, alongside some ugliness (skid row); it sometimes wonders into the desert, and then even to Las Vegas, for other inspiring visual effects.
There is an interesting shot of a model railroad with race tracks, densely laid out, and very interesting.  I don’t know where it is, probably in Vegas.  There’s also a bizarre scene showing jellyfish sex.

Instead of an original score (like in “Tree of Life”), Malick uses a huge repertoire of classical music, especially from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, as well as Vaughn Williams, Debussy ("soft and dreamy," my piano teacher used to say), and Gorecki.

While Bale is effective, it struck me that Timo Descamps (who stars in “Judas”) would have carried a role like this, and Timo has an LA picture from Facebook that fits the mood of the film, here.  You could say that Bale's character is rather like a straight version of Shane Lyons (maybe 20 years later), now coming to terms with his character after serial adventures.  The last chapter of the film is called "Freedom" following "Death".  ("The High Priestess" was the name of a NYC friend's cat one time.)

The official site is here (FilmNation and Broad Green).

I saw the film at Landmark E Street in downtown DC, before a fair weekday audience, the first day after the Metro was back. By total chance, I met a young man in the lobby who was very familiar with both Malick and yesterday’s “Battle Royale”.

Pictures are mine (first three from 2012 trip to CA, NV).

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