Friday, 5 February 2016


Knight of Cups is a superb new film from Terrence Malick, the thinker, philosopher, poet, and – LOL – former hair stylist, who is busy reinventing contemporary cinema. In this, his latest opus, Mr Malick basically examines similar territory to The Beautiful and Damned (the F.Scott Fitzgerald novel), namely life lived in the fast lane – the constant parties, the booze, the excess, and the women – albeit skewed in a Hollywood fashion. That is the mise en scène of the piece.

Christian Bale plays the main character, Rick – or, ahem, Richard – who is reaching an aporia in his life of excess in the film industry. Sounds right up my street!

Bale's character no longer recognizes who he is, what he wants, or even where he is going. He has a failed major relationship behind him – played by Cate Blanchett – who is not really over him (or over acting for once: luckily we don't have to put up with one of her fake accents, which is rather nice for a change. She is just her relaxed self.)

When he's not with her, Bale sluts around with various other Aussie actresses (Oz women are deadly – but in a good way!) and LA types. He also has some serious issues with his Father (Brian Denehy) and his former drug addict brother Barry – well played well by Wes Bentley. Although the cause of the dispute is avoided – Dad no doubt used the belt a bit too liberally or something – the tension is examined.

It's all told rather elliptically and poetically in TM’s unique Heideggerian style. Few people know this, but Malick was a student of philosophy in the early 70s. He was quite taken by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. He even apparently travelled to the Germany to meet "The Master" – and in 1969 translated a book by Heidegger called The Essence of Reasons., published by Northwestern University Press. I picked it up in a second-hand shop years ago and saw the "translated by" bit and went WOW! So, the Heidegger connection goes way back.

Actor and Director (Philosopher not shown)
Malick’s work can be called explicitly Heideggerian, I think, and there are many articles online about it – like here and here.

The Knight of Cups itself is full of the modern spiritual and existential crisis – all told lyrically over two hours, with considerable beauty and technical achievement. It reaches for "The Big Questions," has real ambition, scope, and depth, and it delivers great insight. There are even some crashing emotional scenes that just pop out of the blue, and vanish as soon as they appear. Loosely based around Heidegger's essay, The Question Concerning Technology, this is Malick continuing his critique on the alienation inherent in modern society, and totally turning it up to eleven.

Some folks may not like this and just don’t dig his work – that’s their loss – though the glitzy subject matter may make it more palatable to some on a superficial level. It’s sort of like Bret Easton Ellis as a Heidegger student, basically – and that works for me.

It’s a mature European reflection on the themes of being, grace and family. Really, only Europeans (and some Americans and Australians with European backgrounds, and maybe some Japanese) make films at this level of sophistication and thinking – so this film really deserves the attention of intelligent movie fans.

Funnily enough, in this outing Malick evokes the occult imagery of the Tarot and other signs and symbols a fair bit. That reminded me of my own film The Second Coming Vol. 1, which was a fair bit of Kismet. It opens in the same way, with a soul-searching European man on a Nevada freeway, wondering lost. We also shot at same time – in 2012 – and even used some of the same locations – Venice Beach by the Pier, for example. But the biggest similarity is that we both love Heidegger. So, that was very interesting to me on a personal level.

Anyway, Knight of Cups – be open to it and be awed. And read MORE Heidegger. You can’t lose.


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