Knight of Cups : A Prince on a Quest
“Once the soul was perfect and had wings, it could sour into haven that only creatures with wings can be. But the soul lost its wings and fell to earth where it took a earthly body, now, while it lives in this body no outward sign of wings can be seen yet the roots of its wings are still there… and we see a beautiful woman or a man, the soul remembers the beauty it used to know in haven, and begins to spout and that makes the soul want to fly but it cannot yet it is still too weak so that man keeps staring up to the sky at a young bird, he lost all interest in the world around…”
Is glamorous, materialistically fulfilled life a luxury? Is it what we are supposed to live for? Or is it a prison, we are supposed to escape from. Is life an imprisonment itself that only after death, one attains true freedom? Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ questions existence of life through a man, who wakes up one morning to find himself pursuing Life and Love in a Lifeless Glittery World.
Using my inadequate understanding of cinema, I have tried writing my interpretation of one of the most enchanting and divine experience I have had through movies. Knight of Cups is a film like none other, it is a journey which looks for meaning of Life and the presence of Love. It’s a ‘pilgrimage’ to the mythical, holy vision of how Terrence Malick views the world we live in.
It is a film about the sky, the clouds and the mountains, it is about the water beneath the ground and the sea and it is a film about a man made world trapped at the core of it, an artificially constructed world; a concrete jungle. The film begins in the middle of a chaos, the chaos is in Rick’s head, the protagonist, played by Christian Bale. He wakes up in his apartment shaken by something we might conclude as a minor earthquake. Even though the earthquake settled, the chaos in his brain never does.
The film has an outwardly incoherent narrative, like an anthology of poems, having no connection whatsoever and yet there is something which binds them together. Knight of Cups is told in Chapters, named after Tarot Cards, each of them is symbolic of a person in Rick’s Life. Judgment being his ex-wife, while Death being her lover and The Hanged Man being his brother and so on. These are 8 chapters/stages in the life of the ‘Pilgrim’, Rick. With the chapters being totally oblivious of each other, the film is entirely about Rick’s tryst with people, relationships, society and its glamour and the realization of absolute emptiness. Perhaps, this is what life is all about worth, about singularity and each man’s individual quest and not the connection they make on the road.
He is constantly roaming in quest of finding solitude in parties full of people, love in the emptiness of people, meaning of life and its redemption in the wilderness of the world. He is looking for it in the sky, the oceans and the Rock Mountains. Knight of Cups is continuously moving and searching, but it isn’t reaching anywhere and the quest goes on.
The film is shot beautifully by Emmanuel Lubezki in a way that you are supposed to see the natural right through the unnatural. Terrence Malick wants you to see the blue sky and not the tall buildings which block its view. He wants you to see the water when the camera goes inside the pool and not the crowd visible in the background, but will you do that, are you ready to not care about the meaningless materials deliberately put in front of you. It’s a film with such powerful imagery, that even if there were no dialogues at all, the impact would have been same.
There are women in Knight of Cups, 6 of them, but they are all Rick’s recollection of the past and how he failed to find love with each one of them. Terrence Malick presents an intimacy which is sensual but there is hardly any love, there is only disappointment and regret all around.
There is a fine line between creative vision and pretense as far as filmmaking is concerned. If you had difficulty watching ‘The Tree of Life’, Knight of Cups is going to look farce and absolutely pointless to you, a false pretense. For others, who adored ‘The Tree of Life’, this will/must be an absolute treat for them, a creative vision of the highest order. It is as profound a movie as movies have the liberty to be. Knight of Cups is a mystified wonder of a film, it is going to make people frustrated, Malick knew it but he still gave us an opportunity to go deeper into his lonely world. His films are about how he himself sees the world and are extremely personal to him. Self Indulgent maybe, but that’s what pure auteurism is about.