“Knight of Cups” follows a screenwriter on an existential journey. There is no conflict, driving force, or anything to move the plot forward. Those who argue that movies like “Inherent Vice” and “The Big Lebowski” are lacking in plot and motivation would cry out in horror when they saw the way this movie flows.
Each chapter of the film focuses on Rick(who isn’t given a last name) and his interactions with different people, with the tarot card title slightly resembling whatever relationship Rick’s involved in at the time. Though the people involved in the scenes vary, the scenes are all suspiciously similar. As Rick speaks to someone, their voices can only be infrequently heard. Instead, a dialogue of other things the two characters have said or thought about one another plays.
The cinematography, though beautiful, never thinks to stop to focus. If Rick is walking through a mansion, street, or anywhere, the camera suddenly begins to pull away and follow other things. When Rick finished talking to his ex wife and looked down the street to a man with a leaf blower, I briefly thought ‘don’t’ before the screen suddenly filled with the images and sounds of leaves blown down the asphalt. There are no actual solid moments in this movie, just flowing images that might take place in the same situation.
This film’s greatest asset is its ambition. Terrence Malick, who already created the existential “Tree of Life,” seeks to make a movie without traditional arcs or conflict. The movie wanders as aimlessly as Rick does. Every romance and moment is as fleeting to the viewer as the protagonist. I’m reminded of “Bad Lieutenant,” which followed a dirty cop as he meaninglessly indulged in drugs and sex and exploited his job without principle.
However, that movie has the advantage of concerning itself with sin and salvation, and its characters, unlike Rick, showing some emotion besides melancholy. It’s hard to say if “Knight of Cups” was perhaps too meaningless, or just didn’t reach its potential.
Anyone could identify that this movie’s greatest weakness is its pretension. Rick’s brother begins softly stabbing himself in the hand with a fork just to ‘feel something.’ Rick and his girlfriend walk through an aquarium like ghosts, staring longingly at the happy people around them. I hate scenes like this. It’s as if our main characters have reached some higher level of understanding that allows them to look at jellyfish with more awe and admiration than your average grade schooler. For two hours runtime, Rick walks lazily with his hands in his pockets and stares at the ground.
The film’s received polarizing reviews. Less than half of the Rotten Tomatoes crowd of critics thought the movie was good, while the audience score reflects an even lower opinion held by the general public. This movie is about a man trying to find meaning in his life, but the answer isn’t as simple as other movies would portray it. He doesn’t reach an epiphany through something like quitting his job, traveling the world or finding true love. If you want to see a movie as unique as this, in which purposefulness isn’t imbued in anything on screen, go for it.