31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Centerpiece Film: Terrence Malick’s KNIGHT OF CUPS

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“You don’t want love, you want a love experience.”

Despite the little we collectively know about Terrence Malick, it has become apparent since THE TREE OF LIFE that he has been telling us his own story through the guise of abstract filmmaking.  His new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS, was this year’s centerpiece film at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it is one of the best films I have ever experienced.

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Set in modern day Los Angeles, the camera follows a screenwriter, Rick (played by Christian Bale as a placeholder for the filmmaker), who hasn’t so much lost himself, because he doesn’t know who he is.  He has been wandering through his adult life, questing through money, drugs, and women.

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This cast is huge, it’s akin to THE THIN RED LINE.  Bale is the mainstay, but the abundance of recognizable actors in miniscule parts is awesome.  Malick’s producer, Sarah Green, was on the red carpet for the premiere and I asked her what it’s like casting a Malick film and what the actor’s responses are to Malick’s interest.  She told me that even though this film did not have an orthodox script, Malick has reached the point in his career where if there is interest shown in the actor, they immediately say yes.

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KNIGHT OF CUPS producer Sarah Green on the red carpet for its US premiere at the SBIFF

This film marks Green’s four collaboration with Malick, with an addition two more films pending release.  I asked her if there was something about KNIGHT OF CUPS that sets it apart from her other films with Malick, and she said that this film was set modern day (like TO THE WONDER) but was set and shot in LA.  And that this film was shot on a whim, run and gun style. 

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KNIGHT OF CUPS is a journey through Malick’s subconscious.  It is a remembering of faded memories.  Some are reconstructed, some a fantasy.  Rick is a placeholder for the camera, who rarely interacts with anyone or anything.  He watches, he broods, and most importantly he remembers.  When he does interact with others, maybe it is real, maybe it is what he thinks is real, or maybe it is what he thinks he should have done. The film chronicles life–his life, our life.  Success, fame, love, emotion, family, safety – that doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

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A Malick film is like Hemingway’s iceberg theory but reversed.  We are shown everything, yet we know nothing.  We piece it together through an overwhelming abundance of emotion captured on screen, and what’s beneath the water is Malick’s intent.  His answer, his reasoning, his life.  KNIGHT OF CUPS is a painfully beautiful and personal journey of escaping the darkness and finding the light.

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“You gave me peace.  You gave me what the world can’t give.  Mercy.  Love.  Joy.  All else is cloud.  Mist.  Be with me.  Always.”

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