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Knight of Cups

Yet another opulent and mystifying meditation on the essence of life by veteran arthouse director Terrence Malick.


Images and Meaning

Terrence Malick is one of the most important filmmakers of arthouse cinema, there is no doubt about it. His film are highly experimental and it is a miracle that films such as THE THIN RED LINE, THE NEW WORLD, THE TREE OF LIFE, TO THE WONDER and KNIGHT OF CUPS are produced at all let alone with an extremely high production value and an exquisite cast . An even bigger miracle is that Malick’s films are screened in cinemas and find an audience. We watched KNIGHT OF CUPS together and tried to say something about it. We are neither sure about it nor do we agree on what Terrence Malick’s film means but we definitely find it interesting enough to pay close attention to it. Thus, here are some of our perspectives on the film.

Search for Meaning

Hypnotic images, beautiful people, the roads and the ocean appear again and again. Terrence Malick creates a glittery surface panorama in KNIGHT OF CUPS which seems to talk about the beauty of the world and simulate a sense of meaning. The voice of the father or rather the voices of the fathers are heard off-camera: Rick’s father tries to encourage his lost, wandering son and Rick thinks about his small son who is growing up far away from him. It is a wall of sound that turns into a tapestry made up of deep voices emitting authority and security that not only warmly envelop Rick but seem to offer a solid foundation. They seem to be saying: even though you may be wandering in the darkness, do not fear harm because I am with you. At the same time there is discomfort and I cannot discern if it is my own or an element that is inscribed in Malick’s film. The warm words seem auto-suggestive, like a verse that Rick tells himself so as not to become completely lost. The voice is no assurance, it formulates a hope: KNIGHT OF CUPS is about that hope that somewhere there is that latch to hang on to, some meaning, a father, it evokes this consistently but also disregards it. Everyone is busy, everyone is searching, everyone cannot see further than getting the next parking spot, at best.

Hendrike Bake

The Road

An image of a road that disappears into the horizon or darkness, while the camera is mounted on the dashboard, the hood, or the bumper, displaying the road signs: a paradigmatic image of the postmodern road movie and the last one of KNIGHT OF CUPS. From the hero’s epic trip intertwined with his destiny to the romantic “quest,” the only thing that is missing is movement which is manifested in a camera with no one subject. TWO LANE BLACKTOP (Monty Hellman, 1971) is the first film that made detachment, self-involvement, and meaninglessness part of the imagery but also the narrative principle of the road movie. In David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART the road is still a romantic medium of love, in LOST HIGHWAY it leads to a fatal circular movement that keeps ending at the same street. KNIGHT OF CUPS begins with a drive through a tunnel and Malick keeps making traffic part of the imagery. A mix of childhood dreams and urban nightmare that Malick much like the libidinous fantasy of Cronenberg’s CRASH with its sterile sex in Toronto’s urban rush hour landscape. In Malick’s BADLANDS (1973) the road movie had images that were constructed as reproductions of other images – Martin Sheen’s Kit poses like James Dean in GIANT – and another road movie element dissipates, namely showing and discovering the country. KNIGHT OF CUPS leads the protagonists into the desert, yet there is nothing left to show. There is no search for meaning except for the immanence of movement and no transcendence to be found. Only the road.

Tom Dorow

Rescuing Reality

Terrence Malick saves the external reality once again – or rather, he poeticizes in a truly lavish manner. The base idea is admittedly awful: a white, straight, obviously well-off, privileged man searches for truth and beauty - that is the one true love, since guys like that always want to be find redemption through a woman. If one where to reduce the plot of KNIGHT OF CUPS they have not really seen the film. The manner in which Malick’s camera dives into this world, finding banal and profane sensuality, which cannot be tamed by something minor like plot or masculine melancholy, is already quite terrific. It is real cinema which attempts to find images that have never been seen before and succeeds. The liberation of structure and functionality is ultimately political: Malick leads a celebration of being and life which we do not pay attention due to all the stress and hectic. Open your eyes, call out to all the seekers, and recognize what surrounds you.

Thomas Groh

Thomas Groh, Hendrike Bake, Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA 2015, 118 min
Genre: Drama, Love Stories
Director: Terrence Malick
Author: Terrence Malick
DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki
Montage: Mark Yoshikawa, Geoffrey Richman, A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase
Music: Hanan Townsend
Distributor: StudioCanal
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Imogen Poots
FSK: 6
Release: 10.09.2015




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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