First Hit: An interesting, esoteric and ethereal film of a man reflecting on his place in the world through his relationships.
This film is not and will not be everyone’s cup of tea. In general it is about self-discovery, our purpose in this life, and understanding ourselves individually and collectively.
Those who value self-reflection and contemplating their own life as a way to see and better understand their current place and have patience for the film to unfold in its own way may like it.
One particular sequence early on with Ben Kingsley’s voice over states something like; it takes us so long to begin to see the depth of who we are because we spend most of our time responding to outside stimuli. During this sequence the images on the screen are of a young Rick (Christian Bale) on the beach with his family and in other settings.
The film is divided into 8 named sequences. Each, except the final section called Freedom, are named after Tarot cards, as is the name of the film. The "Knight of Cups" is the heart filled Knight in the Tarot deck. Although the Knight is on a horse (strength), because the horse is in a walking position, the Knight and the other representations on the card represent calmness and being ruled by the heart when important decisions are made.
Rick goes through the film in this etheric way, little outside emotion is seen, and each scene gives a view into his feelings. The people speaking to him fade in and out and one can begin to sense that Rick is Hollywood connected.
Each of these sections, which reflect the names of the cards are about the women he’s been with, his angry and lost brother Barry (Wes Bentley), his controlling, angry, and demanding father Joseph (Brian Dennehy) (their section is named “The Hangman”), and an immoral playboy Tonio (Antonio Banderas) (his section is named “The Hermit”).
My sense was that the latter was Rick’s own reflection of his playboy ways. The women are Della (Imogen Poots) whose section is “The Moon” and she is young and rebellious. The section called “Judgement” is played by his former wife, a physician, Nancy (Cate Blanchett). “The Tower” is played by Freida Pinto as a serene model named Helen. Teresa Palmer, as a spirited playful stripper named Karen is the section called “The High Priestess”. Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is “Death”, the person Rick wronged. And finally, “Freedom”, an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas) who assists him in seeing ahead.
All of these stories are mixed and matched with life events, like robbery, heated arguments, disagreements, moments of bliss, and each of them lying on a backdrop of natural reflective scenes of Rick in the desert and on the beach at sunset.
Bale says little in the film, much of his thoughts and feelings are shared through visuals of him solitarily reflecting, with others but almost always on the edge of being disengaged, and the scenes outside himself, what he’s seeing. Because he had no physical script to work from, he was genuinely perfect for the role because of his ability to be silent yet communicative at the same time. Bentley is very strong as the angry, lost brother. Dennehy was perfect as the father. It was so nice to see him again. Poots was very good as Della. She clearly provided an edge to Rick’s life. Blanchett was very strong as his former physician wife. Her compassion to the people she worked on was amazing. Banderas was great as the playboy and during the A-List Hollywood party, he was like a kid in a candy store. Pinto was elegant in her role as a serene presence in Rick’s life. The model shoot was very realistic. Palmer was strong as the enticing playful stripper. Portman was extremely strong as a tortured married woman who both loved and felt wronged by Rick. Lucas was very good in representing a path forward. Terrence Malick wrote and directed this film. His strengths are getting creatively strong improvisational performances from his cast. The visual shots in the film are often arrestingly beautiful.
Overall: As I said, this film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine.