From the expanse of the Badlands, to the naturally lit wheat fields on an industrialized farm, Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually arresting, soul-stirring, and thematically profound films ever made. In recent years, Malick has shifted his gaze towards the contemporary: Sean Penn’s character in The Tree Of Life was an architect of our new world, wandering aimlessly in our cold spaces, but To The Wonder was set entirely in the present day. Following up two of his most divisive films, the reclusive filmmaker, who prefers to allow his work to speak for him, seems to be examining “the factory of dreams,” the hedonism of Hollywood, and the alienation we feel in our fast-paced and consumerist society.
The new trailer for Knight Of Cups, Malick’s latest cinematic prayer – all of his films after Badlands are more concerned with mood more than plot – seems to indulge in the filmmaker’s stylistic stamp of sweeping montages and whistful voice-over, but not only is he furthering his aesthetic to greater abstraction, with digital images that evoke late-Godard, he also seems to be exploring new spaces: neon-coloured strip clubs, rococo-style bars, and cold, upper-class bedrooms.
Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchette star, but don’t expect audiences to flock to this film because of these big names. Malick is a polarizing filmmaker, a pretentious hack, or a poet of images and sounds. How much spiritual elevation and aesthetic elation you feel during Malick’s work depends heavily on your ability to connect to his poetic ramblings. At one point in the trailer, a character says, “you don’t want love; you want a love experience.” It tells of a world deliriously lost in fantasy, a place where the movies’ smorgasbord of pleasures is readily available in reality: sex, drugs and alcohol. A mother’s prayer to God in The Tree Of Life, a priest unable to hear God’s presence in To The Wonder, or a soldiers desire to find utopia in The Thin Red Line, Malick’s work is always about longing for true love experiences, whether paternal, romantic, or with God.
Early reviews from festivals have been mixed, but Knight Of Cups is still my most anticipated film of 2016. It will be in limited release on March 4th.