Written & Directed By: Terrence Malick
Cinematography By: Emmanuel Lubezki
Editor: A.J.Edwards, Keith Fraase, Geoffrey Richman & Mark Yoshikawa
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Wes Bentley, Brain Dennehy, Frieda Pinto, Natalie Portman, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, Imogen Poots, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Cherry Jones, Michael Wincott, Jason Clarke, Antonio Banderas, Thomas Lennon, Nick Offerman, Kevin Corrigan, Joel Kinnaman, Clifton Collins Jr, Dale Dehaan, Shea Whigham, Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Wagner, Joe Lo Truglio, Fabio, Jocelin Donahue, Joe Manganiello, Beau Garrett, Nick Kroll, Danny Strong
Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep
Now before this film years ago I did a episode of UNFINISHED BUSIENSS on Terrence Malick. I have seen most of his work. So when it comes to his films I have a general feeling of what to expect. I have to say as always his are films best viewed in a theater as whether you like them or not. They are photographed visually and they tend to feel like cinematic experiences. One of a kind. That feels lost or not as powerful watching it at home no matter how impressive your entertainment system is. Watching this in the heater you feel more immersed in the experience. As always the great Emanuel Lubezki really shines and outdoes himself
I have to say this is his most shallow effort. Though considering it is set mostly in Hollywood that seems fitting.
The problem is that the stunning camera work can only hold your interests for so long. Before you either get used to it or get your fill and desire something to go along with it. Something else to add to the recipe to get the film really cooking. If not it becomes bland as you only have that basic ingredient which you might as well eat alone as there is hardly anything To go with it. On it's own it's ok, but combined with something else it can be delicious. Like rice with vegetables.
We are privy to all the glitz and the glamour and though we aren't really told anything. I am guessing that his reason for being there is he is a screenwriter. Which is shocking bad he rarely if ever seems to sit down to write or take meetings or even pitch. I am guessing his access to the expensive high life means not only is he successful, but might be using. This access as research. As essentially after awhile this plays like the longest episode of LIFE STYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS or THE FABULOUS LIFE OF
This film has a cast full of celebrity cameos and recognizable actors playing roles more in the back ground. That it reminds one most of Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER with his all star ensemble cast’s and set in Hollywood. Except Altman allowed each cameo to usually have some sort of screen time and a moment or two. Here some of the cast is seen for a split second before they disappear. So they become their own easter eggs. Whether they had larger roles and were edited down (As Malick is known to do to some actors in his films). In another way it feels like an Altman film where as Altman always has overlapping dialogue where he decides to turn up and turn down the sound levels. Where as in this film it feels like the sound levels are continuously turned down or not used at all.
As nothing is really explained or told really throughout the film. I believe it might be a town poem Or a visual poem or a film that is purposely left open for individuals to interpret in any way they want to and either way wouldn't be wrong. So I see it more as experimental more than anything.
The things you do find out are only by chance and the handful of voice overs throughout. As we do here glimpses of dialogue and conversations that seem turned down and like we are coming in, in the middle of. That by the end still really tell us nothing and don't inch us any closer to any understanding. Except if you truly want to decipher it.
Probably choosing the locale of Los Angeles for it's natural beauty combined with the industrial landscape. As there seems to be a never ending colorful nightlife and celebrations abound all over. This is also the busiest film for Malick, cinematically and in the form of landscapes. In tarot cards, if the Knight of Cups is upright, it represents change and new excitements, particularly of a romantic nature. It can mean invitations, opportunities, and offers. The Knight of Cups brings ideas, opportunities, and offers. He is artistic, refined, and easily bored, needing constant stimulation. He represents a person who is amiable, intelligent, and full of high principles, but a dreamer who can be easily persuaded or discouraged. Upside-down, the card represents unreliability and recklessness. It indicates fraud, false promises and trickery. It represents a person who has trouble discerning where the truth ends and lies begin.
Christian Bale plays a character who can't stand to be slow. But has a problem connecting. As the movie begins we see him romantic and physical with a young lady, but while physical they seem never to connect they will touch and grab one another, but we never see them really kiss nor have sex. So that it shows he can me intimate, but can't connect or be open. As none of them really touch him nor does he touch them. So they more revolve around each other and are attracted without presenting any depth to one another. This happens throughout the whole film as each new chapter symbolized by a new tittle card. He is with a new woman and as vague as the film plays. We never find out what happened to the last one. The onto one we vaguely know why is Cate Blanchett's character. All the rest except for maybe Natalie Portman's make no mark and seem like placeholders or guides to the next adventure. Like when he hooks up with a stripper and all of a sudden we watch them have fun In Las Vegas. I wonder if they are supposed to appeal or be extensions of aspects of himself?
So that the film makes you wonder is this an existential crisis or a middle aged one.
It's nice to see familiar faces bit they are here and gone so fast as well as some well placed cameos. You never get to know them. Except when they seem to all of a sudden take over the narration and voice over for their scenes. That seems more written and poetic rather than personal.
We seem to into get sketches of characters like Cate Blanchett's is a doctor who works with the homeless. The patients they seem to show her treating all seem to be maimed or deformed in some way. Brian dennehey as his father seems to be a business man who is bitter who seems to hate retirement or have lost his business . His brother who is an ex drug addict seems to very angry at the father and really into experiencing things first hand usually physically as he is very anxious and wants thrills most of the time. Frieda Pinto is a model who he dates who we watch on a fashion shoot other than them meeting at a party. Even when Bale’s character get robbed it is the nicest most calm robbery you will ever see in a film.
Cate Blanchett as his wife seems to be the one who has some kind of value and depth. As the others seem to be more like Hollywood itself pretty but surface and image is all it offers. As the only one who comes close to breaking this trend for him is the character played by Natalie Portman only she already belongs to another.
The film also end in a whimper with no resolution. Though considering the film seems to have no real conflict either. I guess it really didn't need that much of a resolution as the films seems to end. Almost like they ran out of footage or shots to cut to. Without both of those ingredients though this film seems more like a picture show. Rather than a film. I believe again that this was Intentional. As I believe in another parallel universe. Director Terrence Malick was meant to either be a cinematographer or work for national geographic. As he seems more interested in how nature works and observing a subject and making no real decisions. He is just more interested in being a voyeur and presenting the footage in some kind of narrative, but letting it come out naturally so that the audience really has to observe and make up their own mind.
It is a one of a kind film. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
The film seems to play like an extended trailer for a film that never seems to arrive or at least like it is building towards an understanding for all of us in the audience to finally get that never arrives. As mostly it seems to be free floating montages.
As the film paints Hollywood as an odyssey that chieftain bales character is traveling through and slowly sinking in as it takes over and uses various women and relationships to keep him afloat amongst the madness. Some are barely life rafts others seem to be more like ships that keep him above the abyss for longer periods of time before he chooses to keep on sailing and leave. After his own steady vessel his wife has left him. The women seem to be temporary answers and drugs to keep the pain away. Before he can become infected by depression and self pity. As his family is another trigger their problems, but they stay together and support one another despite it all.
The film does tell a story that if you listen to the voice overs you can piece together that are supposed to be the spiritual Main Theme as the film seems to keep grabbing images to both disorient and define the themes.
It seems like as most artists and directors have their films that seem misguided or experimental. This and his last film TO THE WONDER which was at least more understandable. as he did take a 20 year break and trying to make more films and output these days. This and his last film might be the films that are more not necessarily loved or liked by everybody and consider flops and failures. So instead of it happening earlier in the middle of his career as the wait was so long it is now happening more towards the later part of his career.
I still find him one of the major fascinating directors working and while I don't love all of his films. I still respect him immensely and despite it all will always watch his films religiously.
He is the last of a dying breed of maverick classic directors. There are always new ones coming around who get chances. Though he is one of the ones who inspire and who current filmmakers study, watch to keep amazed and learn from. Filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh.
He is a director who doesn't bring the biggest of box offices but still gets stars to be in his films and great budgets. That are purely his own vision and more art films then blockbusters. You have to give him at least that much respect in today's box office times. As he doesn't seem to be a director who has to do a one for them one for me type deal.
According to Christian Bale, Terrence Malick didn't tell the actors what the film was about. He said that at the start of each day's shoot he wouldn't know what would happen to his character. He also had no lines to learn and Terrence Malick only gave him the character description. There was no script. All of the scenes were improvised.
While there wasn't an actual script Terrence Malick would write multiple pages of dialogue for some of the actors and encouraged them to use whatever part of the dialogue they wanted. Despite playing the lead character Christian Bale received no writing for himself. This prompted Bale to try to sneak a peek of the other actors' pages to ascertain what he could expect in each scene.
During filming Terrence Malick would use a technique he called "torpedoing" where he would unexpectedly send people into the scene to get a reaction from the actors who were performing.
Christian Bale and Natalie Portman both said that they spent more days on the voice-over work for the movie than they did on the actual shooting of the film.
This is a movie that once you watch it once. If you watch it with others who have seen it. It is good to get the mystery science theater treatment or create a drinking game for or best of all like 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY best watched under the influence of something. Maybe it is just at this point so many of us expect a transcendence type of experience. When a new film of his comes out. That will be worth the wait. That maybe we lay too much on the films shoulders. Though I wish i could say it is the technical and visionary marvel that, that film is and is worth the experience and journey that is offered
So that while you read into it, you determine your own definition. Maybe the whole point is to read into the movies more shallow aspects as a Hollywood story that seeks depth, but offers little explanation. Though is willing to show ally he glitter. How it all comes together.
It could be Malick showing off how he wants to have depth and tell tales in Hollywood that are pure and spiritual and how easy you can be distracted by the glitz that is offered.
Maybe it is character seeking depth trapped in a film that offers them none, but keeps them moving through an oasis of images hat should make them feel doe thing other then numb.
Think of it as like a Robert Altman film with overlapping dialogue between characters in the forefront and the background. Where the sound levels were controlled by the director for you to focus on whatever part of the scene he wants the audience to pay attention to. Only here the sound levels never seen to turn up at all.
The film seems to be saying run form Hollywood as it is all just set-up and all about illusion.
This film seems to me to be like TO THE WONDER and films such as ONLY GOD FORGIVES and LOST RIVER films that I admire visually and can find beauty in and whose stories can work, but I couldn't get on the same wavelength and find them in a way a little too pretentious to love. Though there is something special and different about them. That to me expands in some way on the language of cinema and presentation that in some ways blows one's mind if you try to think about it too hard.
This movie allows for many conversations and commentary. Which trust me is more than is said in the film throughout.