"Repentance and Confession Are Good for the Soul"
KNIGHT OF CUPS, directed and written by Terrence Malick (the MOVIEGUIDE® Award winning movie TREE OF LIFE and DAYS OF HEAVEN), is just what you would expect from the director. It’s a poetic movie filled with strong visuals and little dialogue. It uses sad voiceovers from each character the protagonist encounters along his path in Hollywood to reveal their brokenness, although their actions say, “I’m happy.” It gives a beautiful visual insight into the glamorous life of Hollywood, while filling it with broken people, sex addicts and drunks to show the truth behind fame. Interestingly, the ending, which ends in a Catholic church, suggests the movie is a Christian morality tale, but it takes a long time to get there.
The movie stars Christian Bale as Rick, a screenwriter in Hollywood who has just come into a lot of success, but still feels empty on the inside. Rick can attend any party and get any woman he wants, but his life is far from fulfilling. His marriage to Nancy (Cate Blanchett) is crumbling, his verbally abusive father continues to torment him for the suicidal death of his younger brother. Also, his remaining brother, who struggles to hold a steady job and can’t accept the loss of their other brother, is more like a child that Rick is forced to care for than a true brother he can call on for support.
Haunted by his family demons and crumbling marriage, Rick finds temporary solace in women. He parades around Hollywood like a king, dancing in hotels with young women in revealing clothes, partying on roof tops, and snorting cocaine with strangers. He parades around a young stripper for days at the hottest night clubs in Vegas and eventually falls for Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a sweet but broken woman, who’s also married. Rick and Elizabeth sneak around hotel rooms in Santa Monica and commit adultery.
The audience never sees Rick writing, but the movie suggests Rick has worked hard as a writer and is now living out the fame that’s finally come with his hard work. Of course, the drugs, booze, sex, and women have taken over his life, and Rick pays no attention to the consequences of his actions. When Elizabeth finds out she’s pregnant with what could be his baby, she breaks down in tears as their carelessness has finally caught up with them.
The movie is divided into eight chapters each named after a different Tarot card Rick is given and focuses on his relationship with a different person for each one. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] It isn’t until he gets the final Tarot card, which reads “Freedom,” that Rick decides he has nowhere else to go but church. Thus, the final scenes show Rick dragging himself to a Catholic church to pray and confess his sins to the priest. The final shots suggest that this finally brings the beginnings of a new peace and joy to this troubled writer.
KNIGHT OF CUPS contains many beautiful shots of all the places where celebrities go to play, including California beaches, New York penthouses, private hotel rooms, and Vegas nightclubs. In contrast to its compelling visuals, the movie fills almost every frame with sad, lost, desperate people seeking happiness through hedonistic pleasure, through wine women and song, plus cocaine and other illegal drugs. In effect, it’s a morality tale showing that fame and fortune can’t bring happiness. Even better, the ending shows Rick finding refuge in a Catholic church, where he confesses his sins to the priest. The movie’s last shots suggest that Rick’s discovery of faith has brought about the beginnings of some positive change. Repentance and confession are good for the soul, and taking refuge in Jesus brings true freedom.
Thus, KNIGHT OF CUPS ends up being a Christian morality tale, but it takes a while to get there. Like other movies by Terence Malick, KNIGHT OF CUPS is more of a character study than a plot-driven story.
Along the way, there’s plenty of vulgar content, substance abuse, strong occult, violence, strong sexual content, and nudity in a couple scenes. So, Most media-wise viewers will avoid it.
(CC, B, RoRo, H, OO, Ho, LL, VV, SS, NN, AA, DD, MMM) Strong Christian redemptive worldview with moral implications in a morality tale ending with a scene of repentance, confession and absolution, mitigated by some strong Romantic elements and light humanist elements where protagonist is controlled by his emotions and derives hedonistic pleasure joy sleeping with women, a theme that life is meaningless and people should live in the moment, plus strong occult elements where protagonist relies on Tarot cards and psychics to guide his life and help him find meaning, but ends up going to a Catholic church to pray and consults a priest in the confessional box; 16 obscenities and profanities (including a few “f” words), plus some other vulgar language and references and man throws up; moderate violence includes brother punching, slapping and throwing other brother, father shakes his son violently and yells in his face, husband and wife yell at each other, man breaks lamp and glass in his house out of anger, robbers hold man to gunpoint and toss him to the ground to violently destroy his home in search for money; strong sexual content and immorality includes crude sex references, implied adultery and fornication, promiscuity, some lesbian references, and female strippers and dancers use their bodies to tempt married men to sleep with them; upper female nudity in a couple scenes, rear and side female nudity as woman swims naked, upper male nudity in one scene; strong alcohol use and drunkenness, celebrities drink alcohol, wine and beer at fancy parties, drunk women flirt with married men, men drink in strip clubs and at bars, man drinks with stripper in Las Vegas hotel; cigarette smoking and illegal drugs (including cocaine) used at lavish parties for pleasure; and, strong miscellaneous immorality includes lying, kidnapping, stealing, greed, bad role models, and dysfunctional families.
KNIGHT OF CUPS is a lyrical story about Rick, a Hollywood screenwriter who’s come into a lot of wealth and fame. With his crumbling marriage and strained relationship with his father and younger brother, Rick’s success allows him to take advantage of the endless parties, alcohol, drugs, and women coming his way. He escapes from his troubled family relationships into a dream world, where he does almost anything for pleasure to avoid the pain in his life.
KNIGHT OF CUPS contains many beautiful shots of the places where celebrities go to play, including California beaches, New York penthouses, private hotel rooms, and Vegas nightclubs. In contrast to its compelling visuals, the movie fills every frame with sad, lost, desperate people seeking happiness through hedonistic pleasure. In effect, it’s a morality tale showing that fame and fortune can’t bring happiness. Even better, the ending shows Rick finding refuge in a Catholic church, where he confesses his sins to the priest. Thus, KNIGHT OF CUPS ends up being a Christian morality tale, but it takes time to get there. Most media-wise viewers will avoid it.