Ah, the beauty of living in Berlin – seeing interesting films early! I’ve just come back from a Knight of Cups screening and tapped up some thoughts. I think this would be considered spoiler free for the most part.
You break up with a girlfriend. You lose a parent. You fall in love. You learn you’re having a child. These “big” moments are followed by moments of reflection. You’re going about your life but your mind is elsewhere, back in the moment. Most films don’t like to delve too deeply into this aftermath. It doesn’t make for great cinema.
KoC is almost 2 hours of those non-moments strung together. Only for the briefest moments do we see the real moments of life occurring and when we do, within seconds they are gone and we are with a reflective Bale ruminating in standard Malick fashion about life, love and everything in between.
For me, the film was frustratingly sublime. Or sublimely frustrating. I think the Malick films that I love most have a certain rhythm, a balance between the poetic and the grounded. For instance Tree of Life, for all it’s poetry it still has scenes where characters engage with one another. Talk to one another. Live lives. When we go from a strong family scene to an intensely symbolic montage of images and poetry afterwards, the two scenes work in tandem, each making the other better.
KoC doesn’t have this balance. It has one note. A beautiful note to be sure but there can’t have been more than 2 or 3 sentences between characters in the whole film before we are rudely whisked away. I wanted to see more of Bale’s life. I wanted to see more of his relationships. The particulars. The real moments. The film may reflect his isolated and uncertain state but in doing so I felt kept at arm’s length.
Only Natalie and Blanchett’s relationships have a glimpse of something deeper. There are moments of incredible tenderness and beauty between this string of beautiful women and Bale, but very rarely do we glimpse a real interaction. What they say to each other isn’t important to Malick in this film, it is all about what they say to themselves.
In short this is a challenging and fragmented film. It will speak to people very differently and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone absolutely fell head over heels for it. The transcendent moments are certainly there, even if for me they lacked power because of that balance I spoke about earlier.
It is incredibly hard to talk about the performances because you only get glimpses. Even Bale, who is on screen for almost the entire film, is just simply there. I suppose we certainly do feel his isolation and his struggles, but the canvas is too far away. I struggled to make out the details.
As for Natalie, her role is very important and I was definitely left wanting more. Her on screen time must be around 10-15 minutes but, as with all the relationships, it felt like a trailer for the real thing. From what I glimpsed I dare say there is a feature length film on the cutting room floor that is just a great relationship drama between Bale and Natalie.
To sum up, this probably sounds very harsh but it’s because I expect a lot from Malick and there are moments that are just saw jaw dropping that I wanted more. I just couldn’t stop myself wishing the film was something it was not.
PS – Natalie on the amusement park ride isn’t in the final cut.
PPS – Bale gets to taste a part of Natalie that (I assume) very few people have experienced.