“All those years,
“living the life with someone
“I didn’t even know.”
Knight of Cups is the second film of what I guess can be called Terrence Malick’s experimental trilogy
which also includes To the Wonder and Song to Song.
All three of these films were shot mostly without a script
to experiment with improvisation, metaphorical images and other nontraditional ways of filmmaking.
”they just give me GoPro and say
”I’ll go drive around the lake for a little bitwith one of the other actors or by myself.
”I just kinda film things and do a scene if we feel like doing a scene, you know,
”or go in the ocean for a little bit and swim.”
Although the results may seemoff-putting and pretentious to many,
Malick did create a unique process and vision
which I believe deserves to be explored in more detail.
Like The Tree of Life, Malick is again concernedwith complicated existential themes
并通过模仿The Acts of Thomas中的《珍珠颂》
and explores these in Night of Cupsby modeling its story
after the Hymn of the Pearl from the Acts of Thomas.
The Hymn of the Pearl tells a tale of a princewho was sent west into Egypt to find a pearl.
But when he arrived, the people poured him a cup.
and the prince fell into a deep sleep,
forgetting he was the son of the king,
forgetting about the pearl.
Malick uses this storyas a metaphor for losing oneself,
one’s sense of meaning of purpose.
Existential philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard,
wrote in the slimilar wayabout the danger of falling into this deep sleep:
失去手臂 双腿 五块钱 妻子等等
So let’s take a closer look athow Malick explores this loss of self
and the subsequent quest for meaning that follows it.
In Knight of Cups, we follow Rick,
a screenwriter trying to find meaning in his life
which especially in the hedonistic world of Hollywood seems like a hopeless pursuit.
Kierkegaard wrote extensivelyabout this fundamental discomfort
every human being experiences when attempting to relate to the outside world in search of meaning,
a despair that according to him arises from the self.
The self is seen by Kierkegaardnot as a noun but as a verb,
as that which relates tothe relation between the finite and the infinite,
two opposites that are present in all of us.
The finite relates to the necessary consequences of our limited being in a concrete reality.
The infinite, on the other hand, relates to the possible,
关乎某种能力 使我们产生创新的思维和想法 激发无限的可能
our ability to create new thoughts and ideasto come up with endless potential.
Existential despair arises when one relates tothis relation in an unbalanced way,
which happened to Rickwhen he entered into the Hollywood life
and found a world of the infinite.
”You see the palm trees?
”They tell you anything is possible.
”You can be anything.
He turned into what Kierkegaard would call the aesthete,
a man who has become hypersensitive to his potential,
settling for nothing and only chasing base pleasures and momentarily interesting.
”They are like flavors.
”Sometimes you want raspberry,and after a while, you get tired of it.
”You want some strawberry.”
Like any other addiction, overstimulation like this
leads to boredom and ultimately meaninglessness,
for it is not true meaning he is chasing,
just the idea of it, as one character notes:
”You don’t want love. You want a love experience.”
We also see this reflected in the title of the film,
which refers to a tarot card of the same name.
In definition practices, the Knight of Cups cardin reverse like the film poster inset,
在解读上 这象征了一种相似的性格——追求强烈感官刺激 迫切需要满足感
symbolises a similar type of personalitythat is highly sensual and desperate to feel good.
Someone who has lost his sense of meaningto end up stuck between reality and fantasy.
He is, however, not completely lost.
As The Hymn of the Pearl story continues,
the prince received lettersfrom his father, the King of the East,
to help him remember who he was.
Rick also receives these messages throughout the film
from characters he encounters and other inciting events,
such as the almost literal wake-up callfrom an earthquake in the beginning of the film
that motiveted him on his quest for meaning,
represented here as the lights on top of the mountain.
“Find the light you know in the east.
“As a child.”
Knight of Cups is structured by the tarot cards that refer to the different chapters of the film.
each one hinting at what is going to happen,
such as Rick being robbedin the chapter named after The Tower card
which predicts a sudden upset.
What I think is most important here is
that the tarot card chapters represent Rick’s deeper longing for meaning, any kind of meaning,
to give some sense of structure to his fragmented life
and avoid what he sees as damnation.
”I suppose that’s what damnation is,
”the pieces of your life,
”never to come together.”
This is again reflected by the audience’s search for meaning in Malick’s fragmented narrative structure,
which was the inevitable consequence of Malick’s unscripted approach
in which even he didn’t know exactlywhat he was filming until he got to the editing face.
I personally see it as a beautiful interconnectednessof the narrative and the filmmaking process.
One that comes much closer to touching a real life
that, as Kierkegaard puts, is lived forwardsbut can only be understood backwards.
Rick’s longing for meaning is probably most evident in his relations with women
in which he sees that which he himself has lost.
”When we see a beautiful woman,
”the soul remembers the beauty
”it used to know in heaven.”
As a consequence, he seems toplace his existential burden on them,
making them his source for existential closureto the point of fetishizing them,
which of course dooms his relationsto failure as their finite reality
or, more simply put,the fact that his women are just human beings,
can never live up to what Rick wants them to be.
And so, his quest goes on.
But over the course of the film,it seems as if Rick is making little progress.
Instead of a more linear progressiontowards some form of climax,
Malick shows us a seemingly endless cycle of
falling in and out of love,
falling asleep and waking back up.
Even though some encountersseem to provide a bit more hope
than others based on the metaphorical desert landscapes Malick frequently shows us,
Rick is still stuck in the desert,
only seeing reflections of the greater lightthat continues to elude him.
”How do I begin?”
Near the end of the film,
Rick encounters a priest to point out that
正是瑞克所经受的苦难将他与上帝 即无限 连接了起来
Rick’s suffering is exactlywhat connects him to God or the infinite.
”binds you to something higher than yourself,
”higher than your own will,
“takes you from the world.”
”what lies beyond it.”
Here again we see the influence of Kierkegaardand his concept of the self,
not as an stable entity, but as an act.
As an act one focuses on relating oneself to
the relation between the finite and the infinite
instead of always chasing the infiniteas something to be grasped or contained.
This has also been made popular by new age power of now-type philosophies that
focus on the role of one’s attitude towards the outside world
instead of one’s attachments to it.
For Kierkegaard, reconciling this balancebetween the finite and the infinite
is the only way out of despair.
This, according to him, is down through faith,
but not in the traditional sense that requires you to be a part of an organized religion
or hold on to an objective world fieldthat you know is not true.
Instead, he speaks of taking a leap of faith,
connecting to the infinite byrelating oneself absolutely to a transcendent source,
transforming love for other people intoa love for the eternal being that shines to them
and therefore not trying toachieve the infinite in finite things.
“The light in the eyes of others.
This is not an act based on logic or reason,
which is exactly why it’s called a leap of faith.
It emphasizes the importance ofa subjective world field rather than an objective one.
And inversely, an objective field towards oneself
rather than a subjective one.
By making this leap, the Knight of Cupsbecomes the Knight of Faith,
a person who, according to Kierkegaard, is someone outwardly indistinguishable from the crowd
but inwardly is constantlymaking this movement of infinity,
this relating oneself to a higher source of the infinite.
The Knight of Faith is,however, a mostly hypothetical being.
For in reality, to be free from despair
means that this movement of faith must be made continually on the strength of the absurd,
a repetition that is almostimpossible to oppose continuously.
This becomes clear at the end of the film
and Rick is seemingly happy and freed from despair,
scaling the mountains towards the light,
when suddenly Kilar’s Exodus starts playing again,
the song that earlier introduced The Hymn of the Pearl and Rick’s falling asleep.
We see clouds move in to obscure the light,
pushing it back to the horizon.
Concluding with the image of yet another journey towards the elusive sunset,
accompanied by the single word: