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Movie Review

Knight of Cups

MPAA Rating: R for some nudity, sexuality and language.

Reviewed by: Curtis McParland

Offensive—with caution
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Romance Drama
1 hr. 58 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
February 7, 2016 (festival)
March 4, 2016 (wide)
DVD: June 21, 2016
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Broad Green Pictures

What is Director Terrence Malick’s faith? Episcopalian

despairing at the emptiness one’s life / feeling spiritually lost with an empty soul

having an unfilling career

being a man of words who has lost the use for words

men who seek distraction from their despair in the company of women

living a life of excess

reckless, immoral behavior causes one’s life to spiral into ruin

Sin ruins relationships; sin destroys everything it touches.

being consumed by a corrupt world / being a slave to the Hollywood system

being addicted to success and dealing with celebrity

temptation in the Bible

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

trying to discern truth

light versus darkness

goodness, righteousness and living in the light versus sin and darkness

CELEBRITIES’ VIEWS—What do “Hollywood” celebrities believe about spiritual issues? Find out

HOLLYWOOD DISCONNECT—Why is there a disconnect between “Hollywood” and the rest of America? Answer

father son relationships

DEPRESSION—Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

dealing with the death of a brother

ETERNAL LIFE and ETERNAL DEATH—What does the Bible say about it?

Featuring: Christian BaleRick
Cate BlanchettNancy
Natalie PortmanElizabeth
Brian DennehyJoseph
Antonio BanderasTonio
Isabel LucasIsabel
Imogen PootsDella
Fabio … Himself
Michael Wincott … Herb
Freida Pinto … Helen
Wes Bentley … Barry
Teresa Palmer … Karen
Armin Mueller-Stahl … Fr. Zeitlinger
Joel Kinnaman … Errol
Jason Clarke … Johnny
Ryan O'Neal … Ryan
more »
Director: Terrence Malick—“To the Wonder” (2013), “The Tree of Life” (2011), “The New World” (2006)
Producer: Dogwood Films
Waypoint Entertainment
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

Rick (Christian Bale) appears to be a man that should have it all. On the outside, it may look like he does. But all he feels is an emptiness inside of him that will not go away. Rick works as a screenwriter, making it big in the film industry. Yet again, he is enslaved to the corrupt Hollywood system. As time slowly progresses, Rick begins to experience extraordinary changes in his life and tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him. Struggling with his past, present, and even future, Rick goes on a spiritual journey that eventually leads him out of the darkness and into the light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” —John 1:5 (ESV)

“Knight of Cups” is a film like no other from acclaimed director Terrence Malick. This story is a little uneven at times, but the beautiful cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki certainly makes up for it. Malick provides solid direction here, and Christian Bale delivers a strong performance in the lead role. The supporting cast does an excellent job as well. Malick is a director with a unique editing style. With his last few films, he has been incorporating more and more jump-cuts. Normally, these types of cuts can be very distracting to the audience. But Malick adds much flair to this style and uses these cuts quite effectively.

“Knight of Cups” has a great story to be told and contains valuable life lessons, but, by film’s end, I felt that it missed its mark just a bit, when trying to convey its spiritual message. The film felt a little empty, just like Christian Bale’s character. “Knight of Cups” is by no means a Christian film, but contains a plethora of Christian moral values.

The content for concern in “Knight of Cups” is fairly mild compared to most “R” rated films, but still contains some moments of sexuality, nudity, and brief strong language. Rick is a womanizer, and Malick does not refrain from showing this character’s dark side. We see Rick chasing scantily clad (one topless) women around a hotel room. There is also a brief scene of Rick having mostly clothed sex with a woman. Upper frontal female nudity is briefly seen on a couple more occasions, and there is also a nude drawing of a woman. A man is seen in his boxers, another in a Speedo, and a woman is seen in a swimsuit. A woman stands naked on a balcony, but most of her private areas are obscured (brief breast nudity). On a couple of occasions, a woman straddles Rick on the floor and later on a bed. The women are fully clothed, but Rick is shirtless. There are a few moments of passionate kissing, some sensual moments, and a short scene of woman modeling lingerie.

Clubbing and strip clubs play a small theme in the film, and we see a couple pole dancers in the background, in addition to many women wearing formfitting and scantily clad outfits. The dancing is quite sensual, at times. We see two women kiss briefly, a pimp with his prostitutes, an unwed couple kissing on a bed (an apparent affair), and a woman sticks her bare foot in a man’s mouth.

The language is brief, but strong, as four uses each of the f-word (once used sexually and all four are said repeatedly by the same character) and a** is said. There is one proper use of the word “damnation”.

The film does not contain much violent content, but there are quite a few heated arguments amongst characters, including things being smashed and thrown. A man’s house is robbed, and one of the robber’s threatens him with a gun. There is also an earthquake, and we see the world shaking around a man (not violent). On two separate occasions, we briefly see some burn victims and their scars (not graphic). A man’s deformed hand is also quickly seen. During a club scene, a character sits on a fake electric chair and pretends that he is being electrocuted.

There is some alcohol being consumed, including hard liquor, and a drug reference. A woman holds in her hand what appears to be an unlit joint.

“Find a way from darkness. To light.”—Rick

“Knight of Cups” is somewhat a spiritual film. Yet, this message is not very strong. I must also mention that a man goes to a fortune teller, and we see tarot cards being used. The film’s title comes from a tarot card of the same name. A woman is seen praying in front of a statue, some Tibetan religious rituals are briefly displayed, and, during some club scenes, bizarre images and costumes are seen. There are also a handful of more strange images, as well.

Now, “Knight of Cups” may have some weird/questionable elements weaved into its story, but it is really about a man who feels lost and is consumed by the corrupt world without him. All of the objectionable content in the film is shown in a negative light. We see how sexual immorality and adultery crush one’s life, how distasteful obscene language really is, and that drinking, partying, and smoking do not get you anywhere in life. Even after a heated argument, we can see from Rick’s emotions and actions that he regrets the words he has said. “Have mercy on me”, he says. “With Your unfailing love. Blot out my transgressions.”

“I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” —Isaiah 43:25

“Knight of Cups” has the feel of a fantasy film (in a sense) in the beginning, because of the voice-overs. As the film progressed, I began to wonder if this tale is a form of parable. Rick is actually a prince who fell into a deep sleep after being given a drink. But the images on screen don’t show a prince drinking out of a goblet or show him sleeping soundly in bed. Instead, we see a man drinking and partying his life away, until he becomes incapacitated. When we later see him awake and alert, he feels an emptiness inside of him. He sees a corrupt world. He forgot who he was: the son of a king. This king mentioned could be seen as God, as Rick is separated from his father and consumed by the world around him. He feels a separation, but can’t quite make out what he is being separated from.

Rick begins to desire sex, alcohol, and partying. But as he is consumed by these corruptive things, he begins to realize that they are getting him nowhere in life and are even ruining his relationships.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 12:2 (ESV)

“We were meant for something else,” Rick says. “We’re not living the lives we were meant for.” In “Knight of Cups,” director Terrence Malick shows us our fallen world through the eyes of an acclaimed screenwriter. We are shown the struggle of one who suffers the loss of a loved one, parents admitting they raised their children wrong, and we’re even exposed to the life of the homeless. Rick realizes the mistakes he has made in his life and seeks help—seeks a sign and forgiveness. He wants to fill the emptiness inside of his soul. “You changed. The world absorbed you,” says a character. “The light has gone out of your eyes.” There are some powerful, bone-chilling lines said throughout Rick’s painful journey.

It is not often that a film displays the true negative impact the Hollywood system has on an individual. Rick admits that he has ruined not only his own life, but the lives of those around him. It is even said that we need to “find the light in the eyes above us.” I saw this as a reference to God watching over us—watching over us with His glorious light. The moral values shown in “Knight of Cups” may teach valuable lessons, but the “R” rating still needs to be taken seriously, if you consider viewing this film.

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12

The film may contain pieces of sexuality and brief strong language, but, as I mentioned, it is not shown in a positive light. “Knight of Cups” displays that reckless, immoral behavior causes one’s life to spiral into ruin. I do not recommend this film for most audiences, especially children and teens, but for adults (18+) who are mature in their faith, “Knight of Cups” may be a film you might want to check out. If you are a Terrence Malick fan and have seen his last film “To the Wonder,” you do not need to expect any worse offensive content here.

Yes, the film is harsh at times, but perhaps “Knight of Cups” is a step in the right direction for the secular filmmaking industry and for films geared toward adult audiences. Sometimes, the harsh realities of this sinful world need to be portrayed on screen for people to fully understand the message being shared. But I emphasize again, please use strong discretion before viewing this film, as it displays the harsh realities of the materialistic world around us. Rick sets a perfect example of the current human condition, and guides us on a journey of brokenness, emptiness, forgiveness, and, ultimately, redemption.

“You gave me peace. Joy. Love. You gave me what the world can’t give. Be with me. Always.” —Rick

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” —Matthew 11:28-30

Reviewer’s note: Normally, when I review films that contain sexuality and nudity, I label them as “Very Offensive” or “Extremely Offensive.” Because of the offensive content portrayed on screen, I cannot give this film an “Average,” but will rate it “Offensive—with caution,” since the immoral acts displayed are not condoned.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

CHANGE HOLLYWOOD—What is being done to change the values of “Hollywood”? Answer

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Movie Critics

…it’s hard not to be taken with a movie that opens with an audio excerpt from The Pilgrim’s Progress (recited by John Gielgud), then pauses for some stunningly beautiful images of the aurora borealis as seen from outer space… a corrosive critique of Hollywood hedonism—a poisoned valentine to the industry by way of a Fellini-esque bacchanal. …
—Justin Chang, Variety

…Terrence Malick's impressionistic, elusive look at beautiful Hollywood people who get what they want but not what they need…
—Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

…Terrence Malick is at the top of his game…
—Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

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