The crucial question of the modern novel is memory—specifically, the tension between fiction and nonfiction, between the sharp-edged exclusivity of the contours of a finely crafted story and the loose-ended and associatively meandering and indeterminate formlessness of experience as captured (or trapped) in memory. That’s why the grand landmarks of literary modernity—such as those of Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Bellow, Hemingway, Faulkner, Duras, and the Roths (Henry and Philip)—are simultaneously struggles with the irrepressible profusion of memory and the hotly forged imperatives of style and idealizing abstractions of form. The cinema has lagged behind; some of its modernists—including Jean-Luc Godard and Chantal Akerman—have made mighty attempts to create a memory-cinema of a distinctive style. In “Knight of Cups,” Malick brings the effort to a full and radical flowering. No less than do these reflexive modernists, his contemporaries, Malick has made a movie about the possibility of making a movie, images that are the troubled source of a future cinema.
Taken from Richard Brody’s wonderful take on Terrence Malick’s new film, Knight of Cups. It’s a piece worth reading for its entirety, but it also features a stirring last paragraph that, I think, gets at the heart of what does work in Knight of Cups. While I am still divided on whether or not the film works as whole, something that a planned rewatch will hopefully settle for me, there is no denying that it is an intensely personal film, one that is, as Brody puts it, “honest about [Malick’s] experiences, about [his] failings.” I’ll confess that Knight of Cups, surprisingly to me, rubbed me the wrong way when I first watched it: it was easily the most unaffected I’ve received a Malick film, every other one of which led me to something like awe (particularly The Tree of Life, To The Wonder, and The New World). Yet the writing it’s provoked – specifically Matt Zoller Seitz review at Roger Ebert.com and Glenn Kenny’s write-up on his personal blog – has been consistently interesting and has me reconsidering it, both negatively and positively. Whatever I end up feeling about it, I believe I’ll still identify strongly with Brody’s writing on it: Malick does indeed seem to be creating something new, as he has throughout his career, and that’s exciting.