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Knight of Cups (2015)


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7 hours ago, Anders said:

I'm looking forward to this film, and I expect that I will like it based on all that I've read about it. Nonetheless, there's something about the phrasing of this that rubs me the wrong way. I would never tell someone that even if they had "given all of them-self" to a film(which I'm going to take to mean, approaching the film in an open spirit and without preconceptions of what it should be) and that if it still didn't work for them that there was something wrong with them. I believe that it's possible for intelligent people to come to different conclusions about a work of art. To suggest otherwise, to suggest that it's because they have their spiritual priorities in the wrong place is presumptuous, and, frankly, insulting.

That said, instead of making this an argument about tone, I'd love to tease out more here. Can you tell me more about how Malick's film works to point us away from materialism? Malick isn't the only one making "poetic", borderline non-narrative films. What is it about his recent films that points to the truth, since I have had a similar experience with his films (I adore THE TREE OF LIFE, was more mixed on TO THE WONDER)? How does the memory-image you're describing here compare to the one in THE TREE OF LIFE, for instance, in allowing us to engage with the memories and particular subjectivity of its main character?

Anyway, the film opens in my town on Good Friday. I'm going to try to go see it then. Sounds like it might be good Easter weekend viewing.

Thank you for your response, Anders.  I created my little write-up yesterday after coming home from seeing and being moved by KoC and then grumbling at the amount of sheer dismissiveness of the film by both a large amount of professional critics and IMDB users alike.  This is a new movie by Terrence Malick, for goodness sake, and for critics and film buffs to not even bother to wrestle with it  is dismaying.  (There are, of course, those who have examined KoC seriously and have still found it disappointing; I'm talking about the large volume of those who have waved it away without bothering to engage the film - to put at least a little bit of themselves into the process, rather than letting the movie "wash over them" and do all of the work.)  I posted my write-up on several sites, including this one.  Obviously, I know the members here will tend not to immediately dismiss a new Malick.  (I also posted at IMDB, where there has been much of that lazy attitude, and am still waiting for a response there.)  I apologize for the condescending tone of my post, which was borne out of my frustration. 

You raise excellent questions about KoC that I can only give superficial answers to at this point.  I am eager to revisit the movie several more times to explore its "mosaic" form even more.  I have simply found that Malick's poetry, with its boldness about the essentials of life, death, spirituality (a weasel word, I know.  I should note that I am a firm, devout believer in Christ.), speaks to me in a manner that I rarely find in other movies.  Certainly I can't think of many films recently that are similar to Malick's approach.  (And don't say The Better Angels ;))

With at least one more viewing of KoC, and with the time to take notes and organize my thoughts better, I hope to come back to this thread and write more explicitly about this film using your questions as a starting point.  (Boy, good thing I'm not a professional critic and have to deal with deadlines!)

I hope you enjoy your viewing, and am eager to read your thoughts on it. 

Edited by Mark R.Y.
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Yeah, telling someone there's something wrong with them if they don't like a movie isn't the best way to start (or end) a review of that movie. Especially when the movie in question is a Terrence Malick film, i.e. a film made by a director who has gotten increasingly divisive since he surrounded himself, Lucas-like, with enablers rather than collaborators.

Haven't seen the film yet -- it doesn't even press-screen here until Tuesday, and I'm at home with the kids that day -- but I'm skeptical going in, just based on all the clips I've seen. I am so, so tired of Lubezki's look-at-how-wide-my-angles-are approach to cinematography.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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3 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

 a director who has gotten increasingly divisive since he surrounded himself, Lucas-like, with enablers rather than collaborators.

What, exactly, makes this enabling instead of collaborating? Is it any more enabling than any other fruitful, long gestating director/DP combo?

In the case of Lucas, there is video footage of collaborators actively going against their better judgement to realize his wishes (The Beginning - the blacklisted documentary on Phantom Menace), but in the case of Malick everyone seems onboard and in tune with what he wants, and they keep going back for more. Doesn't seem like an unhealthy creative situation at all.

Your mileage may (does?) vary, of course, but the question of whether Malick has declined or not is nowhere near settled. Many critics of his late period seem adamant that it is.

Edited by Nathan Douglas
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Yeah, the Lucas/Malick comparison doesn't strike me as compelling either, apart from their 30ish year gap between directing films (Days of Heaven to The Thin Red Line; A New Hope to The Phantom Menace). There are few Lucas defenders at this point, at least in the conversations I've heard. But Malick seems to be evolving, shifting, and growing with each new film, and there are plenty of folks who both still want to work with him and are eager to see his films. The themes in Knight of Cups are different than The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, at least from what I gathered, though there are certainly overlaps in imagery and ideas. To make a biblical comparison, Tree of Life is like the book of Job; To the Wonder is like Song of Songs; Knight of Cups is Ecclesiastes, as I mentioned earlier. This is Malick's form of wisdom literature, both poetic and didactic in form and function.

But if you're tired of Lubezki wide angles, well...Knight of Cups is full of them, as well as Go-Pro footage. The variety of images in the film, from digital to celluloid, feels intentional and thematic--while there may be exceptions, as I've only seen the film once, this is what I noticed: digital:urban, film:nature, Go-Pro:hedonism and empty pleasure.

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Nathan Douglas wrote:
: What, exactly, makes this enabling instead of collaborating? Is it any more enabling than any other fruitful, long gestating director/DP combo?

I was thinking more of the director/producer combo. Days of Heaven was produced by a guy who felt no awe around Malick's mystique, and the resulting film came out of the tug of war between them. But then Malick went on his 20-year hiatus and, by the time he returned, he was a "legend" that everyone was willing to submit to. Think of how George Lucas had Gary Kurtz on the first two Star Wars films and a series of yes men, culminating in Rick McCallum, on the rest of that franchise.

One key difference, of course, is that Lucas became wealthy, which profoundly affected the power dynamics behind the scenes, whereas Malick, to my knowledge, is not -- though apparently his last few films have been funded by a patron of sorts who has been very hands-off. For whatever that's worth.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

So.  I found this to be an immersive, spiritually insightful film.  Until....

Spoilers.

Spoiler

 

I don't expect what I'm saying here is a huge revelation.  This was a film about a prodigal of course, but it was also a film where he was walking in and amongst prodigal elements of America.  Throughout the film there was that which worked to bring him out of his slumber.  To bring him "awake", but I think it was also working to bring US "awake."

The idea of certain aspects of America, or any culture for that matter, being prodigal isn't a huge or fresh idea.  But what I think the appeal of this film was that it immersed us into the "experience" of it, that brought it out of mere head knowledge into something that we could "see", "hear", and maybe in our imaginations touch and smell.  It showed us the trappings of the world and the beauty (and other things) that are calling us awake and out of those trappings.  Most of the beauty being that which is found in nature, but also, in a more limited sense, just the "reality" of the existence of the world.

It also touched on the question of their happiness.  They had created these variety of aspects of the American culture that gave the resemblance of happiness (or a limited happiness), but also bound the people in their slumber and blocked them from the awareness that is the true joy and happiness.  Even the religious guy near the end was somewhat bound to it.

But again, the film wasn't just calling them out of their slumber, but also, US.

I also found myself thinking of Ernest Becker's ideas about death.  Being that one of the reasons we create culture is to get away from thinking about the nagging fear of death deep down.  There was possibly a lot of that in this film.

Of course all of this stuff is part of strongholds that are blocking them from being awake to the one who truly takes away the fear of death, and gives us a path to true happiness, meaning and joy (not as many chicks though   :) )  

 

So.  I was revelling in the film until just near the end when that one Priest (I take it to be an Anglican) started blathering way about how God causes suffering in our lives.  

It was like I was punched in the face.  I wanted to throw my popcorn against the wall.

God isn't up in his control chamber waving a magic wand and causing people to suffer.  God is good.  God is light without any darkness in him.  God sends the rains of blessings on everyone.  God is the giver of good gifts.

Being light means that God doesn't cause darkness.  Sending rains of blessing means that God doesn't send non-blessing.  Giving good gifts means that God doesn't give bad gifts.

If extreme suffering isn't a bad gift.... then what is???

Sure suffering is ultimately in the system for a higher purpose, but that doesn't mean that God is sitting up in the sky deciding when to make someone's life shitty.  God doesn't need to... we are doing a fine enough job on our own.

I've ministered to people who were continually beaten by their parents as children and who basically believed that God had caused it because of that sort of theology.  It messes them up.  It's horrible.

There are a variety of ways to understand the problem of suffering.  That isn't one of them.

I would like to have handed Malick a book such as this one.

"How could a good and loving God — if such exists — allow such suffering? In The Doors of the Sea David Bentley Hart speaks at once to those skeptical of Christian faith and to those who use their Christian faith to rationalize senseless human suffering. He calls both to recognize in the worst catastrophes not the providential will of God but rather the ongoing struggle between the rebellious powers that enslave the world and the God who loves it wholly."

-

So it was overall a great film, that was unfortunately marred by one little comment that had a lot of punch (almost literally.)

 

 

Edited by Attica
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Hopefully tomorrow I can make my way back to read some of the previous comments on this thread.

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1 hour ago, Attica said:

So.  I found this to be an immersive, spiritually insightful film.  Until....

Spoilers.

  Hide contents

 

I don't expect what I'm saying here is a huge revelation.  This was a film about a prodigal of course, but it was also a film where he was walking in and amongst prodigal elements of America.  Throughout the film there was that which worked to bring him out of his slumber.  To bring him "awake", but I think it was also working to bring US "awake."

The idea of certain aspects of America, or any culture for that matter, being prodigal isn't a huge or fresh idea.  But what I think the appeal of this film was that it immersed us into the "experience" of it, that brought it out of mere head knowledge into something that we could "see", "hear", and maybe in our imaginations touch and smell.  It showed us the trappings of the world and the beauty (and other things) that are calling us awake and out of those trappings.  Most of the beauty being that which is found in nature, but also, in a more limited sense, just the "reality" of the existence of the world.

It also touched on the question of their happiness.  They had created these variety of aspects of the American culture that gave the resemblance of happiness (or a limited happiness), but also bound the people in their slumber and blocked them from the awareness that is the true joy and happiness.  Even the religious guy near the end was somewhat bound to it.

But again, the film wasn't just calling them out of their slumber, but also, US.

I also found myself thinking of Ernest Becker's ideas about death.  Being that one of the reasons we create culture is to get away from thinking about the nagging fear of death deep down.  There was possibly a lot of that in this film.

Of course all of this stuff is part of strongholds that are blocking them from being awake to the one who truly takes away the fear of death, and gives us a path to true happiness, meaning and joy (not as many chicks though   :) )  

 

So.  I was revelling in the film until just near the end when that one Priest (I take it to be an Anglican) started blathering way about how God causes suffering in our lives.  

It was like I was punched in the face.  I wanted to throw my popcorn against the wall.

God isn't up in his control chamber waving a magic wand and causing people to suffer.  God is good.  God is light without any darkness in him.  God sends the rains of blessings on everyone.  God is the giver of good gifts.

Being light means that God doesn't cause darkness.  Sending rains of blessing means that God doesn't send non-blessing.  Giving good gifts means that God doesn't give bad gifts.

If extreme suffering isn't a bad gift.... then what is???

Sure suffering is ultimately in the system for a higher purpose, but that doesn't mean that God is sitting up in the sky deciding when to make someone's life shitty.  God doesn't need to... we are doing a fine enough job on our own.

I've ministered to people who were continually beaten by their parents as children and who basically believed that God had caused it because of that sort of theology.  It messes them up.  It's horrible.

There are a variety of ways to understand the problem of suffering.  That isn't one of them.

I would like to have handed Malick a book such as this one.

"How could a good and loving God — if such exists — allow such suffering? In The Doors of the Sea David Bentley Hart speaks at once to those skeptical of Christian faith and to those who use their Christian faith to rationalize senseless human suffering. He calls both to recognize in the worst catastrophes not the providential will of God but rather the ongoing struggle between the rebellious powers that enslave the world and the God who loves it wholly."

-

So it was overall a great film, that was unfortunately marred by one little comment that had a lot of punch (almost literally.)

 

 

I understood the priest's comments to be less about God *causing* suffering in a sort of twisted Calvinistic God-causes-all-things-including-suffering-so-you-should-be-thankful theology, and more of a basic theology of the cross by way of Bonhoeffer and Luther, i.e. that God is found with us in the suffering, that our suffering can ultimately be redemptive through the cross, that our suffering isn't meaningless. But maybe that's just my perspective and interpretive lens, and not what the priest was communicating in the film's context.

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15 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

and more of a basic theology of the cross by way of Bonhoeffer and Luther, i.e. that God is found with us in the suffering, that our suffering can ultimately be redemptive through the cross, that our suffering isn't meaningless. But maybe that's just my perspective and interpretive lens, and not what the priest was communicating in the film's context.

Gee.  I hope you are right.  I can go along with that.

It wasn't how I interpreted it at all, but I would love for it to be that way.

Edited by Attica
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Like Joel, I plainly found it to be about embracing suffering because Christ embraced it first and in its most total form. Not even the evil of suffering can defeat grace. Suffering in any form *can* be a participation in His suffering and a means to greater intimacy and identification with Him, even a way of comforting Him (depending on your acceptance of sacramental theology and all it implies about the operation of prayer outside of time). It's a more serious gloss on St. Teresa's wry comment: “Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few.

Moreover, the moment is Malick giving voice to the deep interior suffering/depression Rick is undergoing through the whole film, the sort that asks "why this? Why so long?" in cycles of self-loathing. And yet it is this cycle that paves his path to peace.

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On April 8, 2016 at 3:53 AM, Nathan Douglas said:

Not even the evil of suffering can defeat grace. Suffering in any form *can* be a participation in His suffering and a means to greater intimacy and identification with Him, even a way of comforting Him

 

I'm down with that.  I guess I'll have to watch the film again to see if I misheard what was said.

FWIW.  I think that most of Rick's suffering is self induced.  Which for me is part of the tragedy of the prodigal child story.  But even the suffering that he has brought on himself can be part of his eventual journey back.  The prodigal in the pig pen.  That suffering can be part of the wake up call.  Some say that "natural evils" is part of a call back to God.  I can see that, but again, God isn't directly causing it.

Some of his suffering was however not self induced, or at least there were other factors.  The best example in the film was of course his brother.  But even there, whose to say how much of his brothers troubles were self-induced by him, or if some of these things were the results of depression, how do we know that the genetic inheritance of depression isn't connected in some way to sin.  Not necessarily sins of the parents, but sins that influenced this in past generations, or sins that were just in the system because of others. etc.  

There is of course much we don't understand.

So, what I'm saying is, that I think there is a problem if we say that God is the direct cause of our suffering, as I've mentioned.

But I'm all for the idea that God has suffered for and with us and that when we suffer we are in union with that suffering.

It seems to me that if God is eternal then that says something about God suffering.  For instance, if Christ was "sacrificed before the world" and also did it "for the joy set before him", then it seems like we have one passage looking backwards, and the other looking forwards.  So with an eternal God, he likely would *always* have been sacrificed and *always* have had that joy. 

So probably God has eternal joy in suffering.

Then add to that the idea that God continues to suffer with us, as some would believe.

So, then we are left with the possibility that person can walk into the place of having joy even in their sufferings.  Of course some of the more mature have done this.  

Then as well, it is known that after suffering people can come out of it into a joy of life that they hadn't known before.

 

So, I'm fine with saying that suffering is in the system as a gift.  In fact I believe this to be true.  It has greater purposes.

 

But it looks like we all agree that God isn't directly causing individual or systematic suffering.

 

So, then, in regards to the eternal God mentioned earlier, the question is often raised about whether or not the eternal God would, at the end of the day, cause everything and there be no way around it.  But I think we just don't have enough understandings to delve into that question.  It is beyond our scope.

I do know that many philosophers talking about God as the "uncaused cause" have come to the conclusion that all things lie within the eternal God, not just what we do, but also the potentialities of what we could do.  So true choice can exist and the eternal God isn't controlling us.  Now, some would say, what does that matter if the eternal God knows what we would do amongst those potentialities.  But that again is getting beyond our scope of understanding of how God could/would allow for true choice, in order to be able to truly love.

Also, I think the whole philosophy behind the uncaused cause could show that consciousness has the ability to create new causes without being bound to the law of cause and effect that has come before.  For instance, if God, the uncaused cause, created the first cause of the universe.  Then that means that there was a "change" from non-being of nothing, into he "being" of the universe.  Change has to mean that there was a point of a decision free from previous causes (even if it was somehow an eternal decision), as with God there cannot be an infinite regression of causes because that would make the causes greater than God (and there couldn't be an infinite regression anyhow, there had to be a first cause.)  

So God shows us that a conscious being is free to create a cause that is not the effect of a previous cause.  Hence there is no reason to think that we, as conscious beings made in the image of God, cannot do the same to some extent.  That is of course not to say that there are not cause and effect influences on us to some degree.  Of course there are influences on us, and of course our free wills have limitations.  

But without any sort of true freedom we wouldn't be responsible or accountable for our actions, and we wouldn't then need forgiven.  Christianity would then fall apart.  So I would think that for the believer in Christ's forgiveness it is proof that we have freewill in some way shape or form.  Also, if God was the ultimate cause of our actions, then he would need to forgive himself not us, and he would know it.

So what we are left with is a system whereby we have choices and suffering plays into those choices (could it be part of the mechanism that allows for free will to function, sort of like the Jewish understanding of the Devil?)  Suffering has a purpose and part of that purpose is to train us out of evil and rebellion, to help us grow in compassion (could there be compassion in a universe without suffering), to help us to understand God's compassion (otherwise how could we?), to help us to see the love of a God who would suffer with and for us, to help to bring down our pride of life, awaken us from our slumber and see the need for God.

There is of course more that I'm forgetting or missing to see.

 

But that's not to glorify suffering and to marginalize the horrors of it, and again, that isn't to say that God is the cause of suffering.  Suffering is often caused by rebellious systems and people on the earth, and God can eventually use that evil for good.

 

So at the end of the day God redeems suffering.  He suffered for the joy set before him, and the sufferings we have in this life will likely be the path to a greater joy in a paradise free from suffering.  

 

Them's some of my thoughts for now, anyways.   :)

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Attica
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But really, I don't think this film is mainly about suffering.  It's about being lost.  Suffering is just intermingled with that.  It might have been part of the cause of the lostness, the results of the lostness that helped to hold a person in that state, but also, eventually part of the wake up call out of that slumber if a person wasn't too hardened to the call.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I get it! I get it! Men are afflicted by vocal fry too! Make it stop!!!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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