When Christian Bale and writer-director Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line”) come to the Strip to shoot a movie, you have to write about it.
Even if that footage amounts to only about five minutes.
And, yes, even if the resulting movie is such a polarizing fantasia that, two days before it was scheduled to open here on March 18, the studio decided to cut its losses and canceled the local booking (my theory). Or the intended movie theater flat out refused to show it (the studio’s take).
Either way, you can finally see “Knight of Cups,” which is ever-so-loosely structured around the names of tarot cards, when it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.
According to the press notes: “ ‘Knight of Cups’ follows writer Rick (Christian Bale) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a search for love and self. Even as he moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Rick grapples over complicated relationships with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy). Rick moves in a daze through a strange and overwhelming dreamscape — but can he wake up to the beauty, humanity and rhythms of life around him? The deeper he searches, the more the journey becomes his destination.”
You’d never get that simply from having watched “Knight of Cups.”
Oh, sure, Bentley and Dennehy turn up from time to time, often on crumbling rooftops and in seedy back alleys, to yell and smash things. It’s briefly mentioned that a top Hollywood actor wants Rick to write his next movie. And Rick does, in fact, come to Las Vegas with a stripper (Teresa Palmer) long enough to interact with a pimp in a vacant lot and stroll beside the Caesars Palace pool and through the Forum Shops. (Said stripper also encounters an Elvis impersonator and rides SlotZilla.)
But that description makes it sound as though “Knight of Cups” has anything approaching a plot. In reality, it’s only a movie in the sense that it’s made up of moving pictures.
A good 15 minutes elapse before something even resembling a conversation takes place. Twenty more go by before another. You can count on your fingers the number of times one character addresses another onscreen and receives a response. Malick treats verbal exchanges the way most directors deploy car chases or explosions.
The majority of “Knight of Cups” is little more than stream-of-consciousness, beat poet-style ramblings laid over gorgeous imagery from back-to-back-to-back Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (“The Revenant,” “Birdman,” “Gravity”).
A woman wearing a wedding gown rides by on a 10-foot-tall bicycle. A flower is left on a sleeping homeless man. Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) does some yoga. A topless woman pours water on Rick’s head while he sleeps. Rick and his brother stop to stare at a limping pelican. And if The Limping Pelican isn’t already the name of a nautical-themed dive bar, I’m calling dibs.
Rick and his ex-wife (Cate Blanchett) stroll around a mostly empty backlot while she ruminates via voiceover about their failed relationship. “You’re still the love of my life. Should I tell you that?”
“What do you want from me?” Pinto asks of Rick in another voiceover. “To weave a spell over you? To make you dream? Dreams are nice, but you can’t live in them.”
Nick Offerman walks through a scene, drops a T-shirt ready motto — “Living my life is like playing ‘Call of Duty’ on easy” — and is never seen again.
Malick has a history of confounding moviegoers. But his latest piece of foggy strangeness plays like a two-hour trailer for a more linear 100-hour movie.
At least now that you can watch “Knight of Cups” at home, you can wear out your rewind button as you try to make sense of what’s going on.
Emphasis on the word “try.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch