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Film representative of difficulties we face in integrating our lives with God

       Terrence Malick is a film director. I am going to go out on a limb, here and recommend his 2015 “Knight of Cups,” a film which he both wrote and directed. The film is rated “R” by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

       You are going to either love this film or hate it. There is no in between. Most people I know who have seen it hate it, and I understand why. It lacks a narrative. Dialog is sparse. The film is seemingly plotless. The film is propelled by voice overs and snippets of dialog, usually by characters in the back ground of the frame (as opposed to the characters in the foreground, and to whom you naturally give your attention).                  

       The editing is jarring. One moment the main character is partying in LA, and the next moment the main character is alone in a desert. If such scenes were an anomaly, one could readily accept it. However, such scenes happen constantly.

       I loved it.

       The film’s cast is top notch. Christian Bale is the main character, Rick, a screenwriter living in LA. Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Brian Dennehy round out the other major players, though there’s a large cast which drifts through this film, even Ryan O’Neal (playing himself). Ben Kingsley narrates the film in a hushed voice. Much of his narration is from John Bunyan’s seventeenth century book “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

       Perhaps the best way to describe this film is that it is Robert Altman’s 1992 film “The Player” meets the Surrealism artist Salvador Dali.

       Narrative and plot do not move the film along. Rather, themes do. And those themes are: this life and this world are not our home; human beings are on a journey; remembering that for which we were created; the search for meaning and purpose; love of the Father; the desert where Rick experiences God (a la Elijah). Images abound, especially light and water. And all this is played out in Rick’s hedonistic journey.

       Malick is an interesting fellow. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Harvard (summa cum laude). He began graduate studies at Oxford, but dropped out over some brouhaha with his academic advisor. In 1969, Northwestern University published his translation of one of Martin Heidegger’s philosophical tomes. He taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

       In other words, the man is no slouch.

       Malick is probably best known for his 1973 film “Badlands” and the 1998 film “The Thin Red Line.” Though born in Illinois, Malick is thought to now live in Texas.

       But back to “Knight of Cups.”

       The title refers to a tarot card. Right there people may see a red flag. Tarot cards? Really? Is this film, then, just another pagan offering from Hollywood?

       I suggest that it is not. What I suggest is that the film is - to a certain degree - a modern day “Confessions.” Instead of using words as St. Augustine did, however, this film uses images. The problem in watching the film is trying to piece all those images together into a tangible whole. Malick doesn’t make it easy for us to do so, either.

       But isn’t that the way our relationship with God frequently is? We strive to integrate our Catholicism into our daily lives, but frequently manage only to compartmentalize our lives. I’ll give God this much of my life, but no more. I reserve the right to withhold from God a portion of myself. The result is a life resembling – if painted on canvas – a Picasso cubist painting: jarring, disjointed and strange.

       But there comes a time when we recognize that such a life is not truly real, that the distractions we delight in only make us pitiful practitioners of Catholicism, frauds actually. And so we wake up, as if from a dream, and we once again pledge ourselves to purity of heart, to focused purpose, to loving God with all our heart mind soul and strength.

       That’s this film.

       This is the month of Thanksgiving. After the turkey and stuffing, after the dishes have been washed and put away, after imbibing the shiraz, have “Knight of Cups” for dessert.

       Let me know what you think.      


                  Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .







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