Knight of Cups

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Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups is certainly is not a film for everyone—perhaps not even a film I’d recommend. This film is not one for someone looking to escape or for someone who needs to “get it.” But if you’re spiritually wandering, wondering what life is about, or are simply a lover of medium specificity—perhaps this is a film for you.

“Remember the story I used to tell you as a boy… It’s about a knight—a prince—who was sent out into Egypt to find a pearl at the bottom of the sea. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a drink that took away his memory. He forgot he was the son of the king. He forgot the pearl.”

Rick (Christian Bale), a screenwriter, wanders in the wake of tragedy—a brother has recently died. Rick’s brother throws blame to the father, Rick’s father throws blame to the children, Rick’s mother smiles and pretends to ignore the underlying tension. Rick does nothing. Arguments happen in the background, leaving only snippets of conversation to eek through the soundtrack. Rick is in a fog—the things around him are nothing, mean nothing, just like the empty studio back lot many conversations take place. He is searching for that pearl—only he has no idea what or where it is.

Knight of Cups is less of a story and more of an experience—a blur of memories and experiences as a man struggles to find meaning in a life that has been revealed to him as empty. A combination of Tarot and Christian symbolism, the film uses the specific aspects of its medium to tell the story. Such an imaginative collage of emotions and experiences could only exist in film; images weave in and out, combined with voice-over of Psalms and The Pilgrim’s Progress and a lush soundtrack filled with early 20th century nationalist work and Hanan Townshend’s minimalist compositions.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s beautiful, dreamlike cinematography paints the city of angels as an urban jungle, always looking from the top of building town as if looking down from the top of a tree. As Rick drives through Los Angeles, he passes billboards and advertisements which suggest to him some way to find meaning. And certainly, this is where he looks for it: in the materialistic, vacuous world of excess that is at the ready in Hollywood. He drinks, he sleeps with prostitutes, he goes to parties—but nothing can end the vacant stare with which he views the world. The film looks at the emptiness of the lavish, party-hard lifestyle Rick is living—but perhaps more poignantly it looks at the morning after, when there is nothing left but empty cups and hangovers.

In the meantime relationships form. From an ex-wife who serves as a physician for burn victims to the model who finds balance in her Buddhist worship to the stripper who embraces every childlike curiosity, each of these women have found meaning and direction while Rick is proven incapable. They all complain that he is not fully committed to the relationship, that he never lets them know what he is thinking. Once in every relationship the couple finds themselves at the beach—and while his partners jump and laugh and splash in the water, Rick stays on the shore.

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At one point, he believes he has found his pearl in the form of a relationship with a married woman. But that is also torn away from him as he is pounded with the consequences that his own fears have created. For him a commitment would be a release, but he rejects anything permanent out of fear that it will be torn away. The impermanence of the montage reflects the impermanence of Rick’s life—no moment lasts because Rick can’t commit to it.

At one crucial point in the film, a Father in a cathedral preaches that suffering and trials should be viewed as a blessing from god. “To suffer binds you to something higher than yourself.” The film acknowledges the statement but more so acknowledges that words like these seem empty and trite when in the mire of existential doubt. A simple platitude brings no comfort when you’re flailing in the water and gasping for breath.

“He forgot he was the song of a king.” Rick is searching for the pearl but doesn’t know that’s what he’s searching for. He’s trying to return to his father—to god—but doesn’t know that’s where he wants to go.

Assigning meaning to this film seems to go against the spirit of it. Perhaps there are some who will find such abstraction pretentions—but the deeply personal emotions explored suggest something more pure in intent. The confusion of the story and the anguish explored and the overall lack of structure and focus on meditation do more justice to life experience than any banal story of redemption. Knight of Cups brings validation to the wandering and a hope that meaning might be possible in a seemingly meaningless world.

Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi

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It was officially spring two weeks ago, but today it’s gray and overcast and the wind is biting and even my dog is avoiding going outside.

I love the fresh food and flavors of springtime cooking, but seeing as I’ve spent most of today under an electric blanket, I wanted some sort of comfort food as well. So here’s what I came up with.

This Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi has the fresh, bright flavors of spring paired with a delicious, warm creamy sauce that makes it perfect for the post-winter-pre-spring blues. The soft gnocchi, indulgent pancetta, and warm cream make a surprisingly wonderful marriage with the bold peas, fresh lemon, and fragrant rosemary. It’s also a quick one-pot dish, which is my favorite kind for so many reasons.

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What else to put on the menu? I’d recommend serving with steamed veggies or roasted asparagus on the side. For dessert: a viewing of Enchanted April (1991). This sweet film, in the style of a Merchant-Ivory type production, tells the story of four women escaping the dreary winter who meet while on vacation in Italy. The beautiful surroundings and new friendships revitalize their lives and opens the door for love. A perfect viewing to escape a dreary day.

 

Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi

Cooking Time: 30 min

Serves 6

2 lbs potato gnocchi

3 T olive oil

1 lb chicken breast

5 oz diced pancetta

2 heaping tsp minced garlic

2 T chopped fresh rosemary

Zest from 2 lemons

3 T butter

Juice from 1 lemon

1 c heavy cream

1 c grated parmesan

1 c peas

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the gnocchi according to the package’s instructions. Before straining, collect ¼ cup pasta water. Set pasta and pasta water aside.

Dice the chicken so that it’s roughly the same size as the gnocchi. Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large pan, and then add the diced chicken along with half the pancetta and half of the garlic. Cook until chicken is lightly browned and the pancetta is crispy. Remove any excess fat and take the cooked meat out of the pan; set aside.

Add the rest of the pancetta and garlic into the pan. Once the pancetta is crispy, add in the butter, lemon zest, and chopped rosemary. Once the butter is melted, add the lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly, then sprinkle in the parmesan. Stir until the parmesan is melted and the sauce is creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I just added a few cracks of pepper).

Add the cooked chicken back in, stirring until hot. Then add cooked gnocchi and pasta water. Finally, add the peas and stir until hot.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of parmesan and lemon zest.

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