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March 04, 2016


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Aden Jordan

Malick seemed to significantly relegate the male protagonist in 'To the Wonder' to the background in a way that foregrounded the female protagonist. At least one person I know read this as Malick's way of focalizing on Olga Kurylenko's character's experience of Ben Affleck's character/Malick's alter ago as distant and aloof (and by privileging her 'voice' Malick was paying tribute to his late partner who the character is modeled on). Based upon your piece, it sounds like the opposite is going on in 'Knight of Cups'.

Malick's last three films seem to raise the question, does a work's 'being personal' make it 'good'? In the same way that you point out that Malick's Christian allusions are sometimes taken as holding substance in themselves, his autobiographical references also sometimes seem to be seen as indications of quality or depth just because they're personal.

None of them is meant to be taken as a criticism of Malick. Even in his work's unevenness, the brilliance is there. I enjoyed your piece, and am looking forward to this.


Wait, Lynch's sexism? Wut?


This sounds like an unbearable turkey. If Terrence Malick had continued at the same initial snail's pace as Badlands, Days Of Heaven, Thin Red Line, New World and Tree Of Life, he might not have run out of ideas. Unfortunately, he already has something called Weightless lined up.


Pretty great, Glenn.

Read it just for the "it should be an occasion for me and many others to fall face-first into the pavement and break our front teeth off in sheer awe." line.

Stay for the rest, which makes great sense about a movie I already haven't been too excited to see.

(And yes, The Pilgrim's Progress does suck.)


I saw this yesterday, and this is just a spot.on. review. I am the proverbial "longtime Malick fan who has become a bit disillusioned," but like many others, I was holding on by a thread. This piece was outright offensive in its desire to couch such blatant sexism as some type of search for inner truth. The levels of self-importance in this are astounding to an absurd point. The only thing that would have made this redeemable is if he had even the slightest hint that it was a parody of himself.

Joel Bocko

I was gonna say "Ok, I'll bite" but I see Zach already bit for me. I guess I could grant you really minor, one- or two-scene characters like the director's wife in Mulholland Dr. play into sexist tropes but it's hard for me to see the director who created Laura Palmer or Nikki Grace or Diane Selwyn as sexist-bordering-on-misogynist. And Lost Highway, the only Lynch film of the past 30 years that could be perceived as unsympathetic to its main female characters, is quite manifestly identifying its male protagonist as a self-deluding misogynist. Sorry to nitpick but it jumped out at me too!

Chris L.

Between this post and the likewise-passionate opposing views from Matt Zoller Seitz and Nick Pinkerton, it's been a perplexing couple of days trying to get a handle on what to expect from this film. For some folks (Glenn not necessarily among them as far as I can tell), it's as though Malick has plummeted into a place of moral as well as artistic corruption, not too far from where, say, Woody Allen finds himself lately. That is to say (in the anti-Knight view), in repeating his themes and visual motifs until they grow stale, he is leaving room for an underlying retrograde or misogynistic attitude to seep through.

None of this is really surprising based on watching the trailer, in which the whispers indeed carried the flavor of self-parody if I'm being honest. It's damned hard to let go of movie heroes, though, when their best work has formed how you see the world. What's more, women and men line up to work with the guy, knowing they might not even be seen on screen; he must at least treat them respectfully while they're filming. (I'd love to know if Palmer, Lucas or others felt differently upon viewing the end result.)

So I'll see this when it arrives, and hope that the defenders have a case, and that Weightless earns a few more of them.

Joel Bocko

"What's more, women and men line up to work with the guy, knowing they might not even be seen on screen; he must at least treat them respectfully while they're filming. (I'd love to know if Palmer, Lucas or others felt differently upon viewing the end result.)"

It's probably what you're alluding to with this comment, but Christopher Plummer and Sean Penn certainly did.


I think Lynch's early work could be seen as sexist, although it's hard to separate this from a general squeamishness about sex, but by the time he got around to MULHOLLAND DRIVE and INLAND EMPIRE, he had swung around to feminist sympathy with what women have to put up with, especially in Hollywood. These films are unmistakably the products of a straight man with an active libido, but they're also deeply empathetic towards their female characters.

Gandalf's Penguin

What rubbish. This article should belong in a college gender studies class. It seems the reviewer went in with extreme prejudice and wanted to get the evil male Malick.

You wish you could make films as profound as Malick.

I'm starting to feel pity for you SJW's. You can't enjoy anything.

Joel Bocko

Steve - yeah, I agree. I think often with auteurs, and this seems to be the case with Malick, they reach a point where they have perfected how to express what they want to say but what they want to say remains pretty static. I don't see that being the case with Lynch (whose eyes would probably shoot daggers at any mention of what he "wants to say" but you know what I mean). In fact, Eraserhead and Inland Empire are almost mirror images of each other in a lot of ways: thematically, narratively, stylistically. His career is one constant evolution, and that's definitely true in terms of his treatment of female characters. (Btw, I love Eraserhead - maybe his most perfectly-crafted film - so it's not a knock to say it's somewhat...limited in its outlook, just an observation. It's exactly what it needs to be but I'm glad he branched out later.)

Gandalf - not sure if this you are being tongue-in-cheek but Glenn is hardly an SJW.


As I (vaguely) recall, Lynch got some sexism shade thrown his way for Dorothy Vallens - unless I'm mistaken, Ebert himself condemned the scene where she runs outside, naked and desperate, which he deemed as simply beyond the pale. I don't think the charge, to the extent that it's ever been carefully laid out, sticks; there's simply too much sexual frisson w/ both genders, not to mention Lynch's constant toying with artifice, illusion, etc. It might be that behind all of the layers of dream-logic and ambiguity there is a sexist lurking, but I don't buy it. Probably the most you can do is indict Lynch's id, and if you did that, what heterosexual male would be safe?

And as Joel says, whatever "suspect" attitudes might be discerned in his early work, his latter day heroines, if one chooses to keep score, would more than establish his feminist bonafides, IMO.

I still haven't seen Knight of Cups (can't wait!), but since Glenn brought up sexual politics, I feel justified in pointing out that The New World could quite readily be seen as a feminist film, even radically so. I'd be hard pressed to name another male-directed film that spent as much time and energy directly expressing the inner life of a woman (of color, no less.)

Glenn Kenny

Just a quick note to say that by making note of sexism within this context, I'm not suggesting any sort of personal disapprobation. Art has not responsibility to be rational or socially exemplary...if there's sexism in Lynch's films it's a corollary to his themes of anxiety and fear, specifically sexual anxiety and fear, which is also tied to attraction, e.g, the across-the-hall neighbor in "Eraserhead." I don't MIND it, but in a sense it's there. What I found objectionable in "Knight of Cups" was that its concern for the protagonist was focused in a way so as to deny the humanity of almost anybody else in the movie, and that this was particularly true of the women. And that this is supposed to be excused because, after all, poor fella, he's just a knight who's forgotten he's a kinight. As Edward G. Robinson said in "Double Indemnity," sorry, but it won't wash.

Asher Steinberg

I don't think it's hard to see how the director of this scene could be described as a sexist:


Fred Enthy

White Knight, who are you trying to bone with this thinkpiece? Some good thoughts here but reaching a moral judgment is one of the worst things a writer on film can be guilty of.

And unless you married your high school sweetheart, recalling past lovers fleetingly (yes, without depth but significance) is a fairly universal reflection. "Male privilege' is a social construct, not a fundamental quirk of the subconscious.

Glenn Kenny

"Who are you trying to bone with this thinkpiece?" What a lovely question to contend with on this particular morning. Thanks for that, Fred. Remind me to do you a similar solid some time.

I don't think I was making a moral judgment so much as contending with an aspect of the movie that left a bad taste for me. Maybe I should clarify: even discounting sexism, the movie is pompous, humorless, preachy (even Richard Brody, one of its champions, indirectly acknowledges this), and self-righteous. It eats its guts out over the mote in Hollywood's eye, while considering the plank in its own as an object of sacred pity. It's a wallow in solipsism that gains nothing from dressing up in a priest's robe and breaking out the tarot deck. "Begin." Yeah, that's pretty heavy. How's that for a moral judgment?

"Male privilege" is indeed a social construct. A film itself is a construct too—not a direct tap into its maker's subconscious, as you are so eager to believe. Malick spent years in the editing room on this. For the sole purpose, it seems, of sanctifying his younger, movie-star-looking self's suffering. His movie is bullshit.


You may be right. On the other hand, Malick's critics have been accusing him of self-parody since DAYS OF HEAVEN. And since I find Malick's work clearly superior to the directors whose movies beat him for best picture in 1978, 1998, 2005, 2011 and 2012, I'm more than willing to give him a chance. We will see whether KNIGHT OF CUPS is more like Scorsese's most underrated movie or everyone's least favorite Coppola movie.

Joel Bocko

Glenn: oh no, I definitely didn't take it as disapprobation - and I agree that his early work, Eraserhead roughly through Wild at Heart (which, along with FWWM I think is his most transitional film) expresses a fear of and fascination with women as the "other," part and parcel with his general anxiety about sexuality (which can also come off as homophobic in Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and especially Dune). My only objection was to the generalization because I feel the second half of his career (with roots as early as Lula's flashbacks and solo scenes in WAH) is as resolutely un-sexist is the first half could be accused of being.

As to the larger point, haven't seen Knights of Cups yet but it sounds like your main objection to the film wasn't so much Malick's value system as the dishonesty/disingenuousness surrounding it. I tend to agree - I find "objectionable" art extremely valuable, even praiseworthy in a way, if it deals with its content and attitudes openly. It's when the works get cagey or try to have their cake and eat it too that I think they fail not only as "values" but as art.

Joel Bocko

Re: Asher, I don't either (whether it actually is or not is more debatable though I could easily concede the point) but it's Worh point out the same movie contains passages honing in the traumatic aftershocks of Lula's encounter with Bobby Peru. I think a lot of the Lula scenes indicate that Lynch is pivoting from the outsider's view of Dorothy to the insider's view of Laura. Of course, grotesque depictions of women (and men) continue in his work, but they increasingly find space to step outside of Jeffrey's proverbial closet to consider the scenarios from a less overtly masculine, classically heroic perspective (the heroism re-emerges in both FWWM and Inland Empire but from a standpoint of coming through the experience of victimhood/trauma rather than chivalrously rescuing someone else from it (in a sense, The Elephant Man's gradual shift from Treves' to Merrick's POV anticipated Lynch's career as a whole, albeit without the gender aspect). Ok I'm wandering way off-topic now haha.

Joel Bocko

Sorry for the typos, that was hastily dispatched from my phone.

Grant L

I'd also strongly question the idea that critics aren't supposed to make moral judgments. Christgau, the very fine writer quoted above, does it with some frequency. He does his very best to make sure he's misreading things, he makes sure to notice everything else surrounding the part he has a problem with, and how it connects to that part. He's given good grades to albums that have noxious elements (often misogyny and,or racism) to them if there's a complexity to the expression (like if it's clear that on some level the artist knows they're being full of shit), or if it only turns up in a few places, or for other reasons. But there are many more times where he's downgraded a record because the ugliness and (often willed) idiocy is so strong, when it's such an integral part of the piece of art, that it's making it impossible for him to appreciate the rest at all. And I say he's perfectly right in doing so if he wants. Compartmentalization is bullshit - it's the pouty, clinging-to-childhood wish to live in a world where there are no consequences to your actions.

Also, very much liking the parallel Lynch discussion going on, and would agree with quite a few of Joel's points.

Grant L

Correction (that you can probably guess) in the above comment: in the third sentence there should be a "not" before "misreading things."

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