Knight of Cups

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Knight of Cups Movie Poster Image
Wandering, experimental Malick film may challenge even fans.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's the hope that finding true love will fill an empty void, but that true love requires much wandering and searching.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters don't really do much except wander and search; they also occasionally go to parties, drink, and have sex.


Brothers fight; punches are thrown but don't connect. A man gets angry and attacks a chair with a machete. He later throws a tantrum, throwing and smashing stuff. Armed robbers, pointing guns, threatening. Some arguing. An earthquake. Brief image from Call of Duty video game. A man in the hospital has severely diseased legs; another has mangled limbs.


The main character has several sexual partners, some implied, some former. Lots of kissing. Playful flirting on a bed. Topless women. Naked bottoms. Women shown in underwear and/or other revealing clothing. Strong innuendo. Scenes in a strip club.


"F--k" is used more than once, plus "a--hole," "balls."


Brief image of a McDonald's cup.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Scenes of social drinking. Playful drunkenness. References to taking drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Knight of Cups is a drama by acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick. While some of his movies have caught on with critics and audiences, this esoteric, experimental film seems a bit more difficult. And there's plenty of mature content: A main character has several romantic/sexual partners, and there's lots of kissing, some female toplessness (plus naked bottoms), and brief but strong innuendo. A secondary character throws tantrums, smashes stuff, and picks fights; characters also argue. Language includes more than one use of "f--k," plus "a--hole" and "balls." Characters drink alcohol at social gatherings, with some playful images of drunkenness, and rugs are mentioned. Despite its all-star cast (Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and more), this movie is probably too offbeat and slow for most teens.

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What's the story?

Screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) lives in Los Angeles and enjoys wealth and success, yet something seems to be missing. He attempts to fill the void with a series of beautiful women, including rebellious Della (Imogen Poots), model Helen (Freida Pinto), and stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer). He also visits with Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a woman with whom he shares a colored past, and his ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett). He also tries to maintain shaky relationships with his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother (Wes Bentley) after the death of a third brother. Endlessly wandering and searching, Rick finally glimpses a woman (Isabel Lucas) who could hold the answers for him. But is she within reach?

Is it any good?

Terrence Malick is arguably one of the great current filmmakers, but while his first contemporary big-city drama is dreamy and lovely, it may try the patience of even his most ardent admirers. KNIGHT OF CUPS is more experimental, and has even less plot, than Malick's other movies (Days of Heaven, The New World, The Tree of Life, etc.). And despite chapter headings named after Tarot cards, it mostly seems to be two hours of characters endlessly meandering, searching, and wandering around city streets.

The urban setting doesn't seem to fit with Malick's usual themes; the film's meditative flow doesn't fit with the big-city setting. Not to mention that it's difficult to identify with the shallow, Hollywood-centered characters and thus tricky to discern any deeper meanings in the whole. But Malick, with the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, finds many, many images of great beauty among the concrete and steel of Los Angeles, and, at times, Knight of Cups is an immersive, poetic experience.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Knight of Cups' sexual content. What do the main character's sexual relationships mean to him? Is he trying to prove something? Is he being malicious or mean? Is he searching for something?

  • Why is the brother character so violent? How does he express his feelings? How do his scenes make you feel?

  • How is drinking portrayed in the movie? Are there any consequences for overindulgence?

  • What would you say the movie is about? Is it possible to have a movie based on moods, feelings, and ideas, rather than a more traditional story?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love offbeat movies

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