Writer-director Terrence Malick is adrift in this beautiful, but empty spiritual journey

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Taken as a straightforward movie, “Knight of Cups” is an indecipherable mess. Taken as a piece of nonlinear visual poetry, “Knight of Cups” is still an indecipherable mess.

Writer-director Terrence Malick, one of film’s most unique visionaries, is totally adrift here, working without a tether, a sense of direction, or a sense of purpose. Watching “Knight of Cups” you’re not even sure if the actors on screen are aware they’re on screen, let alone why you should be watching them.

Christian Bale stars as a screenwriter in Hollywood who does a lot of wandering around studio backlots, presumably soul-searching, but possibly just avoiding work. He’s haunted by visions of the women in his life, including Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, and the times they spent wandering around together.

There is quite a lot of wandering in “Knight of Cups”; it’s Malick’s favorite thing to capture. He loves filming his characters running on beaches, spinning like a child, taking in the carefree beauty of the world, and couples their actions with disconnected, free-form dialogue meant to ascribe a deeper meaning to it all. But more than ever before, he comes up flat, his images — though oftentimes beautiful — adding up to nothing profound or substantial.

“Knight of Cups” is Malick’s most experimental exercise to date, and this is coming from a guy who found a way to mix dinosaurs and the cosmos into his 2011 story of fathers and sons, “The Tree of Life.” There, you got a sense he was connected to a higher power and was delivering life’s truths. Here, his cup is overflowing with nonsense.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘Knight of Cups’

GRADE: D+

Rated R for some nudity, sexuality and language

Running time: 118 minutes

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