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This Film Description is a Reminder of All That is Wrong in Hollywood

This Film Description is a Reminder of All That is Wrong in Hollywood

Yesterday I received a press release for the upcoming film “Knight of Cups.” The drama, which opens this weekend, is written and directed by Terrence Malick. He’s one of the dudes who floats a movie idea and people immediately shit their pants in anticipation. He made “Badlands” in 1973 and “Days of Heaven” in 1978. Then he took a 20-year-hiatus before “The Thin Red Line” in 1998. His last movie, 2013’s “To The Wonder,” was not a box office success, yet high profile men and women, such as “Knight of Cups” stars Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, want to work with him because he’s supposedly a genius. All of our definitions of genius are men who have vision — men who do what they want and refuse to follow the rules. Women who exhibit the same characteristics are considered unemployable. 

Here’s the description:

“‘Knight of Cups; follows writer Rick (Christian Bale, The Fighter, ‘American Hustle’) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a search for love and self. Even as he moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Rick grapples over complicated relationships with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy). His quest to break the spell of his disenchantment takes him on a series of adventures with six alluring women: rebellious Della (Imogen Poots); his physician ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett); a serene model Helen (Freida Pinto); a woman he wronged in the past Elizabeth (Natalie Portman); a spirited, playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer); and an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas), who helps him see a way forward.”

Look at the descriptions of the men. Then look at the descriptions of the women. The men are just men. The women characters all have qualifiers — and horribly reductive ones, at that. Serene model, playful stripper — are you kidding me? 

This plot summary should be studied as a lesson in sexism in Hollywood.

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@Heidi, "OH NO another rich unhappy white person! what a stupid idea for a film."
Do you realize how inane and myopic your comment is? Are you aware that people with money are humans as well? You know, with feelings, emotions, intellect, attitudes, and have the right to happiness and the search for happiness as much as "poor people"? Are you aware that a "rich person" can be as equally unhappy as a poor person, and are you aware that money doesn’t bring happiness?


You don’t sound bitter at all. You do realize that marketing descriptions are not made by the director?


What kind of mental gymnastics does it take to see sexism in that synopsis? The male characters, with the exception of the lead are reduced to their relationship to the main character while the women are described with details about their professions and personality traits. The descriptions are brief because there are six characters to describe. They could easily have just left it at "adventures with six alluring women", but they chose to flesh them out a bit, albeit briefly. How is that sexist?


As a woman filmmaker, I’ve found Malick’s films some of the most balanced in feminine/masculine aspects The fact that he doesn’t churn out movies every year is a testament to his values. Great actors want to work with him because he is a great director. A PR department is trying to satisfy what it thinks are the objectives of a viewing audience. Therein lies the complaint; not Malick. This writer seems to have transposed her FB rant to a proper forum about filmmaking. Professional writers don’t slang and expletives to make a point (unless they’re really good at it). Can someone else fill this space on IndieWire please?


Terrence Malick, the man "supposed to be a genius" by the author of this article, one of the most important and talented filmmakers of the 70s, the man behind such classics as Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life, is now getting his whole resume in question just because of a studio press release? Even that the man directed some of the most important and beautiful films of the last decade, he ain’t a genius no more, but instead a "reminder of all that is wrong in hollywood"? Ridiculous article indeed.


Farty, a studio PR department is Hollywood.


I saw this film on Tuesday night at the premiere…it’s alright, but not his best.

Sorry, what is the reminder of all that is wrong in hollywood? Is it people who pick and choose what they see?…(you seemed to have skipped over the physician description) and you overlook the fact that the two male characters who are just described as male are both, you know, family descriptions. If it was a mother and a sister would that make it ok?
I understand LEGITIMATE criticism and there is a lot of sexism in hollywood that demands legitimate criticism, but this is just trolling…judging a book by your twisted perception of it’s cover. Shame on you.


let’s not start seeing sexism everywhere. otherwise we’ll end up seeing it nowhere.

Dana Kaminski

It’s. Real. Whether this is a summary by the marketing dept or not, this is how women are described and conceived, in scripts, in the business. Throughout. From low grade crappy tv to the highest quality art films. It is the "standard", whereas individuality, people hood, and personhood, are for males. Personality, also, is for males. Humanity, is male. Women are almost ALWAYS described as to their beauty or sexual quotient, objective terms. And of course, that must always be in higher quotient than in normal life.

catherine j

Nobody is judging Malick, but pointing out that the industry indulges in casual sexism – which it does. And that he benefits from the rhetoric of the male auteur, established by those French boys post-war – hich he does. And if a few more male directors, actors, producers took an interest in what was happening – and objected to this kind of language – there would be just a level playing field. Unless that’s the last thing any of you want?

Sara Woolf

As someone who saw the film, this press release accurately describes how reductively the film treats women. Directors usually get to preview the press release so it’s not just "the studio" we can hold accountable for these descriptions. The movie is gross in it’s treatment of women and I’m thrilled to see another "genius" called out for his misogyny. Yes, even brilliant Kubrick was also terrible when it came to his treatment of women. Thank you for writing this. I wish you had more support in this comment section and less hate.


My question for you. Did you watch the movie? ANY character can be deep, regardless of their profession. Just a thought.

Paul Maher Jr.

another failed writer that didn’t write the novel she wanted to write …


It’s a press release!!!

Perry Barber

So an author can’t have more than one "issue" with something that bothers her? She can’t malign a press release for its sleazy use of tired stereotypes while also being critical of the slobbering lionization of Terrence Malick?

I for one don’t receive Hollywood press releases, so I was unaware of the kind of language used in them or of the differences between the way male characters are described as opposed to how female ones are. I’m grateful to the author for informing me. Shedding light on the darkness is the best way to dispel it, and that is what Ms. Silverstein and this blog are all about. If we don’t see or know what’s going on, we have no hope of changing it for the better.


How did this ‘article’ make it to be on the front page of this website. Knee jerk is an understatement and it’s obvious from your description of Malick that you made your made up about him before you saw this release. Please IndieWire can we get some serious journalism for a change?


And all the menfolk come to their own rescue.


I agree. Also, the description of "an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas), who helps him see a way forward" is pretty disgusting. It is a common theme that the strong, experienced male character (as in the Godfather) is attracted to the "innocent one." Does that mean she is a virgin or just naive? In the end that means that he is drawn towards her as a muse, not a person who challenges him.

Evgueni Mlodik

Melissa, go eat out Eve Ensler. Thank you.


The article is disturbing because you’re basically blaming a director for his film’s press release. Do you know if he had any say in how it was worded? My guess is no. You just assume he does and because other people have called him a genius, this press release now means… what exactly? That he’s not a genius? Whether he’s a genius or not is not really the point. I can understand the issues you have with the wording of the press release but it doesn’t really seem fair to blame the director for it. The comments are also disturbing but for an entirely different reason. On the one hand you have insanely aggressive males who can’t seem to handle any kind of criticism. On the other you have a whole group of people who are now discussing a movie they haven’t seen and have now decided not to see it based on the press release. That is crazy. Maybe watch the trailer or read a little bit more about the movie than one persons opinion of its press release before making your decision.

Vincent Pereira

"Look the descriptions of the men." BRILLIANT WRITING!


also hitler did nothing wrong


Take that to the bank! amirite? TRUMP2016


you should probably just kill nigs


Brian Boyle said it best. This article is a reminder of all that is wrong with bloggers who don’t think before they write.


Upon further research, this is the guy who made the boring tree of life. I read an article at the hollywood reporter and the cast says it’s like working with oz. lol please There wasn’t even a script, they had to improvise. I’ve read several amateur scripts, but guys and Terrence, we have other occupations besides stripper and prostitute.


So if this is all down to the marketing department, I guess we can only assume that they’ve taken an executive decision they don’t want us women to go see the film and are going to do their darndest to alienate us. I enjoyed "The Thin Red Line" and "Le Monde Nouveau", but I think Malick has been off the boil since then. This absurdly reductive description certainly doesn’t tempt me to give him the benefit of the doubt and go see the film.


I think this article says more about Melissa’s hatred of men than it does the movie. Save this crap for your gender studies class.


Melissa just wanted to get in some male bashing. The film is irrelevant. There’s a daily quota of "men suck" articles that have to be written every day now, and Melissa has filled her daily quota for that. Congrats.

Harriet Margolis

This piece is entitled "This Film Description is a Reminder of All That is Wrong in Hollywood." Get it?


OMG. Terrence and Stanley Kubrick mentioned in the same sentence. STFU. What’s sad is the actresses actually signed up for this dribble. And to the men responders, what is your mommies making for dinner tonight?

Erin N

Wow. So not one hats ter in the feature I’m producing is described like that. Not the men, not the women. Those horrible descriptors are only relative to how they look, not who they are. What’s an actor supposed to do with that? Looking forward to putting women in well rounded roles that are flawed and human.


A man who gets a lot of girls? How many times have we seen that? And some of the women are way younger! All of them but one actually.


I think you guys are missing the point, you jump to defend everyone else but refuse to be critical of the piece. Men complain that chick flicks offer nothing to entertain them because their male counterparts seem too perfect. It’s important for a movie to show people as complex as deep and not only a plot point to continue on the story. We wouldn’t take issue if ALL the women were so brief and shallow in their context. I just furthers a storyline where a man has to go in search of who he is through the validation of other people and what wrong he perpetrates unto women. It seems as if they’re only purpose in the story is to teach a man how to become a better person when he has no ability to be self reflective.

Alex Peters

No… Ms. Silverstein is right. Women in this movie are props, not real, 3 dimensional people. These women are NOT real. They don’t really exist because NO woman is like this.. I think, and I can’t speak for Ms. Silverstein, but I think that is part of her point- that cinema tends to see and portray women as JUST this.. as props to an always "more important" male story. The women described here are 2 dimensional caricatures that can summed up in 2 words. NO ONE is like that.. hence, her point. This is obviously going to be a ( and probably semi-autobiographical) movie about men- nothing wrong with that. But women need to stop being just props to support the male story.


I saw this film the other night at the LA premiere. It was beautiful, plotless, experimental, which is ok. This film has such a huge cast of talented women but each one only shows up for a few minutes in Christian bale’s life. There is a lot of hedonistic nude/half nude women dancing at parties scenes. This film definitely doesn’t pass the bechdel test. That said, I admire malick’ work and I’d watch this film again because I feel there is more to get from it. This film had no script(the actors said so themselves) everything was improvised around the journey of Christian bale’s character, and much of the dialogue resulting is dreamily muted out. I’m torn on this issue. I think the film is an interesting experiment in using imagery to capture psyche and emotions (those of Bale’s character) so I understand why everything revolves around him, even in the character descriptions. At the same time, I would love for any female director with a female star to be given the opportunity to make a movie like this. Any of the actresses in Knight of Cups would do a good job.


Some of the male commenters are reacting aggressively. That is unfortunate. It is probably a great film but looking at women in these stereotypes is a problem whether it is a problem for you (aggressive commenters) or not. The release isn’t just trite, it is problematic because it is sexist. This article points this out and that’s a good thing. We’ll all do better when we know better. Speaking out when you see injustice will chip away at long entrenched systematic unjust ways of doing things. We’ll get there. Thanks for pointing out this one.


Couldn’t you also complain if it were the other way? "The men all get descriptive adjestives, but the women are just women!"

Jeffrey Lee Hollis

Yeah…horribly reductive to refer to someone as a "physician" or as "serene" or "playful." Yep. You really uncovered a blockbuster scandal. You should be horribly reduced to being described as "unemployed."

Lauren Ivy Chiong

Those descriptions of female characters are so demeaning! Here’s a movie I’d like to see made: GENIUS directer Julie Taymor brings you "Queen of Champagne Flutes," which follows a conflicted writer (Cate Blanchett) through the erotic minefields of Tinseltown and Vegas as she has a lot of sex while struggling so damn hard to search for meaning in her life. Her sexual conquest takes her on a wild ride with six alluring boy toys: rebellious Dal (Terry Crews); her physician ex-husband Nate (George Clooney); serene model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller); a man she wronged in the past Eliberto (Hank Azariah); a spirited, playful stripper Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), and the innocent Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who helps her find a path forward.


Terrence Malik is a wanna-be Haneke (meaning any european art filmmaker) who still thinks of women as if it was 1972. They’re accessories. They’re there to serve the important characters, the men. Ironically (not), pretty much all member of the male sex fail to see the obvious and continue to call him a "genius"

Jen Schneider

How dare you challenge masculine genius, or interrogate Malick’s alleged singular genius and anger the fairy ring of boy protectors who themselves aspire to one day emerge as the same beneficiaries of institutional sexism? Please note your critique of the studio’s PR dept was called out as a critique of the studio’s PR dept.

Female DoP

How dare you challenge masculine genius, or interrogate Malick’s genius as a singular vision governing his films in entirety. Just kidding great piece, great point, and suck my d*** Farty and Brian.


I have a bigger problem with, "an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a search for love and self. Even as he moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs," OH NO another rich unhappy white person! what a stupid idea for a film. Write what you know, I guess!

Brian Boyle

Knee jerk, much? Your issue is with the studio’s marketing department, not with Malick.

Farty Scorsese

Yeah, that Terrence Malick is supposedly a genius. Although his films are among the best ever made, and he’s the most talented filmmaker in the world since Stanley Kubrick, you must judge his work by a single press release from a studio’s PR department, which probably didn’t even consult him. What a ridiculous article.


Must be a real slow day at the office

trini aimo


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