The New World

2006-07-13 10:22


In 1607 - thirty years before America's "founding fathers" landed at Plymouth Rock - 103 intrepid English colonists founded the settlement of Jamestown in the wild territory of Virginia. One of these men, a strong willed young mercenary named John Smith (Colin Farrel), was destined to enter history as one half of the earliest and most tragic American romance. The other half was an impetuous but beautiful Algonquian princess named Pocahontas ("playful one"). But as their love grows, so does the tension between the tribesmen and the colonists. Soon it becomes apparent that neither Indians nor Englishmen are willing or able to live in harmony, and Pocahontas and Smith are torn apart forever.


As a filmmaker Terrence Malick has never been overly concerned with either brevity or clarity. The New World is no exception and is quite possibly Malick's least clear and most long-winded film to date. Despite the epic subject matter and the elemental vitality of the original story, Malick has made the story of Pocahontas into a languid mood piece, full of incoherent voice-overs and extraneous footage. He has successfully turned one of the most exciting periods in human history into a brow furrowing meditation on the human soul.

This is not to say that the film isn't beautiful to look at. Malick has always been visually gifted, and The New World is perhaps his most gorgeous piece of work to date. There's hardly a frame in which the combination of light, colour and composition aren't breathtaking. At times it feels like a series of perfectly composed still photographs that have been strung together to make a moving picture. This is helped in no small measure by some incredible production and costume design, not to mention the pristine locations. You never doubt for a moment that you are looking at Virgina in 1607.

But all this relentless beauty eventually becomes numbing. Couched in Malick's diffuse and languorous style, the action of the plot becomes secondary and remote. Minutes tick by without anything actually happening on screening and then, when some significant action does occur, it seems arbitrary and without any context. One moment the indians are bringing the colonists food - the next they are at war. This is, no doubt, intentional. Malick has always shunned traditional narrative structure. In this case, however, he has not replaced it with anything else.

This sense of confusion and torpor is not helped by a tendency towards mumbled and largely incoherent dialogue. Coupled with long passages of equally incoherent voiceover, the film soon takes on a dreamlike quality. While this may sound appealing it soon becomes tiring and eventually downright annoying. Yes, there's more to film than understanding everything that's going on all the time, but to make a film so wilfully unintelligible is nothing short of self indulgent.

This self-indulgence could be forgiven if Malick brought an entirely new perspective to the well-worn tale of Pocahontas. But, if anything, the film reinforces the hoary old cliches trotted out by every new age hippy since the 60s. Indians and nature - GOOD. Europeans and civilisation - BAD. Malick's heavy handed depiction of this viewpoint is made all the more offensive by his iconoclastic style. If he is so adamant about going against the grain of modern film, why does he indulge in the most hackneyed interpretation of the story?

At two and a half hours long, The New World takes some commitment to watch. This is not a diverting popcorn film - it is a deeply cerebral meditation that requires both constant attention and large reserves of patience. While it is not without its joys, for most people the effort of sitting through it will far outweigh the enjoyment it provides.

- Alistair Fairweather

Watching Terrence Malick's languid historical drama is like spending two and a half hours in an art gallery.

Samantha 2006/08/16 9:18 AM
NO, No, no Patience is not the only thing required when watching this movie, a bonus would be endurance. The only thing that kept me watching was Colin Farrell. As well as the hope that something interesting might happen, somewhere, in the not to distant future. The trailers invite you with dramatic and beautiful scenes, but the catch is that those are the only interesting scenes. My honest opinion, if you have watched both trailers (by renting the DVD) then you have watched the entire movie.. I cannot find fault with any of the visual aspects, but please, if there is going to be little, if any verbal or vocal, at least put in subtitles. That would make the movie just a little more understandable. All in all, this version of Pocahontas, ruined that beautiful story i read about as a little girl.. To the silent"deep" type. And the ladies who could watch Colin Farrell do just about anything for any length of time.
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