Terence Malick’s “The New World” is a subtle and context driven approach to historical filmmaking. Malick employs quietness as a treatise on discovery and abandonment. We experience the characters innermost feelings as they confront the harsh realities of an ever-changing setting. Audiences expecting epic battles and “Braveheart-esque” romance should avoid this film at all costs. “The New World” is a deep cinema experience meant for those with utmost patience and appreciation for visual cues instead of a dialogue driven plot.
Q'Orianka Kilcher stars as the captivating Indian Princess “Pocahontas”. Set in 1607, she is enamored by the English Captain “John Smith” (Colin Farrell). Smith and his ship of English colonists travel to 17th century Virginia with hopes of riches and conquest. What they find is an unforgiving alien land populated by “Godless savages”. Smith is captured by the Indians and is forced to live with them for a few months. He falls madly in love with the Indian nymphet and changes the course of her life forever. She abandons her people to be with her love, but is left heartbroken by the divided Captain. He alone realizes the folly of their romance and the repercussions of their actions.
Malick treats every frame of “The New World” as a new film experience. He doesn’t take anything for granted. His idea is that everything the characters are seeing is something new. This painstaking attention to detail is either a wonder to behold or incredibly boring. If you buy into Malick’s concept; the shots of rivers, birds flying, Pocahontas running through the grass, are all part of Smith’s journey. If you see these scenes as cinematic retread, then you miss Malick’s point entirely. He’s really trying to recreate America as it what as that time. His visuals go far beyond the scope of a setting and take on a sense of bewilderment and awe. “The New World” is meant to be seen from the characters point of view and that most be respected as the film progresses.
The film almost works as a silent film. There is scant dialogue, and what is spoken is hardly recognizable. The characters speak in the brogues of their native tongues; which means that the Irish seamen are almost indiscernibly with their thick accents. Once again, Malick is trying to paint a foreign environment to all. He doesn’t want anything to be too comfortable for any one set of people. This is a film about discovery and that pertains to everyone, including the audience.
I liked this "The New World", but it’s not without its flaws. Malick takes his poetic tome a bit too far. It borders on pretentiousness, but comes back down with a few action-packed scenes that propel the story. I particularly liked the realistic physical portraits of the people. The English are disgustingly filthy and it’s a shame to watch Pocahontas embrace their corset and lace lifestyle.
“The New World” is an art film through and through and should be avoided by the casual moviegoer. It requires patience and indulgence by its audience. Films like this are rare in the quick edit modern era of music video-like filmmaking. I appreciate the difference and hope others embrace it as well.