The New World

The New World

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            This country has a lot to be ashamed about, from witch burnings to slavery to out-and-out imperialism. One of our biggest offenses, though, is how we white folks came to own this place, i.e. the genocide of the people already living here. Most films have tried to romanticize the “discovery” of America by transforming the whites into benevolent freedom-seekers, and the Indians into either horrible wild-children or (ahem) Noble Savages. With so many America-Origin stories rigidly swinging one way (1492) or the other (remember that Indian who was moved to tears by litter?), Terrence Malick’s new film The New World is a breath of fresh air. It is not an old-fashioned Up-With-America parable, nor is it a finger-wagging, Liberal-Guilt, the-Indians-Were-Right polemic. It is a beautiful and calm treatise/meditation on a clash of two fully-rounded cultures. The Europeans are curious world travelers with very human intentions (freedom, yes, but also greed, and mostly desperation), while the Indians are not seen as innocent children of Eden, but human beings who get annoyed, bicker, get bored with their jobs, and are just as suspicious of the newcomers as anyone would be.

            Starting in 1609, and spanning about a decade, The New World is less about Capt. John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his awe-inspired whispering narration, but the teenage Indian princess (Q’Orianka Kilcher) he comes to love. The princess is Pocahontas, although her name is actually never spoken. We follow her as she and Smith frolic in fields, make out a bit, and come to peace with one another’s cultures. Smith is torn between staying with her, and facing the responsibility of babysitting the starving Englishmen who are ravishing the swamp, looking for gold, and generally being European bastards. When he leaves, the princess is booted out of her tribe, and goes to live with the Europeans where she eventually marries another man (Christian Bale this time).

            By reducing this epic into a love story, writer/director Malick has done something very smart. Rather than being about conquest or politics, or a history-book version, we get something much more personal. In fact, as the princesss grows, comes of age, matures, is disenchanted, and begins having children, we start to see that the titular New World may not be America, but the movement from childhood into adulthood. A warning: there are contrived moments: the princess in her leather bikini looks less like a genuine native, and more like a little girl playing Indian princess, and the halcyon shots of smiling and holding hands extend for a little too long. But Malick’s story becomes so great, and the photography of the film is so utterly gorgeous (Emmanuel Lubezki of Sleepy Hollow fame photographed), that the contrivances are quickly pushed aside. This is a very good film.

December 25th, New Line Cinema

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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