Terence Malick’s The New World

Terence Malick’s The New World is less a straightforward historical epic and more a lyrical tone poem, treatise on nature and introspection on love put to the rest that just happens to be based around the celebrated story of Pocahontas. This is a more honest, blunt version of that than Disney or anyone else has told, full of war, tension, the unease of separation and clashing of British Royal Navy and indigenous tribes in the early days of Virginia. But despite the heavy notes within this story, Malick and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use light, shadow, foliage and atmospheric tenderness to make this one of the most visually beautiful, romantically yearning pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever experienced. Colin Farrell is rough, uncultured and mutinous as Smith, far removed from the pretty boy Disney version, arriving in America basically in a cage for his troubles at the hands of no nonsense Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer). Q’orianka Kilcher is a radiant revelation as Pocahontas, no singing or animal sidekicks here, just a reverent, independent free spirit whose path crosses with that of Smith’s for a realistic, earnestly developed romance that shirks the standards of Hollywood and cuts right to what is essential. We see them teach each other language both verbal and body, explore each other’s hopes and beliefs and meander around the beautiful glades, meadows and rain hushed fields of a harmoniously untouched natural landscape. Trouble inevitably comes as harsh winters, famine and unrest between the settlers and natives escalates, and the film becomes intense and sorrowful but never sensationalistic or manipulative. Obviously us in this century know the sad trajectory that discovering this new land would send the indigenous tribes into and its no doubt terrible but this particular group of people have no idea. There are hints of atrocity on the horizon but everything is so new for both sides it proves a meditative process of discovery, conflict and great change for all. Malick amasses a typically stunning cast as usual with work from David Thewlis, a fleeting Christian Bale, Jonathan Pryce, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, Yorick Van Wageningen, Raoul Trujillo, Michael Greyeyes, Ben Mendelsohn, Noah Taylor, Ben Chaplin, Eddie Marsan and a half mad John Savage. James Horner was known for sweeping orchestral work but his score here is light, ponderous, dreamy and joyously brings the film to life like a sunrise on the sea, it’s his ‘departure from signature style’ score like Zimmer’s work on Interstellar and it’s one of my favourite of his compositions. His work, Lubezki’s photography, Malick’s studious devotion to nature and humanity’s place within it are in full rapturous display for every sense to absorb, and the core of it rests with Farrell and Kilcher’s brilliant pair of performances and deeply heartfelt romance of few words spoken out loud but all the emotion in the universe in their glances, mannerisms and graceful symbiosis together. An incredibly personal, very special film for me and tied as my favourite Malick alongside Tree Of Life.

-Nate Hill

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