The New World (2005) Directed by Terrence Malick. With Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer.
Written and directed by Terrence Malick, The New World is a story of overlapping narratives set against the backdrop of the English exploration of Virginia in the early 1600’s. Part love story, part historical epic – the film centres on the burgeoning relationship between Captain Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher).
Newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher embodies a spirit of innocence in the role of Pocahontas. The sight of her playing joyously in the fields speaks of a purity long-since sacrificed at the altar of progress in the new world. This alone is a beautiful portrait of the life of the native American; a simple life with no sense of possession, one in which freedom is like oxygen – everywhere.
Working with Emmanuel Lubezki, the Mexican cinematographer who would go on to win two Oscars for his astonishing work on Gravity and Birdman – Malick utilises the camera as a tool to express poetry through simple images of nature – be it a tree, a plant, a river or the sky. What this achieves is breadth and depth, as these images of beauty are often used incidentally to remind us what a wonderful place the world can be. During the last act, the undiluted bloom of the natural lands are given extra resonance when mirrored against the grey, cobbled streets of England in the 1600’s.
The narrative itself appears to drift, from time-to-time, which causes some minor periods of detachment. This might be in part a consequence of the films intersecting narrative paths; whatever the reason – it doesn’t detract from the impressive sense of time and place that is achieved.
James Horner’s music befits the romantic sweep of the piece, also underscoring the regular visions of natural beauty. As things pick up, it begins to take on a biographical structure – focusing primarily on the changing world of Pocahontas. Her life with Captain Smith and the subsequent struggle. Her introduction to Christian Bale’s John Rolfe, and the warring emotions that pervade.
The New World offers an interesting angle on what is documented about the real people involved. Caution should be applied when assuming a film to be a history lesson, but Malick makes a fine job of ensuring his film has an emotional centre to help us connect with the characters and their varying plights. The film ‘stars’ the likes of Colin Farrell and Christian Bale – but the real stars are Malick and his directory of photography. 4/5
I am always apprehensive when approaching any Terrence Malick film.
I loved Badlands and Days of Heaven, but The New World, for all its beauty really rubbed me up the wrong way. My experience with The Thin Red Line was entirely different though and I regard it as one of the great films of the 90’s. Maybe I should watch this one again.
Yes, I’d agree that of his films that I have seen – this is perhaps the least powerful. That said, there is still a lot to recommend. I don’t think it’s a particularly strong ‘actors’ film – but the imagery is right up there and I felt a very keen sense of the time and the place. After Badlands and Days of Heaven, his films come with such great weight of expectation. A revisit might be worthwhile.
With a stronger last third this would have been another Malick claasic. The visuals are as good as the Thin Red Line and the story is fascinating bit of history mixed with legend. Once Pocahontas is taken to England it seems to stutter and Malick thinks seeing Europe through the uncivilised eye is enough to finish on. I’d still give it a 4 though for the first 2 acts alone.
Great reply – thank you. The cinematography of a Malick film stays with you. I went for a long walk yesterday and kept getting hit by images from the film. He really knows how to put God in his work. I think you’re onto something with the final third. It does seems a little paved over, although it’s clearly a highly significant part of her story. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that Malick was more interested spending time describing the untouched lands of 17th century Virginia, than the cold, cobbled streets of London. After all, he does love his trees.
I love this film. The ending shot is absolutely beautiful.
Great to hear from someone who loves this film. I have thought about it a lot, since seeing it – which says something in itself.