Friday, July 18, 2014

The New World [USA, Britain, 2005]

Nine Things about the Movie The New World

1. The thing about Terrence Malick is that you are either a fan or you are not. He has made 6 films in 40 years, each covering a different time in American History. But in a sense, Malick has really only made one film - and he’s made it six times. His movies are always basically about the incomprehensibility of the world and our place in it. One could even go so far as to say he doesn’t make movies - he films philosophical poems. And he doesn’t seem to care if anybody understands him. Needless to say, I am a fan.

2. This movie, his fourth, has all his trademarks. It’s full of quiet voiceovers, poetic musings, and images that don’t match the plot. It is gorgeous, lyric, and breathtaking. The soundtrack is hypnotic. Malick once again proves he is a visionary, infusing the mundane with the sublime in ways that cannot be described in words.

3. This movie is Malick’s account of America’s beginning - the founding of Jamestown, and the story of Pocahontas. The surface plot of the movie is not complicated: British settlers come to America, and meet the local natives. Captain John Smith falls in love with one of them, and the cultures clash as they try to work out their differences.
4. But the movie is three hours long. It doesn’t take three hours to tell the story of Pocahontas. That’s because America’s origin story is fertile ground for Malick to ask the Big Questions, even though we will obviously never get the answers. This movie might be the most philosophically challenging of all his films. And that’s saying a lot.

5. The movie asks questions about religion. What is God? One group of people calls God “Father”. The other group calls God “Mother”. How does one’s religion shape the way you see and treat the world?

6. The movie asks questions about love. What is love? Why is it so intense and uncontrollable?
If it’s true that God is love, or that love is truth, then what does it mean when the person you love does not love you back? What does it mean when love goes away entirely?

7. The movie is itself a metaphor for the battles inside one’s own soul. It’s an illustration of how we can never really know any other person - maybe not even ourselves.

8. Predictably, the movie was a box office flop. Audiences (and some critics) were confused, bored, and frustrated. It was given credit for being historically accurate in it’s setting, but disliked for being a complete myth in it’s story. And yet, other critics defended it fiercely. It was even proclaimed by some people to be the best movie of the 2000’s.

9. If you are looking for a historical adventure romance, this movie is way too long and boring to be useful. If you aren’t familiar with his work, but want to give him a shot, this may not be the best movie to start with. However, if you can connect with what Malick is trying to say, this movie becomes a vital, challenging, fundamental study of what it means to be alive.