Discover more from Movie Night
The New World
Time to Reflect
“Come spirit. Help us sing the story of our land.”
The opening scene of The New World (2005) is set in Algonquin land in 1607. (The film calls it Virginia.) A long visual sequence shows English ships arriving in the territory as indigenous people watch from the treeline above the shore. We hear cicadas and birds in the forest as the Algonquin people bustle to get a better view. Dew still hangs in the air, not yet disappearing into the humidity the warm morning promises from the day.
This is a slow film, within the realm of transcendental cinema, that attempts to recreate a few of the keystone events we are taught in schools regarding the colonialization of the lands we now know as the United States. You may recognize a few of the key players: Pocahontas, known as Matoaka (Q'orianka Kilcher). Don’t let the billing of the film fool you, this is her movie. We also have John Smith (Colin Farrell), John Rolfe (Christian Bale), and Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer). The New World is a meditative and spiritual movie despite what the star power may suggest. It instills feeling and introspection. For a place, for the temporal nature of all things, or for whatever might strike you as you watch the rain fall on the sound. It’s in no hurry to tell a traditional story with an arc and clear stakes. Is it an accurate recreation of world history?
Probably Definitely not. One giant red flag when reading the history of Pocahontas is the nature of her death. Highly sus, as they say.
A New World is worth the experience. It is a thoughtful and intensely detail-oriented attempt to recreate a period of history. Rarely do films such as this get funded or made, let alone made as well. Famously, it took a year to edit, resulting in three different cuts becoming available. For this review, I re-watched the “First Cut,” which is 151 minutes and the most commonly available if you look for the film online. If you want to go deeper, as I did, you can find the “Director’s Cut” (172 minutes) and the “Theatrical Cut” (135 minutes) available from Criterion.
For those unfamiliar with director Terrence Malick, he is a legend in more recent cinema history. He famously directed two films now regarded as classics: Badlands (1973) and then Days of Heaven (1978), only to disappear for twenty years. In 1998, he returned to direct The Thin Red Line, one of the most famously sought-after gigs for every ambitious actor working in Hollywood. (Look up who eventually made the cast.) Eight years later, he would direct The New World. Malick is the type of director who will wait 12 hours in the bushes to catch a flock of birds flying in unison in the dying light of day. The score, by James Horner, is minimal and bright. It sounds like something Kubrick would commission on his happiest day.
Scenes depicting action or dialogue are sparse and broken up by striking shots of the virgin land, the way the light interacts with it, and the abundance of beauty. Some of my favorite sound designs in a film: the crescendo at the end combines sight and sound magnificently. It may shake you if you’re not firmly rooted in your relationship with time.
What is the “New World?” I’ve watched two of the cuts of this film, and I’m still not sure I’ve teased out the intent of Malick’s movie or if there’s any specificity even to tease. The new world certainly isn’t what American-Anglo history implies. It is more than what the end of this film suggests. I believe it depicts the transition from peace to progress for progress’s sake. The slow death of peaceful coexistence in favor of worse impulses; to grow a community for growth’s sake, no matter the cost born by those who pay for it. A regular motif in the film is a view of the land via its reflection on the water. Sometimes, it’s a perfect reflection of trees and sky on a still pond. As the film moves forward and it rains or the terrain changes, the water becomes more tumultuous. The ripples change the world as we see and know it.
The New World
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
English and Algonquin
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Happy Native American Heritage day! At the outset of the month, I was in a rut regarding what programming theme to pursue in November. “Should I just do another ‘Noir-vember?’” I asked myself while taking in the slew of sites and writing about “Noir” for this month. Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘Noir-vember’, it just doesn’t feel like the correct month for Noir despite the punny name. It needs to be darker, and bleaker. Maybe January/February would fit, as we’re beginning to lose hope that the days will ever get longer.
Pontificating aside, I went with a theme inspired by The Banshees of Inisherin: Colin Farrell. It’s been fun. No regrets.
Thanks for reading Movie Night. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.