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Thread: Terence Malick: The New World

  1. #1
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    Terence Malick: The New World

    Terrence Malick: The New World

    Into thin air

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Terrence Malick’s The New World is a strange mixture of mud and poetry. The writer-director scores with the beginning and end, both in silence (with crickets). Often as it’s been done, there’s never been a ship-arriving-to-shore-aswarm-with-natives sequence that has had quite this hushed magic and real-ness. We look over the naked shoulders of the “naturals,” as the Anglos interestingly denominate them, while they in turn look out with awe and excitement at the boats on the water. Ah if we could only cherish the terrible immanence of this historical moment – the 1607 arrival of what’s to become “the first permanent English settlement in America” -- for two hours and a half. But of course that wouldn’t work. Though the movie has longeurs, they're not that extreme. If we can see past the mannerisms, Malick is the man to take us to the new world. The moods he creates are incomprehensible enough to be “real.” But he doesn’t know quite what to do with us once he’s got us there. Despite much good atmosphere and ravishing images, what follows the magical opening turns out to be disappointingly flimsy and mundane.

    Malick is a strange mixture himself, a Hollywood heavy who’s made hardly any movies, and an art film pretender who increasingly uses standard matinee idol types. With Christopher Plummer and David Thewlis and veteran Native American actors like Wes Studi and August Schellenberg (Powhatan) to back them up and the appealing Pacific Islander-looking newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher (who's actually half Swiss and half Peruvian Indian) as Pocahontas, we’re given Colin Farrell and Christian Bale. And that’s who we have to look at and believe they’re Captain John Smith and John Rolfe, respectively. It’s debatable if any sense of historical authenticity can survive all the great big close-ups we get of Farrell’s and Bale’s soulful and sweet faces, respectively. The magic is broken. You just know you’re watching a movie.

    So the ships arrive, Christopher Plummer as Captain Christopher Newport in charge, Captain John Smith (Farrell) brought along in chains for insubordination, then released benevolently by Newport to have a chance at a new start in the new land. When Newport later leaves, Smith takes over.

    In these early scenes we already get glimpses of Pocahantas, and it isn’t long before she and Captain John Smith meet and fall in love. In the movie, what historians say was really more like a father-daughter relationship (the princess was only twelve, not even Q’Orianka’s age, fourteen) is thrown back to the myth of a romance, and a lot of screen time is devoted to mooning at each other and rubbing noses between Q’Orianka and Colin, who uses a full-on Irish accent here, which isn’t necessarily so inauthentic: the way the English used to talk sounded like Irish, only none of the other Englishmen talk that way, being English. Anyway the great love grows, platonically.

    After getting kidnapped on a mission to find the local king, Smith has been growing fat and fit among the “naturals” and, it turns out, teaching Pocahontas to speak perfect English (but without the Irish accent), when he goes back to the colony and discovers that they’re starving. He returns to a vicious slum, and a knot of Dickensian boys talking over each other fearfully and saying strange things, apparently crazed by hunger. Captain Wingfield (Thewlis) has taken over and rules despotically; but he’s quickly deposed and Smith put in charge.

    The Indian males are all fierce iron men in war paint at all times, so you wonder why Smith's hushed voiceovers go on about how peaceful and free and without guile or anger or suspicion they turn out to be, once you get to know them. Maybe teaching Pocahontas English has kept Smith from learning enough of the Indians’ language to know what they're talking about – who knows? Malick cares about poetry, not logic. We know from a subtitled speech that King Powhatan suspects the white men are going to stay and multiply and sees this as a terrible threat he must deal with. But Smith remains, as depicted here, a believer in the noble savage -- just as he is a believer in the “New Land's” leading to equality and plenty and justice for all settlers.

    The voiceovers are a Malick mannerism already familiar from The Thin Red Line. Occasionally they reveal where the action onscreen is tending, but mostly they pose general questions about life and love worthy of some teenager’s diary, and they often risk sounding fatuous. They also may confuse the average viewer, since they’re not conventional narration but go off on their own tangents at the most unexpected moments. This unpredictablity is what appeals about Malick’s filmmaking, but also what’s maddening about it sometimes. Using many such voiceover voices might have helped achieve the failed promise of a portrait of the whole “New World” experience, the fate of the colony and the colonists, but that of course would be even more confusing for the average viewer. It is, in The Thin Red Line, where several voices are so similar you lose track of who's talking.

    Eventually anyway we realize this is just a love story. It’s not so much an epic one as a failed one: Pocahontas is robbed of Smith and has to settle for marrying the well-meaning and trustworthy tobacco grower, John Rolfe (Bale). It’s a simple story, though with extreme cross-cultural aspects, including Pocahontas’ successful trip to meet the king and queen of England, where she sees Smith again, and hears his regrets over abandoning her. Maybe he found his Indies and passed by them, he says. It’s a nice moment, amid the rich formal garden of some noble English estate. And the last sequence narrated by Rolfe has some quick cuts that are quite thrilling. Malick can thrill you, but when it comes to telling a story he can seriously let you down. The mud and poetry is an ethereal mix this time, and it all seems to vanish into the English air.

  2. #2
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    Few filmmakers are as reverred and anticipated as Terence Mallick. His films are extremely few and far between, and any time we hear of him emerging from self imposed exile cinephiles patiently wait, and instantly get disappointed with his newest film. Many people passionately hated the Thin Red Line, but just as many cherished it. The same is most likely going to be the case with The New World. Like all of Mallick's other films, this one is a historical picture, only this is the first time he has gone more than a century behind. So it is new territory for him, but you would hardly know it from watching this film. It is just as controlled and thought out as The Thin Red Line, with the same degree of beauty observed and cherished. The acting is strong as usual, and like his other films, this is one that probably won't be best understood on a single viewing. Let it sink in, and watch it again. Mallick is planning a near three hour cut for an extended DVD, so lets see what is gained/lost when that time comes. For now I'll say I was glad that Mallick didn't wait another 20 years to grace us with another picture.

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    THE NEW WORLD (USA, 2005)

    The New World tells the story of Pocahontas and her relationships with two Englishmen, the adventurer John Smith and the aristocratic John Rolfe. Most viewers have some familiarity with the story through a multiplicity of sources, including film adaptations. Terrence Malick's film, based on a script he completed in the 1970s, encourages the viewer to approach the story from a fresh angle, to wipe the slate clean of former associations. Fifteen year old Q'orianka Kilcher plays Pocanhontas with astonishing grace, but the name is rarely, if ever, uttered throughout the movie. The New World focuses on the perceptions of one highly intuitive and inquisitive "natural" (as the natives are called here) and those of Smith, her "civilized" match. The film is particularly concerned with how they regard the "alien other", both in the form of individuals with vastly different cultural baggage and the environments that spawned them.

    As an admirer of Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, I was very excited at the prospect of experiencing Malick's new film. I use the word experience deliberately. Since Days of Heaven, it's become obvious that Malick doesn't merely story-tells. His sounds and images attempt to provide a primal sensory experience to the viewer. His characters' inner monologues provide the discourse, as befits Malick's background in philosophy. The content of this discourse is very interesting_meditations on the nature of conquest and the conquest of nature, and the utopian new society that could potentially evolve from cultural synthesis and accomodation. Yet what is fascinating to me is the independence between text and image in Malick's films, the way he is inspired by silent film traditions unfamiliar to his contemporaries, or ignored by them. Malick thus allows his images to register with primordial power, with the voice overs being almost as detached from the visual content as intertitles from silent film images. He seems to submit to the 1928 manifesto by Eisenstein and Pudovkin, which argued that: "The first experimental work with sound must me directed along the lines of nonsynchronization with the visual images". This approach achieved maximum expression in the 3-hour The Thin Red Line. The new film is significantly shorter, how much so depends on which of the two cuts of the film you watch. The 150 minute cut originally released in NYC and Los Angeles has been replaced by the director with a cut that is 17 minutes shorter. I watched the shorter edition of the film and look forward to the possibility of viewing longer or "extended" cuts. Given the type of film it is though, much will be lost when viewing it at home, even in large home screens.

    I believe one's appreciation of The New World is partly dependent on whether one's concept of moviegoing allows for elements extraneous to narrative. Those accustomed to movies that simply string together plot-relevant events might find even the shorter cut to be "slow". But there is a narrative, a story involving rather remarkable characters. One that manages to avoid the banality of period adventure and romance tales to concentrate on milieu, athmosphere, and character. What makes Pocahontas and Smith special is their willingness to confront "otherness" through immersion, their willingness to forgo the security of a fixed identity and affiliation in order to try to understand it. Their courage to sacrifice is matched by Rolfe, introduced midway as the man who marries Pocahontas when Smith was assumed dead. His willingness to grant her freedom when Smith reappears is perhaps the most moving passage. As a whole, The New World strikes a perfect balance between story, characterization, atmospherics, and discourse. It satiates the eye, the heart and the mind.

  4. #4
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    Come, Spirit

    Malick will get me into a theatre anytime.
    This was pure poetry from a master filmmaker.


    It's shot after shot after shot of sublimity.

    I watched this film in complete awe of the cinematography.
    Malick has many many shots (often only just mere-seconds edits), that build and build to give you a powerful look at a new world indeed.

    There's some six degrees of separation for me on this film:

    Raoul Trujillo is one of the "naturals", and he played the King in an Edmonton theatre stage production of "The King and I"- when I saw his name I thought "whatever part he's playing, it's gonna be awesome". And it was.
    (I used to do backstage security at the Citadel theatre, and Raoul's dressing room always had exotic incense emanating from it- it didn't surprise me in the least that he is now on celluloid with a Mastercraftsman- Raoul was one of the most interesting people I've ever met).

    Anyway, this film is a love story that reminded me of everything from "Last Year at Marienbad" to "the Land of the War Canoes" to "Cutthroat Island".

    Cinephiles, this is your film.


    The sound, good god, the Sound!

    Cannons, the grass, the trees, the water, the birds (did you guys catch that bird in the last shot?), fire, the naturals' war cries, rifles, everything was glorious sound-wise.

    This film was alive for me.

    Colin Farrell is interesting. He's obviously being DIRECTED here, and I have a lot of respect for him. This guy could easily spiral out of control and turn into a Hollywood casualty, but his agent is putting his ass in some serious movies. He can be real proud of this film, just as he can be real proud of Alexander.

    Watching him, I felt he was seasoned, a survivor of an Oliver Stone campaign. And I wondered what was going though his head in the scene where his peeps say he should be the Leader.
    As far as I'm concerned Farrell knows a thing or two about leadership, through roles he's played and directors he's worked with.

    Christian Bale came late in the movie, but what an intriguing character: he's playing second fiddle to a guy who's supposed to be dead and his marriage gets some serious tests.
    I love the line he says to Pocahontas when she says she's still married to John. " You don't know the meaning of the word".


    And Pocahontas.

    I have nothing to say.
    I was in love with that character and I'm in love with this movie.
    Her eyes!
    Her hair!
    Her spirit! Indeed. her SPIRIT.

    Your heart swells when you see her dance...


    Chris Plummer is right at home in The New World.
    The costumes are incredible, the ships are incredible, the scenery is blindingly beautiful and Malick is nothing short of a genius.

    I feel extremely priviledged to have seen this.
    I'll see it again before it leaves theatres.

    With Stanley Kubrick no longer with us, this is as close to God as we can get.
    Last edited by Johann; 06-21-2006 at 02:18 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  5. #5
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    Beyond beautiful

    THE NEW WORLD

    Directed by Terrence Malick (2005)

    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -that is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know" - John Keats


    With the newest Terrence Malick film, The New World, one looks for words that express a quality beyond beautiful, but there is no language. It is a work of stunning cinematic poetry whose appreciation, I believe, will grow with the passage of time, though it may never appeal to a wide audience. I came away from watching The New World with a feeling of having traveled back in time to a land of pristine beauty where the vigorous dream of establishing a sane civilization was still alive, if only for a brief moment. Malick attempts a retelling of that dream, specifically the vision of Pocahontas, the Indian princess, daughter of Algonquian Chief Powhatan, who imagined a country where both Europeans and Natives could live together without bloodshed.

    While actual events may have been somewhat different, Malick takes the story at face value, enhancing it only with voiceovers that allow us to enter the minds of the characters and feel what they are feeling. The film opens with the arrival of three English ships docking on the James River in Virginia in 1607 to the music of Wagner's Das Rheingold. It then describes the early days of the settlers, their near starvation, the clashes with the Indians, and the relationship between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell), a rebellious English explorer awaiting execution for insubordination. When the Indians capture Smith during an expedition to seek trading partners, he is threatened with death until Pocahontas saves him from execution by cradling his head in her lap and laying her head on his shoulders.

    The Captain and Pocahontas become friends but the true nature of their relationship is clouded in myth and allegory. In the film, however, the Captain and his Indian princess express a love so intense that it suggests a state of grace. As Smith is drawn under her spell, he thinks about abandoning his life, to "start over.... exchange this false life for a true one.... give up the name of Smith." But the thought is fleeting. After Pocahontas warns the Captain of an impending raid by her villagers, her father sends her into exile. The settlers take her hostage, however, convert her to Christianity (not shown in the film), and dress her in frumpy English attire, but she is content just being close to the man she loves.

    Smith leaves Pocahontas, however, to explore the Canadian North for a trade route to the Indies, instructing a friend to tell her after two months that he died at sea. His betrayal and their doomed love affair serve as a metaphor for the failure of the Natives and the Europeans to live together in harmony. The spark in Pocahontas' life flickers but when a new settler, tobacco farmer John Rolfe (Christian Bale), arrives, he falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. She must now decide whether to follow her head and marry Rolfe or her heart, holding out for the return of Captain Smith. Her resolution of this dilemma takes her to England where the process of discovery takes on a new meaning.

    The role of Pocahontas is played by fourteen-year old Q'orianka Kilcher in a powerful and brilliant performance that never strikes a false note. While the director has excised most of the dialogue, little is required to convey the depth of feeling written on her soulful face or on the faces of Smith and Rolfe. Whoever Pocahontas really was, Malick depicts her as a spiritual force and the film achieves transcendence through her vision. The New World is a meditation on love and loss, innocence and betrayal, and the limitations of a society based on material progress.

    It is also a lament for the civilization that might have been: a multi-ethnic society rich in spirituality and closeness to nature, inhabited by people with a sense of community, devoid of fear. For the English explorers, the landing at Jamestown and the colonizing of Virginia was a triumph. For Native Americans, it was the beginning of a tragedy that lasted for centuries and continues to the present day. Though The New World is a masterful film and thoroughly enchanting, our knowledge of what is to come leaves a lingering sadness.

    GRADE: A
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  6. #6
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    I also believe that appreciation of The New World "will grow with the passage of time". Actually I'd say that's been true of everyone of his films. That leaves my friend Chris Knipp as provider of the sole dissenting opinion ("what follows the magical opening turns out to be disappointingly flimsy and mundane") among the five posted here. Vive la difference!

  7. #7
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    Originally posted by oscar jubis
    I also believe that appreciation of The New World "will grow with the passage of time". Actually I'd say that's been true of everyone of his films. That leaves my friend Chris Knipp as provider of the sole dissenting opinion ("what follows the magical opening turns out to be disappointingly flimsy and mundane") among the five posted here. Vive la difference!
    Well it's definitely my kind of film but as I said, it probably won't appeal to everyone.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    Re: Come, Spirit

    Originally posted by Johann
    [B]Malick will get me into a theatre anytime.
    This was pure poetry from a master filmmaker.
    I love your heartfelt reviews. The only thing that didn't work for me was the use of Mozart's 23rd Concerto. It is a romantic piece that didn't feel as if it belonged. I would have much preferred some native Indian music.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    I am not the lone dissenting voice in the world, nor am I someone who didn't "like" the film. I simply wrote a critical review of it, assessing its successes and failures, not an appreciation or eulogy. I'm glad Howard enjoys and loves The New World so much. I have a lot of time for Malick, in fact I'll bet i was the first one out to see the film, the first hour in the theater where it first opened to the public in New York. I didn't wait six months to see it. And it is beautiful. But by the end of it, a lot of its goals have not been achieved, even though the last few moments are magical. I don't want us to quote critics back and forth at each other, but as you probably know, there are critics who found shortcomings in it (its Metacritic rating is an average 69 with Dargis and Hoberman and Rosenbaum moving down the line from 80 down through 60 to 50), as well as some, like the eccentric Armond White of the New York Press, who called it a masterpiece. and would score it off the charts. I'm not a lone dissenting voice, but somewhere in the middle, just a little below Dargis.. Three or four is a too random sample. But I would not like to spoil it for anybody, so I'm not going to go over my ciriticisms or expand on them here..
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-15-2006 at 09:51 PM.

  10. #10
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    I enjoy keeping track of opinions on certain films among our small FilmLeaf community. Obviously five opinions are a small sample. I was alone in thinking Woody Allen's latest is no return-to-form until Howard posted his review today.

    Certainly, a number of critics didn't like Malick's latest. I was surprised to read this from Rosenbaum: "His (Malick's) storytelling skill has atrophied since Badlands (1973)" because he loved The Thin Red Line (second in his Best of 1999 list). He also wrote, referring to The New World: "I couldn't find my bearings" which is indicative of his characteristic honesty, a rare quality. I admire him for it.

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    I admire myself for it too. I admire everybody for it. If they have it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oscar jubis View Post
    As an admirer of Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, I was very excited at the prospect of experiencing Malick's THE NEW WORLD. I use the word experience deliberately. Since Days of Heaven, it's become obvious that Malick doesn't merely story-tells. His sounds and images attempt to provide a primal sensory experience to the viewer. His characters' inner monologues provide the discourse, as befits Malick's background in philosophy. The content of this discourse is very interesting_meditations on the nature of conquest and the conquest of nature, and the utopian new society that could potentially evolve from cultural synthesis and accomodation. Yet what is fascinating to me is the independence between text and image in Malick's films, the way he is inspired by silent film traditions unfamiliar to his contemporaries, or ignored by them. Malick thus allows his images to register with primordial power, with the voice overs being almost as detached from the visual content as intertitles from silent film images. He seems to submit to the 1928 manifesto by Eisenstein and Pudovkin, which argued that: "The first experimental work with sound must me directed along the lines of nonsynchronization with the visual images". This approach achieved maximum expression in the 3-hour The Thin Red Line. The new film is significantly shorter, how much so depends on which of the two cuts of the film you watch. The 150 minute cut originally released in NYC and Los Angeles has been replaced by the director with a cut that is 17 minutes shorter. I watched the shorter edition of the film and look forward to the possibility of viewing longer or "extended" cuts. Given the type of film it is though, much will be lost when viewing it at home, even in large home screens.
    A dozen years later, I report having watched what has been labeled "the extended cut" of the film in a 4k restoration supervised by Malick and DP Lubezki. It's a glorious film in any of three available versions but the extended one (still under 3 hours) looks absolutely stunning. The Criterion edition is, of course, the one to watch. Cahiers listed THE NEW WORLD AS ONE OF THE TOP 10 FILMS OF THE MILLENIUM and this has become more of a certainty the more I get to know it and understand it.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 04-14-2018 at 10:06 PM.

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