The New World

Historical Romance Epic. The story of Pocohantas and her relationship with John Smith, the Western explorer.

This is a very beautiful looking film. Terrence Malick is a cinematic painter of scenes and visions and few words. He has a signature now I guess of existential poetic internal monologue that repeats itself from The Thin Red Line, his previous film. I have a mixed reaction to this film. On the one hand, he handles abstraction and symbol pretty well, such as the final scene of Pocohantas’ death. We see her sick in bed, then the bed is empty, an Indian from her tribe runs out of the house in slow mo, and then we see her playing with the sun in the garden. Very beautiful and evocative. Some powerful images of the forest and nature.

But I have to say, all this abstraction and symbolism becomes too dominant for me and overshadows the story, which made it rather boring to sit through. Could have been 20 minutes shorter. Too may scenes of contemplation and brooding and pondering makes this just too boring. Also, his non-linear, non-contiguous editing did not work for me. As a technique, it was overused. I know fans will say that is its creativity and that I am being just too stuck in my linear narrative approach. I don’t know, I’m pretty open to variety and even non-linearity, if it is done well or appropriately. I just don’t think it worked here.

I have to say that Malick propagates the lie of the “noble savage” in this story. The Indians are portrayed and perceived by Smith as in tune with nature. He calls them “loving and kind. No sense of guile, no jealousy, envy or sense of possession or treachery.” And of course, all the Englishmen are ugly, spitting, treacherous betrayers of one another. Smith justifies fornication with Pocohantas (implied) by saying, “Love, shall we not deny it when it visits us? Shall we not take it when we are given it?” Okay, so what about the “love urges” of child molesters, adulterers and practicers of incest? Shall they not deny those urges when they visit us? While I would not deny the positive elements of all cultures, anyone with any cross cultural experience with third world or uncivilized tribes will tell you, that despite the good elements of their cultures, they are all very acquainted with jealousy, envy, pride and greed. It is pure lunacy to deny the inherited sinful nature of mankind. The Indians were not all evil in their culture, but they were certainly NOT all utopian either. They killed each other from warring tribes over territorial and other pursuits. They had petty jealousies and rivalries within their tribes.

It’s all just too utopian and too boring to ingest. And yet, once again, the transforming experience of Christianity on Pocohantas is virtually ignored by relegating it to a 3 second Baptism shot, which is unexplained and out of context. So, once again, Christianity is written out of history by those who wish to retell the story of history as secular.