Reviews Too Late: The New World

by wjw on January 29, 2013

So I’m just a little late in viewing Terrence Malick’s New World, which came out in 2005.  It was far down in my Netflix queue somewhere, but either Netflix’s computer glitched or every other damn disk wasn’t in the warehouse that day, so here the movie came.  It sat around for months, and then I realized I might as well view it and get it over with.

It should be admitted that am not a member of the Cult of Malick.  I saw his movies, and I thought they were okay, but I didn’t quite understand why he was so universally hailed as a genius.  They were pretty, sure.   But jeez, you’d think he was the second coming of Orson Welles or something, and I didn’t see that.

Well, I still don’t see it.  The New World is beautiful, but I don’t think Malick trusted his own story.  And it’s a great story, it’s about Pocahontas and John Smith and colonialism and the foundation of Virginia and all that, but it’s not really dramatized.  Instead we get scenes of people wandering about and gazing soulfully at the sky, or at lovely meadows, or at each other.  Malick wants to tell his story not through dialogue or drama, but through beautiful visuals, aided by swelling music.  But then the principals tell us what’s going on in their heads in voiceover, which is really the sign that the director was second-guessing his own vision.  Or his actors.

Colin Farrell, fresh from his triumph in Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Petulant, plays— or is told to play—  the intrepid Captain Smith as kind of stunned romantic dreamer, wandering through the forests of Virginia in hopes of finding something like Eden.  (A lot of Malick’s characters are off in search of Eden, even Charlie Starkweather in Badlands.)  Even in the battle scenes Captain Smith shuffles along with an expression of mute, stunned sorrow on his face.  I wouldn’t follow this guy into battle or anywhere else.

Q’orianka Kircher, as Pocahontas, is forced into much the same sort of dreamy, hapless persona, though occasionally she’s allowed to behave naturally.  I get the impression that both she and Farrell could have unleashed more pleasing, lively performances if only they were permitted to do so.

The movie runs nearly two hours, and has maybe half an hour of plot.  The movie keeps repeating itself, telling you the same thing over and over again, just in case you missed it the first or second time.  The rest is very pretty, with a good deal of swelling music and mute, soulful gazing.

Bear in mind of course that it’s Plotboy who’s telling you this.  Plot is what makes me want to keep watching, or keep reading.  Pictures can be pretty, but they’re also static— pictures aren’t about drama, they aren’t about dialog.  They aren’t about motion.  All the voice-over in the world can’t replace a few lines of crackling dialog.

And I don’t respond very well to mute, soulful gazing.  If I ever see someone looking at me like that, I start thinking about taking out a restraining order.

Maybe I should have watched the Disney version instead.

(And now members of the Cult of Malick will turn up to tell me why I’m wrong.)

Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) January 29, 2013 at 3:17 pm

It was far, far too languid for my taste.

Foxessa January 30, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Captain John Smith is an incredible figure, whose adventures and achievements happen to be true, not made up, even though he was a highly effective writer too.l 🙂

Malik missed one opportunity after another to tell a rip-rousing yarn, that could still have included the natural beauty of the New World, the cultural clashes that led to so many tragedies, including the greatest tragedy of destroying one of the most nicely balanced physical world with the needs of humans to survive. I really like John Smith — even though he embodied everything that was going to wrong with the U.S. from the gitgo — starting with the exceptional male figure, a wild individualist, entitled to commit violence, with guns, er muskets or whatever it was they used then, along with their swords and bucklers.

Love, C.

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