'The New World' by Terrence Malick

Long ago, when Disney's Pocahontas first came out (that was 1995, I was only 11), I remembered doing some researches on the history of the indian princess, finding out that her tale's quite tragic, dying only in her early twenties, and marrying a bloke who wasn't John Smith after moving to England.



Of course, the bittersweet ending of the Pocahontas cartoon was rather traumatic for me back when I was a child. After all, who would've expected the main guy and gal actually NOT ending up together in a Disney cartoon? After the great Lion King that came out before this, I remembered not liking Pocahontas that much. (obviously, now that I am more cynical, I appreciated the ending much more)

Then, the straight-to-video Pocahontas 2 came out, it pissed me off because Pocahontas hooked up with some sissy boy called John Rolfe, and not the manly John Smith. It was pushing it, I puked blood, it began my years-long disgust and hatred for straight-to-video Disney sequels (... slightly lessened by Cinderella 2, yes, damn it, despite being a hot-blooded manly man, I actually liked Cinderella 2 over 95% of those other Disney sequels! Probably because it never destroyed my memories of the original... not having a high opinion of it in the first place)

But I digress. However, yes, when a live-action version of the Pocahontas legend was announced, I was less than excited, I thought it would just allow me to visit my angriest childhood memories by seeing Pocahontas being a silly ditz and ditching the studly John Smith for the girly man John Rolfe. Having not seen any Terrence Malick films before (I rectified this by watching my The Thin Red Line DVD last week, sometime after watching The New World), a new film from him didn't seem like a big deal to me. (Terrence Malick fans around the world are now preparing to crucify me)

And Colin Farrell as John Smith? Oh, gee, this means that I might not even end up liking John Smith at all. But Christian Bale as John Rolfe? Oooh, maybe the roles are reverse, after all, how could John Rolfe suck when he's actually Batman?

Then the trailer came out, it looked pretty hardcore, I started getting interested:



One of the first The New World reviews I've ever read was Texan filmmaker David Lowery's. Here's an excerpt from his review:

"... one could also savor The New World in the same way one might a great poem; the precise form and rhythms are noted primarily in that they produce their intended effect. This is a film that can wash over you and work on a sensory level (something which might be inevitable upon an initial viewing). In that sense, intense analyzation might be perceived as theft of the film's grace, its ephemeral qualities"


And then...

"But because there will be more than a few viewers who label the film as 'pretentious' or 'dull' (or, as if it were a pejorative, 'poetic'), such exegesis must be undertaken if one is to justify those qualities as belonging to a work that is, indeed, truly great; and indeed, I believe The New World is a masterpiece."


I would be one of the people who would call The New World poetic AND pretentious, because I'm an uncultured swine with a mind not trained for such works of high art. But I'll dwell into that later.

A major flame war of sorts (or an intense internet debate) exploded when critic Dave Kehr dismissed critic Matt Zoller Seitz's (his blog is a daily read of mine, and his film, Home, which he sent to me via DVD, is absolutely wonderful, Guestblogger Justin could attest to that too! I wish it will be seen by more people around the world!) er... fanboyism of the film. Which made me even more interested.

So I was excited when I finally got the DVD, hoping for a cinematic experience that would change my life and make me weep non-stop in awe (something I almost did when I watched Brazillian film City of God with Justin back in June, until my pretty assistant director walked into the room, reminding me that I was supposed to be editing my short film Vertical Distance)

I started watching, and was bowled over by the sheer artfulness of the film. The cinematography, the languid pacing, the beautiful settings, it was poetry in motion as David Lowery had said! David wasn't bullshitting! And the overwrought inner monologues too, whoohoo! It was like watching a Wong Kar Wai film, or a Makoto Shinkai anime... or playing Final Fantasy 10! Those interior monologues did work for me, despite numerous negative reviews complaining about it (but then, it might have to do with the fact that my own Vertical Distance utilized a similar stylistic device... *gasp* I'm comparing myself to the great Terrence Malick, wtf?)

So yes, despite my initial misgivings, Colin Farrell's (whom I got really tired of during the year he appeared in 8-9 films) John Smith was bearable, and because they wanted to stick closer to historical accuracy, Pocahontas, instead of being a hot sizzling babe, turned out to be a 14-year-old girl (darn) played by Q'Orianka Kilcher, whose performance was simply mindblowing (not so darn) but unfortunately wasn't Oscar-nominated. (the whole relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas was romanticized by modern-day historians, storytellers, and yeah, Disney) And Batman didn't appear until the last 45 minutes of the film.

But mind you, I DID appreciate the film, enjoyed it even, not awed, not bored, it was quite a good thing. I was starting to like it more and more as the film went on, climaxing at the part where Pocahontas, suppressing her tears, asked John Smith 'why didn't you come for me?', and John Smith, suppressing his tears too, said nothing. So subtle, so understated, yet so intense!

"Whoa, that's some intense shit!" I gasped at that scene, late at night, alone in the living room, looking like an idiot.

Unfortunately, for me, it just kinda went downhill from there. I knew not why, but everything that came after that just didn't seem to match the intensity of the scenes leading up to that particular line (not even the one where John Smith got whipped... yuurgh). Perhaps my appreciation for the sheer poetry of a film could only last that long, before I start feeling rather underwhelmed by its inability to continue pushing itself to new levels of insanity that blow me away. (something like, ah, Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream, which just gradually ripped my heart out, or the aforementioned City Of God, which got more and more badass throughout the film, or Shunji Iwai's Love Letter, with that chick shouting 'o genki desu ka!', or 'All About Lily Chou-Chou', where that dude stabbed the other dude with the knife after a concert, or Bill Murray whispering to Scarlett Johansson in 'Lost in Translation', or that awesome school play in ending of 'Rushmore' etc etc.

In conclusion, The New World is a good film. May be too dull and slow for most, but for me, it was good enough to make me bring two other Malick films, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, to Perth with me for ahem, reference. I noticed something though, when the Ben Chaplin character was angsting about his wife, he went through this whole 'love... where does it come from blah blah' interior monologue, it was entirely identical to John Smith's. I will now see whether Richard Gere would have interior monologue'd (yes, I am using 'interior monologue' as a verb) the same thing as well in Days of Heaven.

And the Disney cartoon is still better. Come on, just watch the following deleted scene from the cartoon where John Smith sung 'If I Never Knew You' to Pocahontas whilst he waiting for execution was more than enough to make my eyes well up in tears. (Even though his singing was awful... come on, it was MEL "Jews are responsible for all wars" GIBSON who did the singing. Speaking of Mel, he's supposed to appear in Terrence Malick's next film, Tree of Life.)

Watch and weep.



(via Stereogum)