THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick, 2005)
Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD is a nearly plotless version of the Pocahontas story. The British arrive in America to establish a colony, but they quickly discover that the effort will be much tougher than they have anticipated. Running low on supplies, John Smith (Colin Farrell) is sent on a mission to trade with the Native Americans, referred to as “the naturals” in the film. He is captured and prepared for execution when Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) throws herself upon him to spare his life. Their connection and her eventual transition to life with the colonists provide the basis for THE NEW WORLD.
Malick is less a storyteller and more a visual poet. He’s a master at producing magnificent images and creating a lyrical tone with the rhythms of nature. There are few more thrilling moments in last year’s films than the arrival of the English ships scored to a selection from Wagner’s THE RING. Malick’s meditative films are not to everyone’s tastes, and THE NEW WORLD is sure to frustrate those expecting more traditional exposition.
Since Malick tells Pocahontas’ story, it’s fair to interpret the new world as being London and not the virgin lands of America. Indeed, upon arriving on England’s shores, the enormous stone buildings and manicured foliage look foreign in comparison to the untamed landscapes she called home. Emmanuel Lubezki’s sun-dappled cinematography is frequently stunning in how it captures the American wilderness and contrasts with London’s ordered nature and society. Newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher gives a breakthrough performance as Pocahontas. Her transformation from an innocent in Eden to a stranger in a strange land and back again is a remarkable bit of largely nonverbal acting.