Ponderous New World Is No Paradise
- 2006 20 Jan
DVD Release Date: May 9, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: January 20, 2006 (wide)
Rating: PG-13 (for intense battle sequences)
Run Time: 135 min.
Director: Terrence Malick
Actors: Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale
A new film from director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) is cause for rejoicing among film buffs, who revere the reclusive filmmaker. His infrequent output only heightens expectations. So it's with great reluctance that this film buff must report that Malick's latest, The New World, generates only mild interest before turning into a tedious bore. It's a crushing disappointment.
Colin Farrell stars as John Smith, a rebellious Englishman aboard the "Susan Constant" - one of three ships that lands in the New World, where survival will prove difficult. Released from pending punishment by Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer), Smith takes on a leadership role among the settlers, seeking out the skeptical natives - or "naturals," as the settlers refer to the Native Americans - for assistance.
But Smith soon becomes captivated by Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), the favorite child of the Native American ruler. Their relationship, depicted through lush visuals and scenes of joy and peace, contrasts with the wretched conditions of the settlers, who turn on Smith and separate him from the woman he loves.
This section of the story comprises the bulk of the film, and it's punctuated with Malick's trademarks: beautiful images of nature; voiceover narration; sparse dialogue; a sense of innocence, long ago lost; and sequences of brutal violence. The material is mostly compelling, with enough highlights to sustain the film through some drawn-out scenes. Farrell is very good in the lead role, and Kilcher is even better.
However, by the time that narrative shifts to the story of John Rolfe, who will marry Pocahontas and bring her to England, Malick's confidence has betrayed him. The poetic style becomes repetitive and meandering. We're given little reason to care about Rolfe, and none of the lush cinematography can compensate for that miscalculation.
Too bad, because from that point on, Christianity - at least in an outward form - takes on a larger role. What Malick wants to communicate through the Christian imagery may be, like much of his other work, open to interpretation, but by that point the film has become arduous, and contemplation is likely to take a back seat to other impulses - including the one to leave the theater.
Malick's reluctance to speak about his intended meaning in his own work makes his films ripe for interpretation and analysis. But The New World is a more taxing film than Malick's earlier work, and if it has a larger point beyond the surface story, it eluded this reviewer, who grew so alienated from the film that he no longer cared about the narrative, the characters, or what drove Malick to tell this story. The sense of disappointment is palpable.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sex/Nudity: Pocahontas gives herself to Smith, but nothing explicit is shown.
- Marriage/Divorce: Pocahontas, believing Smith is dead, marries Rolfe.
- Violence/Crime: Indian warfare with the settlers includes several grisly deaths. Gunfire, cannons are fired
- Religion: Pocahontas prays to "Mother," says Smith seems "a god" to her; Rolfe and Pocahontas have a Christian wedding; Newport speaks of America as Eden; Smith is told he has been indicted by the other settlers, based upon a chapter of Leviticus. Smith echoes Paul in telling the settlers, "Those that will not work shall not eat." Settlers say to Pocahontas, "God be with you." Smith is scourged. Pocahontas is baptized and renamed Rebecca.