the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Friday, May 05, 2006

The New World

For the past year or so, I have been writing film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

I wept the first time I saw The New World. I wept the second time as well. And I wept when watching this DVD.

This film speaks to me as few films can. It manages to push its way past all of my barriers and lodge in a heart that is more receptive to its messages than I ever dreamed. So rapturous is its beauty, so lyrical is its direction, so convincing is its recreation of time and place, that each time I’ve watched it I’ve cursed my century and my unfortunate placement in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attaching any sort of romantic fixation to the past, but this film, more than any other I have ever seen, makes me question the benefits of our advanced time. Are we truly better off for all our technology? Sure, we live longer, communicate better, explore the heavens and earth like never before, but have we traded something of ourselves and our place in nature for this life of ease? Have we lost our souls in exchange for comfort? I left the theater enraged that the idyllic stillness this film so masterfully evokes must be broken by the sounds of car engines, cell phones, and radios. And the rage always turned to tears.

Terrance Malick is a director on the endangered species list. His celluloid visions—long, introspective, deliberate, visually indulgent—are rarely seen anymore (least of all from him—The New World is only his 4th film in 32 years!). Their scarcity only makes them that much more precious.

The New World is a masterpiece. It tells the familiar story of Pocahontas (played by 14-year-old newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher) and her people’s first encounters with the Europeans who will colonize America. It imagines their first meetings and how strange they must have seemed to each other. As the great ships sail upriver, American history sails with them. This is Pocahontas’ story, though we are also allowed inside the heads of the two men who love her—one as an ideal and the other as a person.

There are two new worlds in this film—the one the English discover and the one Pocahontas discovers as she is grafted into English society and eventually travels as far as London.

Much is gained in the exchange. Much, much more is lost.

The New World is a thing of wild beauty, untamed and feral yet luxurious, sumptuous and lavish all at the same time. As with all Malick films, nature is the lead actor and the one most lovingly and longingly shot. It is the most artfully sculpted film in American cinema in years. It is an elemental tone poem composed not of words but light, wind, water, sound and fire. Malick creates a vast sensory universe so dreamily paced there's always time to breathe, react and admire. This is not a historical reproduction—we, like the characters, are seeing and living history for the first time. And it is mesmerizing, breathtaking, sweeping, radiant—a masterpiece of utter transport in every conceivable way.

To read the full review, click here.


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