Release: 14th December 2020
In this romantic epic starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and beautiful newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher, acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick brings to life the classic true tale of Pocahontas and her relationship with adventurer John Smith set during the turbulent beginnings of America.
What is better than one Terrence Malick movie? Three different versions of the same Terrence Malick movie. And although The New World differs only slightly between its original cut, theatrical cut and extended cut; they are all distinctly different emotional journeys.
Very few filmmakers have a voice and temperament as unique as Malick’s. Renowned for his long gestating productions, his films have a striking spontaneity to them, with The New World possibly feeling the most organic. From the lived-in production design to the ambient nuance of his soundscapes, Malik seems to have such control of his artform that letting go of the material is the only way he can actualise it. It is a style that he perfected further, a full 6 years later, for his next picture Tree of Life. Even the film’s voice overs, something that serve as both plot device and expressive barometer, have a sense of the extemporaneous; truth that has become less about what Malick wants to say and more about how the actors perceive their own journeys within the narrative. This is the narrative and aesthetic embodiment of Meisner filmmaking.
Besieged by a lack of historical integrity, The New World seems unphased by its own lack of accuracy; as with the likes of, say, Netflix’s The Crown, it becomes more about human experiences than bygone truthfulness. Its dreamlike quality gives it the hazy reverberations of spiritual realism. John Smith and Pocahontas may well have never entered into a love affair, or for that matter, have even spent longer than a few passing moments in each other’s company; but this is irrelevant in the face of such a blossoming and ultimately bittersweet tragedy of a love story. Even with the troubling age disparity (Colin Farrell, 28 and Q’orianka Kilcher, 14 at the time of filming), Malick’s potent romanticism and naturalism make this a love story for the ages.
But The New World isn’t just about love. It isn’t even a story about the undoing of a beautiful soul such as that of Pocahontas. What truly sits at the core of all three versions of the film is an unwavering sense of the dispassionate. For all of its beauty, the world of Pocahontas is fragile, sometimes brutal, and heading for extinction. Likewise, for all of its advancements and proposed civility, the world of John Smith is fragile, sometimes brutal, and heading for extinction. Yet Malick fails to pass judgement on anyone in particular. Instead, he weaves the innocence of our female protagonist through these realms in all of their splendour and malice, as the beauty of her spirit enriches all she encounters. The world, it would seem, is sometimes a place where her majesty can be adored, but ultimately a place where the most exotic treasures often end up in cages. The New World for Smith is a bizarre land to be revered. The New World for Pocahontas is a glamorous land to be explored. Those worlds meet, intertwin, and, for a time, share a love. But, ultimately, these moods pass, and indifference arises. Echoes of infatuation may come and go, but dispassion is an ever-growing wedge.
Which is all to say that The New World is more than a stark reminder of Western hubris and man’s ability to destroy the things he loves. It is also about reminding us why we love, and what it means to be loved. Because when indifference hits, it can be a more corrosive power than hate. Stick all that into a film that runs north of 3 hours, and you can see why The New World isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. A meta reality, then, that even the most beautiful things can so easily go unappreciated.
Film Grade: A+
An utterly delicious array of dense behind-the-scenes footage and supplementary materials. Easily one of the most eye-opening is an interview with editor Mark Yoshikawa as he discusses the difference between the three versions of the film.
Special Features Grade: A
There is a hell of a lot to enjoy about this film, and one of them is this gloriously packaged presentation.