Brave New ‘World’
by Scott Mantz

“The New World”
Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher
Directed by Terrence Malick

To explore strange new worlds! Colin Farrell is Captain John Smith in “The New World”

For a director who’s made only 4 movies in the last 32 years, Terrence Malick sure has a devoted following.  Then again, if your body of work included visionary classics like 1973’s “Badlands,” 1978’s “Days of Heaven,” 1998’s “The Thin Red Line” and now “The New World,” you’d have a devoted following too.

That’s because for better or worse, there’s no one quite like him.  Where his peers from the 70’s have either moved on to more commercial fare (George Lucas), exhausted their creativity (Francis Ford Coppola) or continued to redefine themselves (Steven Spielberg), the reclusive, press-shy Malick takes his sweet time making the deep, profound movies that he wants to make.

And he sticks to a formula that hasn’t changed much since 1973, which is why he’s something of an acquired taste.  Diehard film buffs are quick to praise his majestic, poetic approach to visual storytelling, while others will argue that his films are pretentious, slow-moving and just plain boring.

The former will no doubt embrace “The New World” as an epic, tragic love story about the loss of innocence that followed the English colonization (or invasion?) of Virginia in 1607.  Despite establishing the settlement of Jamestown, they were ill prepared to deal with the harsh environment and were soon faced with starvation.  Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) is sent up river on a food-gathering mission, but he and his men are ambushed by the native Powhatan tribe.

Smith is allowed to live, thanks to the interference of the Chief’s young daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), who spends the next few months teaching him the customs of her people.  Smith eventually returns to Jamestown, but when Pocahontas warns him of an impending attack by her tribe, the betrayed Chief banishes her to live with the English.  As a result, life for Pocahontas, and everyone else in the New World, will never be the same.

The theme of paradise lost has always been prevalent in Malick’s films, but never more so than in “The New World.”  When the natives first see the tall English ships sailing towards them, their wondrous reaction is undermined by an impending sense of dread when you consider their eventual fate.

But the fate of Pocahontas is even more tragic, simply because it’s more personal.  Where she was once favored by her tribe and dressed in a comfortable garb that allowed the winds to caress her skin, she is soon banished to live among the strangers, where she is covered head-to-toe in a layered, confined outfit that smothers her spirit.

Those who know what to expect from Malick will certainly find plenty of his signature moments here – specifically, lots of poetic narration and numerous shots of flowing water, bristling grass and the sun shining through the trees.  But that earthbound beauty is offset by the gloomy, grimy, muddy living conditions that the English settlers are forced to cope with, which is a stark contrast to the more idealistic conditions that were depicted in American History classes.

Hollywood bad boy Colin Farrell may get top billing, but it’s Q’Orianka Kilcher’s movie all the way.  Making her acting debut, Kilcher, who was only 14-years-old when the film was shot, makes a very convincing, tragic journey from innocent child to lost soul.  Farrell is also effective as Captain John Smith, as is Christian Bale, who plays tobacco grower John Rolfe, who eventually marries Pocahontas (later re-named Rebecca by the English) and takes her to England.

But when it comes to Malick’s movies, the performances take a back seat to the lush, mesmerizing canvas that he paints.  The pacing may be slow at times, but it sets a mood that more patient moviegoers will be able to appreciate.  In turn, they will be rewarded with an unforgettable cinematic experience that will stay with them for days.  And since it may be another few years before Malick directs another film, I suggest that those moviegoers take what they can get.