Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020


Film Review

The New World

(February 20, 2006) Film lovers always seem to be divided about Terrance Malick's films. You either love them or hate them; no in between. His style, especially in his two most recent films, Thin Red Line and The New World, is one of spectacular cinematography of the natural world, with lingering shots of extraordinary beauty, done at very languid pace (or slow, if you don't like his style). Often accompanied by classical music. Here Malick portrays a gorgeous, virgin America, as three small boats sail into a Virginia tidewater in 1607. Astounded Indians look through the trees at the sight. The English, a grim, scurvy looking band, land and begin to build a small settlement inside a stockade. Their interactions with the Indians, whom they call the Naturals, begins well enough, but deteriorates as the settlers resent the Indian habit of taking things like hatchets, which in Indian culture, would belong to all. We know the basics: ultimately Captain John Smith is captured by the Powhatans, saved by Pocahontas, the chief's daughter, who also saves the colony from starvation by bringing them food and teaching them how to grow corn and tobacco. Malick lingers on Smith's gentle captivity in the Indian camp and his growing relationship with Pocahantas. They are portrayed as lovers (historians doubt this), but regardless, Smith returns to the settlement and ultimately leaves to go back to England to lead another expedition, choosing adventure and the prospect of riches over his relationship with Pocahantas.

The second half of the film is much more Pocahontas's story. Crushed by Smith's abandonment, she is renamed Rebecca (perhaps more apt than intended), ultimately marries an Englishman, John Rolfe, and summoned by the King, goes to England with her family for an audience. Pocahontas and a few other Indians discover 17th century England, which is a new world for them. They are awed and fascinated. Malik's portrayal of the audience is wonderful. The King and Queen are delighted, charmed and fascinated by her and the animals that have been brought back. A bald eagle, tethered, strains to fly. And hauntingly, a small mammal, possibly a raccoon, huddles in the corner of his cage, glaring at his captors. Pocahontas stares at the creature, and we wonder if she sees herself in the same circumstance. Malick loves irony, such as when the Indians discover a large wooden cross that the settlers have erected in field, or the scene where Smith is musing about the New World being a place where all men can be free, while several Indians are tied up in his boat.

The acting is uniformly first rate. Q'Orianker Kilcher (Peruvian-Swiss), like a forest spirit, is outstanding as Pocahontas. Colin Farrell plays Capt Smith, and Christian Bale plays John Rolfe, a caring man, who becomes Pocahontas's husband. There is a surprising lack of sex here. Although all historical prints and accounts depict Indian women as bare breasted, they are covered modestly here. Occasionally there is a glimpse of flank, but nothing else, which seems far too restrained given the realism that Malick strives for. Perhaps the producers were thinking of problems with red state distribution. As in many of Malick's films, there is very little dialogue. Instead thoughts are often narrated in a low whisper. This, combined with the often poignant music, gives an otherworldly and strongly elegiac quality to the film. It seems to be a lament for what Malick sees as the beginning of the end of a unspoiled Edenic world. He does tap into the mythology of the Indian as the antithesis of the Old World, peaceful, and in perfect harmony with their environment. The New World is a rich, ambitious film, in every sense, and largely succeeds. It has a beauty and a sweep that I found mesmerizing, and like Capt Smith's recollection of his experiences as a dream, this film too, seemed like a dream. Definitely should be seen on the big screen, but now only playing at the Presidio and the Balboa, and only for a few more days at the Balboa.

Return to the List of Film Reviews


Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com