The New World, Terrence Malick (2005)

In the future, medical science may be able to explain why I found the portentous voice-overs and interminable shots of Malick’s The Thin Red Line annoying, boring, and pretentious, but the portentous voice-overs and interminable shots of The New World hypnotizing, heartbreaking, and gorgeous.

Maybe it’s because this is a love story, and I am a sucker.

Much as I enjoyed this movie—“appreciated” might be more accurate—I’m not without complaints. (When am I ever?) Q’Orianka Kilcher, playing Pocahontas, has been costumed in ridiculous deerskin miniskirts by some kind of Powhatan Versace. The music–Mozart, Wagner, and ersatz each–too often makes the 17th century Virginia wilderness sound like a 19th century London drawing room, or rather Hollywood’s conception of what one would sound like. (In fact, now that I think of it, this movie would work beautifully with no dialogue at all. Just birdsong when in America and church bells when in England. Probably seeing that Claire Denis movie so recently influences me in this thought.)

Most weird and troubling of all is the huge characterological flaw at the center of the whole enterprise. What we’re supposed to love about Pocahontas is her utter naturalness, as evidenced by the leaves in her hair and her impromptu little balletic homages to the sea, wind, sun, etc. But if she’s so frickin’ natural, why doesn’t she turn and run west as fast as she can when she sees John Smith coming with his guns and Bibles and pox? On the contrary, in the end, we see her at an English manor house with her English husband and English kid, gussied up in corset and skirts like Lizzie Bennet tamed by Pemberley. “Now I know where you live, Mother,” she whispers in her special Mysterious Indian Whisper(tm), implying that the new, more natural world for her is “this scepter’d isle.” Ugh.

Still, I cried a lot, because the pictures are so pretty and the story so tragic. Sucker!

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