Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'World' Turns Slowly (but It Sure Is Pretty)

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'World' Turns Slowly (but It Sure Is Pretty)

Article excerpt

Terrence Malick's "The New World," about Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas and the Jamestown colony, is only his fourth film in 34 years. He's a perfectionist who has never achieved perfection. He spent two years editing "Days of Heaven," for example, and the result was a disjointed procession of pretty pictures. "Badlands," his first and best film, was also his most unified - an imagistic but taut meditation on murder starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as serial killers in love.

His previous film, 1998's "The Thin Red Line," based on the James Jones novel about the battle between American and Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal, demonstrated that Malick could direct startlingly good action sequences when he put his mind to it - which wasn't often. He has always favored ruminative interior monologues to exterior drama.

"The New World" combines both modes. On the surface - and what a picturesque surface it is - Malick is recounting the familiar history-class tale of how Captain Smith, played by Colin Farrell, and his fellow Englishmen arrived in Jamestown in 1607 and proceeded to mix it up with Chief Powhatan and his tribe. The chief's daughter, Pocahontas, played by 14-year-old newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher, gambols in the woods with the captain. They have a quasi- romance that at times seems more Disney than Malick.

But then again, Malick has never stressed romance in his movies - at least not romance between people. His real love affair is with the sights and sounds of nature, which he endows with otherworldly power. Underneath the familiar story in "The New World" lies Malick's true subject - the destruction of paradise.

The idealization of the native American existence in "The New World," precolonization, is a pleasing fantasy but also timeworn and ahistorical. Surely someone as sophisticated as Malick - who once taught philosophy at MIT and was a Rhodes scholar - understands that he is putting forth a fabrication. He gets away with it because we come to accept his vision: The native Americans, along with the English interlopers, are metaphorical creatures playing out their roles in a pageant about the loss of innocence. …

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