Friday, January 27, 2006

The New World

Terrence Mallick makes films that beg to be described in superlatives. Honestly, while his work is love-it-or-leave-it, I really don’t understand that whole leave it camp. What’s there not to like? While Hollywood attacks with a hundred cuts per minute and an incessant flow of pointless dialogue, Mallick does the exact opposite and succeeds every time. It’s the detractors’ loss however as the rest of us will be off trying to pick our jaws up off the floor after seeing his newest opus, The New World in an early front runner for 2006’s film of the year.

First of all, to call this the story of Pocahontas as about as reductive and inexact as you can get. That now disneyfied name isn’t mentioned once in the film and the highly romanticized legend is told in such a way as to completely remove the clichés and from the proceedings. In more concrete terms, instead of getting Troy, Alexander or any other recent Hollywood historical fallacy, we instead get an incredibly understated story of love and discovery which is as much about 2 cultures discovering each other and forever changing each other as it is about a woman. That’s not to say that Q'Orianka Kilcher is anything less than perfect as the Native princess, only that her performance and Mallick’s editing transforms her role from that of a simple person to that of a representation of the greater themes explored, all without making her a crude allegory or metaphor for a specific cause or case.

The best way to describe The New World can instead be summarized by its title itself. The film tells the tale of how the discovery of America and foundation of Jamestown by the British transformed the entire world in ways which are still being felt today. Landscapes are shot in gorgeous detail, mostly on 65MM film and the entire film revels in its sense of the undiscovered. The entire story could have been told as science fiction with Earth discovering a neighboring planet and the core emotional value of the story would have remained. While obviously we must focus on a few characters (Farrell, Kilcher and Bale) and their story works, this is first and foremost a film about exploration and discovery in every sense, both personal and colonial. It’s interesting to compare this film to one of my top10 worst movies of all time (Nouvelle France) in that the best way to shoot the discovery of America was in the least American way possible and while hopefully this puts to rest the recent string of movies on the subject, the second best thing would be for directors to take a long hard look at how it should be done.

I could go on about the visual detail, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, that’d be an awful lot of typing. Suffice to say that somewhere between the mud of Jamestown, the Algonquian forest village and the royal greeting room and gardens of London; you’ll realize that this is one amazing looking film that says as much with its images as it does with its narrative story. In a year where Hollywood has tried to lure me out with a long line of cliché ridden prestige films, it’s nice to know that I can still count on a few surprises to get me into the theaters.

Go see this movie.

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