Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Utopian vision for an Unwanting Spectator.

So last night, I saw the 17-minutes-lighter version of The New World. It will not do well with contemporary audiences who are used to Doom or The Fantastic Four. But I have two exclaimations that sum up my opinion of the film. Wowee! Yum yum! Alongside Tropical Malady, The New World is certainly the most beautiful film of the year. Ever single moment of the film is considered, composed and constructed. Every rippling brook shines with promise and wisdom. Every tree, majestic and hopeful. There are shots that absolutely take your breath away in the way only Film can do. The world is not merely new to the subjects of the film. Malick forces the viewer to experience this (of course, idealistic - this is Malick, afterall) as new and beautifully as the settlers might - those who have never laid eyes on this land. We, too have never seen the world that Malick depicts partly, yes, because Malick's world is oversaturated in innocence and idealistic wonder, but also because it is a world uninterrupted by modernity. When the settlers finished fort is finally shown, the oncoming havoc of this inhabitation becomes grossly evident. Theirs is a city built on utilitarianism, rather than the Natural's city of ideality.

Malick's direction of the film is a subtle mixture of complexity and intuition. His depiction of the colonialization of America is not, as I had feared, a histrionic. Instead, he does focus on the relationship of people in a world of newness, but what is astoundingly fresh about The New World is that its focus rests not merely on the settlers, but on every individual who comes across this idea of "newness." What we have is a character film, bottom line. The development of the original colony of the Americas is only specifically depicted when it benefits the further understanding of the characters involved. And, thankfully, the character with whom we become most invested in the tacit figure of Pocahontas, whose name is never actually stated in the film. We understand her through her depiction in both her original world and contrasted in "the new world." (Of course, which "new world" the title intends is never specified, but instead shifts meanings dozens of times throughout the film.) She expresses herself gesticulating and in voice over. First time actor, Q'Orianka Kilcher is so fantastically expressive that her voice-over, which consists mainly of poetic declarations of love and innocent musings on nature, might seem unnecessary, yet taking into the consideration Sissy Spacek's hauntingly subtle voice-over the runs through Badlands, Kilcher's voice-over exists primarily as a tapestry for the visual abundance of the film. It is like a shaman spell, and as she is indoctrinated into her "new world," her narration becomes more specific, less rooted in nature. Malick relies little on subtitles (thank god!) when the Naturals speak to one another, and our alienation works quite well to feeling of Newness that commands the film.

The New World is filmed from a screenplay penned by Malick in the Seventies, and it shows. It is a film from a time when adult films existed; films that do not cater to the rapid shot MTV style of viewing that contemporary viewers are so familiar with. Malick's is a dense new world never fully taking a good/bad stance, but allowing the viewer to make this decision for himself. In fact, he never asks that the decision be made. This is not a world of "good" and "bad." Of course, the settlers are not glorified, but in their suffering, we do not revel. The film takes on its own life and its trajectory is far different than one might expect. We eventually experience the "old world" which, of course, becomes the "new world," in this context. And the film becomes an Orlando, of sorts, much to our surprise.

The New World finally becomes a heart-breaking film, epitomized by one scene. It's a fast scene which could be easily missed. It's a scene which should not be taken at face value, but Malick, whose metaphors range from whisper-quiet to hit-you-over-the-head throughout the course of the film, presents us with a shattering reality of the situation. Take great care to notice who works the tobacco fields. This is not meant as a literal act, but my god, if this isn't the most heartbreaking thing you have seen in a god long while, then you need to turn off that television.

2 Comments:

Blogger Suzy Farren said...

Wow! I really want to see this film after reading your review and the one in the New York Times. I'll go tomorrow and let you know my reaction, but I'm very excited about the slowness, the beauty and the sort of back-and-forth new world perspectives. I love your last paragraph. Thank you.

3:37 PM  
Blogger neuroglyphix said...

"The settlers are not glorified, but in their suffering, we do not revel."

This is the Malick gift of humanity.

7:50 PM  

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