The New World
Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer
" …in the beginning all the World was America, and more so than it is now."
- John Locke, Second Treatise on government (1690)
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The New World is an epic adventure set amid the encounter of European and Native American cultures during the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Inspired by the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas, acclaimed filmmaker TERRENCE MALICK transforms this classic story into a sweeping exploration of love, loss and discovery, both a celebration and an elegy of the America that was…and the America that was yet to come.
Against the dramatic and historically rich backdrop of a pristine Eden inhabited by a great native civilization, Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) has set a dramatized tale of two strong-willed characters, a passionate and noble young native woman and an ambitious soldier of fortune who find themselves torn between the undeniable requirements of civic duty and the inescapable demands of the heart.
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In the early years of the 17th century, North America is much as it has been for the previous five thousand years—a vast land of seemingly endless primeval wilderness populated by an intricate network of tribal cultures. Although these nations live in graceful harmony with their environment, their relations with each other are a bit more uneasy. All it will take to upset the balance is an intrusion from the outside.
One is not long in coming.
On a spring day in April of 1607, three diminutive ships bearing 103 men sail into this world from their unimaginably distant home, the island kingdom of England, three thousand miles to the east across a vast ocean. On behalf of their sponsor, the royally chartered Virginia Company, they are seeking to establish a cultural, religious, and economic foothold on the coast of what they regard as the New World.
The lead ship of the tiny flotilla is called the Susan Constant. Shackled below decks in her brig is a rebellious 27-year-old named John Smith (COLIN FARRELL), sentence and destined to be hanged for insubordination as soon as the ship reaches land.
A veteran of countless European wars, Smith is a soldier of fortune…though fortune has often turned its back on him. Still, he is too talented and popular to have his neck stretched by his own people, and so he is freed by Captain Christopher Newport (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) soon after the Susan Constant drops anchor. As Captain Newport knows—and the colonists will soon discover—surviving in this unknown wilderness will require the services of every able-bodied man…particularly one of Smith's abilities.
Though they don't realize it at the time, Newport and his band of British settlers have landed in the midst of a sophisticated Native American empire ruled by the powerful chieftain Powhatan (AUGUST SCHELLENBERG). To the colonists, it may be a new world. But to Powhatan and his people, it is an ancient world—and the only one they have ever known.
The English, strangers in a strange land, struggle from the beginning, unable—or, in some cases, stubbornly unwilling—to fend for themselves. Smith, searching for assistance from the local tribesmen, chances upon a young woman who at first seems to be more woodland sprite than human being. A willful and impetuous young woman whose family and friends affectionately call her "Pocahontas"—or "playful one"—she is the favorite of Powhatan's children. Before long a bond develops between Smith and Pocahontas (Q'ORIANKA KILCHER in her feature starring debut), a bond so powerful that it transcends friendship or even romance—and eventually becomes the basis of one of the most enduring American legends of the past 400 years.
--© New Line Cinema
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Story of Pocahontas and John Smith is a surreal poetic reverie
By ROBERT W. BUTLER
The Kansas City Star
Terrence Malick’s bold, beautiful and maddening “The New World” is no coherent history lesson.
In taking us back to the founding of Jamestown, Va., and the oft-told tale of Pocahontas and Capt. John Smith, Malick jettisons all the familiar clichés, along with most exposition, character development, dialogue and conventional narrative techniques.
What we have here is a dreamy reverie of primordial America, told through the characters’ innermost thoughts and Emmanuel Lubezki’s achingly beautiful cinematography. The pacing is languid. Malick, fascinated by nature images, lingers on them.
(Note: The film opening today in theaters is 16 minutes shorter than the one critics were shown last month. See the accompanying story.)
At times you want to grab the filmmaker and shake him … and then he delivers a moment so sublimely poetic that you forgive all and become lost in the moment.
The film is presented as an encounter between “civilized” and “natural” men. The English settlers who establish Jamestown are hairy, dirty, lazy, rancorous and utterly incapable of surviving on their own.
The natives who cautiously befriend the visitors (before turning on them) are tall, slender and astonishingly graceful. Sometimes they imitate animal behavior, with warriors strutting and preening like male game birds. To communicate they rely on touch as much as language.
The village from which the chief, Powhatan (August Schellenberg), rules is orderly and industrious, while the stockade in which the Englishmen cower is a squalid bed of pestilence.
Keeping the two sides at bay are Smith (Colin Farrell) and Powhatan’s beloved daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), who engage in what appears to be a chaste romance marked by forest frolicking and romantic swims.
Farrell hides behind his bushy beard and gives a one-note performance. But Kilcher, who was just 14 when the film was shot, is extraordinary. Naturally beautiful and filled with coltish energy, her Pocahontas (the name is never spoken aloud in the film) is fascinated by these newcomers and especially the slow-smoldering Smith. This is a terrific performance that teeters between giddy childishness and emotional maturity.
Eventually Smith goes back to England, leaving behind a heartbroken Pocahontas. Thus begins the film’s second act and the girl’s Anglicization. Rejected by her people as a betrayer, she moves in with the settlers, learns their language, adopts their dress, marries Englishman John Rolfe (Christian Bale), has a child and eventually is taken to Britain, where she becomes something of a celebrity.
But even in a corseted dress and pinching shoes, Pocahontas is nature’s child, dancing alone in the stately grandeur of a formal English garden.
Because the Indians and the English don’t speak each other’s language, “The New World” has very little dialogue. Instead Malick gives us streams of whispered narration representing Smith and Pocahontas’ thoughts. For those who saw his last film, the war movie “The Thin Red Line,” this technique will be all too familiar.
There’s evidence that Malick filmed enough to make a much longer movie. Actors such as Christopher Plummer and Ben Chaplin are reduced to walk-on status. We don’t even learn their characters’ names. And nobody explains anything. As events unfold, we’re expected to figure it out.
This is a willfully noncommercial film, a two-hour-plus tone poem on this country’s origins and original sin. As such it is often uplifting and occasionally exasperating. But it’s unlike anything else you’ve seen.
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