The New World

The New World ★★★★

Has there ever been a better pairing of director and subject than Terrence Mallick with the Pocahontas story? It engages with all of his pet themes and motifs, including pretty shots of trees, the violence of men, and the 'taming' of 'wilderness' both for good and ill. It's no surprise, then, that The New World is most successful when it gets out of the way of itself and just lets things breathe. Whenever the plot, such as it is, comes in the film diminishes somewhat as it must necessarily ramp up at least a little in order to satisfy the demands of dialogue or drama. Normally, I'm all for conflict and engaging dialogue but here, even if it isn't executed poorly, it just feels out of place. I found myself bored with the story and much more interested in the down times, the parts where the characters talk over the images (I assume at least partially lifted from actual writings the real-life counterparts composed as the events were happening). Then I could let the words drift in and out of my consciousness as the always beautiful imagery did the heavy lifting. This almost-montage style works best in the opening and closing bits. The beginning introduces us to the people and the world we'll be inhabiting for the next three hours or so by allowing us to see, say, John Smith walk among the tall grasses that we just saw Pocahontas run joyfully through. They share a sense of wonder, but the performances make it clear that the type of wonder they have is very different. Her's is almost offhanded, and his is deep and genuine amazement. It makes perfect sense, then, that they would fall in love. The later plot developments are necessary to follow history, but I rarely felt that they were necessary to these particular versions of the characters. That is, until the end. The arrival in England plays the opening in reverse, as it is now she who marvels at the new world of cobbled streets and curated nature. It goes against everything she has known and her ultimate fate feels more like a disease of the soul than of the body. The New World isn't entirely successful, but when it works, it works about as good as anything can.