The New World ★★★★★

"What else is life but being near you?"

One of those times where you think "Damn it, why didn't I bring my notebook." So here's some discarded thoughts. This was my first Malick back in 2005 and it struck me back then as it strikes me now as monumental, much more than the visually ambitious but not as philosophically ambitious Tree of Life. Something of magisterial power being worked out here—a film that almost attempts to recognize the infinite ("There is no unreal," Smith tells us). It's also the film that I think best typifies what people think about when they think about Malick—The Thin Red Line is very much still a war picture with Malick's sensibilities, while this has almost no precedent whatsoever that I could really qualify. Second half is oddly similar to To The Wonder: Pocahontas is confronted with a modern world she cannot assimilate to—her heart is struck in the past of her Eden with Smith (a space that is never exactly qualified in relation to either the settlement nor her tribe's main camp, as if it is an unknown Promise Land that only works as a dream land). Kilcher is perhaps the strongest actor Malick has ever worked with: her movements are emotions, her twirls and arms an extension of the world around her, and seeing her move in a corset brought me to tears, as she is forced to lose her defining attribute. Much to say in the film about the nature of language and gestures: the name of "Rebecca," "I'm married to him" "I don't understand," the exchange of languages early in the film, all of which connect the way that the English are all about defining borders where there are none (the film opens and closes during its credits with literal maps being drawn). Realizing now, according to Keith Uhlich's piece, that I have only seen this 135 minute version. Will visit those other cuts some other day, but there's a majesty in this one. To think I saw this in a multiplex in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota, makes me long for more films to transgress like that (I guess we have Spring Breakers? No thanks).

Also proposed: All of Malick's films are about exiles (self or otherwise) searching for a Promised Land; one they may have already lost and now long for (Penn's memories of a nostalgic American past in Tree of Life), or one they search for but realize will always lose its eternal present (tree house in Badlands, the plains of Days of Heaven and To The Wonder.

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