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THE NEW WORLD   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Wednesday, 15 February 2006
Where Heaven and Earth meet ... is the New World.

From reclusive director Terence Malik in only his second film in 25 years (after 1998's The Thin Red Line) comes a film unlike any other. A film about the New World , when English colony ships landed in the Americas in the 17th Century and slowly began to take the lands of the 'Indian' tribes that lived there; A film about conquest and betrayal and empire and dominance.

Numerous plot threads come in and out of the story, the first being that the story of Captain Smith (Colin Farrell), and the township the settlers make  in the midst of the so called 'savage' natives. In order to do so, Smith is offered to  chance to redeem himself after insurrection on the voyage to the New World by trading with the savages; but is captured by them, spared from death and starts to live with the native community, where slowly and surely  a romance develops between himself and the kings daughter Pochahontas. (Yes, that Pochahontas), which is where the 2nd plot thread comes in. However, Smith returns to the township, and when more English Settlers land, Pochahontas is exiled for the crime of helping the people from across the ocean. And then slowly the conquest of the New World begins…and that's even before we meet Christian Bale,  playing a widowed Captain.

In every sense possible, The New World is a film from a different time. Gone are the current fetishes for jump cuts and hyperkinetic editing; instead we have impossibly long shots of natural beauty, the unspoiled land that man will conquer and devour, of the natural wonders that gorw around that we all too convieniently ignore every day, as if The New World is the old world of nature around us that we ignore every single day. Beautifully slow, elegiac and measured, slow yet impossible to imagine being told any other way, the New World is a compelling, multilayered, subtextual story not just about the characters, but of their relationship with nature, and how they differ between the conquering plunderers of the west and the tribes that live in a peace that is 'savage' to us because we do not understand it.  

On one side, there's the English settlers and their imperial ambitions to strip the New World of every last resource, digging for gold while they die of malnutrition, drunk with an arrogance only those who believe it is their god given right to take for themselves the lands others have lived on in peace for thousands of years. On the other, the Natives, with their strange cultures but living in perfect harmony with nature; perhaps its strange to see the original inhabitants of America presented as something other than cartoon cutout 'injuns' who want nothing more than to slaughter the white man; they don't. They just want their way of life too, but the white man has the hubris of a people convinced they are right because God told them so… and the superior firepower to bulldoze everyone else into submission. Does this sound familiar?

Quite simply, The New World is unlike anything else you've ever seen. A measured work from a genius of cinema, it's unsurprising that The New World died a box-office death. Not enough car chases and explosions, I guess.   But it's not about that. Its about the New World - be it the America which is the New World to the European settlers, be it the American natives who are pushed out of their lands by these people from the New World to the east, be it the New World of nature and beauty around us we often ignore, a world which has gone on around us long before Christ; be it a new world of cinema (pretentious, moi?) where something matters other than box office and  CGI effects. And this looks totally unlike anything else you've ever seen - a land of lush landscapes, beautiful colours, and a totally convincing recreation of a world without tarmac roads. Bizarre as that sounds, there's nothing artificial looking here.

In a world where multi-channels of DTS audio bombard the viewer with ear-deafening explosions and paroxysms of CGI enhanced action sequences, Malik brings us a new world - one of silences and the beauty of the world around us, a world mankind is slowly but surely destroying forever. In a world where everything is now, Malik brings us a perspective we rarely see; that everything is forever.  It’s a gentle but beautiful work of art , where seemingly every shot could be hung in an art gallery.  But given that everything forever changed when the two cultures meet, and we see how the world is changed by that greed and lust for material glory, what ultimately matters is none of that, what matters is the world around us and who we care for.

And in that aspect, The New World is a truly eye opening film. Too long and too unhurried for most, with far too much depth and subtlety for its own good  in a world of  FX-driven shockbusters with CGI leather clad vampiric vixens and machine guns and car chases, this is a film that will live long beyond box office returns and no.1 spots in the chart; let us not forget, that nobody remembers Uncle Buck, but everyone remembers The Abyss. And which one of those two was No.1 at the box office on its week of release?  And which one of those twodo people remember now? That's exactly my point.

You'll either love or hate it, and there's no in-between - but The New World is nothing less than the work of a master; a work of cinema in an age of movies and CGI assisted car chases. This is lucid cinema in an age of lurid movies;  Beautiful, moving, unhurried and  touching….. it might even be the best film of the year, that is if anyone went to see it. 

The New World is nothing short of a majestic classic, and a brilliant piece of cinema. Unmissable.


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