The New World
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer
Fairy tales are the ultimate sense of wonder and escapism for our society. With an entire culture fixated on Disney classics, princesses who fall in love with soldiers, forbidden love and foreign romances which are really more Americanized than we think, it is difficult to place realism and authenticity into the mix.
Stories of enchantment often require singing, colors, happy endings and no subtitles to satisfy our desires for fantasy. It is pathetic in a way. Our culture could not be content with a fairy tale didn’t have these elements; otherwise we strip it from the fairy tale genre. Sure the words fairy tale mean magic, fabled or legendary, but must swooning love stories be doused in Hollywood conventions, Americanization, modernization or artistic eye-candy to make it romantic?
In Terrence Malick’s retelling of the classic Pocahontas story, he explores just that concept. Putting realism and authenticity into a classic fairy tale, he experiments with cinematic devices to convey something more raw, something more tangible and something more real.
It is a bold move really, taking a beloved Disney piece and one that’s been done time and time over in films like Avatar or Dances With Wolves that dramatize it and dress it up for mass appeal and breaking it down in search of an actual story. With all that dead and gone is the romance still alive?
Yes and no. As far as the film is concerned stylistically, it works. The cinematography choices work brilliantly towards that, which is probably why the film scored an Oscar nomination in that category. With jump cuts, tracking shots, slow moving pans and clever camera work all around to make it appear as if the audience were in the scene, Malick does his part to make it as authentic as possible. Add in the choice of shooting 65 mm (something hardly ever done), using on-location shoots and minimal VFX, creating authentic make-up and costumes and even so much as using the original indigenous language and historic seeds of tobacco and corn plants. Rarely has cinema ever looked any more in the place and time as that.
All of the actors play their part with admiral believability. Nobody stands out too much, though Christian Bale seems completely out of place in such a small role after having hit it big as Batman a few months earlier than this. Maybe the film had a really great lighting coordinator. Either way, it all seems to work and flow nicely together like the untainted, calm waters of the newly-found North America.
Setting the scene and a plot that goes by the history books is the first step he takes toward breaking down this fairy tale. The second step is trying to re-mystify the tale into a classic love story that the audience can get into. But with all the glam and glitz gone, it’s quite difficult to do. The overdubbed narration that tracks the three main characters ruins the realism, but it does get us into their emotions. However, showing would have a lot more power than telling, which is kind of what is wrong with most of the film. Rather than Malick showing us the characters fall in and out of love and go through this world-changing epic like he does with his film style, the story seems to be told to us, like it is time over time with our conventions in mind. Either damn Hollywood for not letting us forget the story we already know so well, or damn Malick for not giving his character’s enough time to show how they begin to love each other.
By no means is this a masterpiece myth deconstruction like say Lars Von Trier did for the musical in Dancer in the Dark. It is just a start. A new look, a new time and place, just the same old story.