Terrence Malick has made only four films in three decades: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and now The New World. The first two have, over time, been recognized as classics. The Thin Red Line seems to be following in their footsteps, provoking thoughtful discussion among cinephiles for its lyrical cinematography and its unique contemplative style.
The New World may become a classic as well, but it's too early to say. As is the case with many masterpieces, critics are initially divided in their responses. Malick's style is so different, it is enthralling for some, boring and even annoying for others. The New World makes heavy use of the internal monologues, thoughtful questions, and poetic flourishes that dominated The Thin Red Line. Its complex, layered use of metaphor and symmetry make it a work that cannot be adequately assessed in one viewing.
Thus, it's likely to frustrate viewers who want a more traditional narrative, a lot of action, and a conventional romance. Here's a filmmaker who's as interested in the swaying trees as he is in the battles. The way he tells a love story, the audience becomes invested in one romantic relationship, only to be asked to shift gears and consider an alternative suitor two-thirds of the way through the film.
Malick's version of the myth of John Smith and Pocahontas begins with the arrival of the British on the shores of Virginia territory in 1607, and ends a decade later when Pocahontas visits London. History buffs will probably file complaints, but Malick is more interested in the power of myth than the facts, more invested in spiritual questions than historical accuracy, examining the dynamics of cultural collisions in the manner of a poet rather than a documentarian.
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