3 Stars – Challenging
While it may be true to lay a mantel of religious motives on the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock, it is important to remember that others were coming to the American shores at the exact same time with other motives in mind. Such is the story of “The New World” which begins with English explorers landing in Virginia in 1607.
Filled with a tapestry of serene images, Terrence Malick’s film portrays a wilderness never before seen by Europeans. Contrasted against this beauty is the reality that most of the men on this expedition are less than honorable adventurers in hopes of gold, land, or just a new start in life.
Blending history with romantic fiction, “The New World” is really about the coming of age love that is shared between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Pocahontas is the 15-year-old daughter of the Powhatan tribal chief from the tribe that surrounds the English landing party and their outpost. Captain Smith meets Pocahontas when he is captured by the Powhatan tribe and is held captive in their village for a period of time. Slowly, they come to have a respect and love for each other that neither of them had ever experienced before, despite the fact that Capt. Smith is twice her age.
Malick suggests in his romanticized story that the natives of America were a people without guile, protective of their own, but open and loving in most other aspects of their lives. In their society, jealousy and envy do not exist. This idealistic notion has little support in historical accounts that that this was ever the case.
The English soldiers, on the other hand, are not kind-spirited, generous counterparts. Most of them are more than willing to kill and take whatever they need in order to survive. This sets up the inevitable clash between the new arrivals and the natives. Pocahontas is the one person who has the ability to walk in both worlds, primarily due to her newly experienced crush on Captain Smith. In the end, she is the only member of the tribe that is spared from being banished from the outpost and its new world surrounding it.
The transformative influence of Pocahontas in the lives and culture of the time begins with her love of one man and moves to her depth of commitment to John Rolfe (Christian Bale). Falesely led to believe that Capt. Smith had died in an ocean crossing he marries Rolfe and lives a committed life. Her spiritual maturation is the point of greatest strength in the story.
“The New World” is a plodding tale with too many untold loose ends. However, the film’s saving grace is the captivating acting of young Q’Orianka Kilcher who was only 14 years old when the filming began. Her portrayal of innocence is what makes the story worth seeing.
- In the struggle to understand our nation, many different tales are told about our founding immigrants. How much impact do you believe these tales have on our current national life?
- What purpose do you believe the portrayal of the Native Americans as ideals of humanity serves in our society? What effect will this have on American life?
- Do you believe the brutality of the English soldiers was true? Why or why not?