****/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras B+
starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Q'Orianka Kilcher
written and directed by Terrence Malick
by Walter Chaw Terrence Malick opens The New World with "come spirit, help us," invoking the muse before embarking on a spoken history part rapturous, part hallucinogenic, all speculative, reverent, and sanctified hearsay. Malick is the post-modern American epic poet of the division ploughed through the middle of America, telling our history with one voice, painting it in golden shades of romance and poesy. It's the only viable approach to the Captain John Smith/Pocahontas story in a minefield of debris strewn by not only our Western genre tradition, but also our newer guilt at how American Indians have been (and continue to be) portrayed in our culture: the most bestial, savage notions of the Natural have come around to their personification as an unsullied, Edenic embodiment of an impossibly harmonious nature. It's an organic progression from bigotry to paternalism, and Malick charts these dangerous waters with the audacity of an artist well and truly in the centre of his craft. He makes the doomed love between Smith and the much younger Pocahontas function as a metaphor for the decimation of the Native American population--and in so doing suggests the possibility that all human interaction can be analyzed along the lines of love and misunderstanding. Routinely described as inscrutable or remote, Malick's The New World presents history as something as simple as two people who come together, fall in love, and betray one another because their cultures are too different, too intolerant, to coexist with one another. It's history as a progression of human tragedy.