Pocahontas and Smith Gracefully Recapture the Garden of Eden

    In his fourth film in 30 years, Terrence Malick’s “The New World” is a graceful interpretation set in the historic backdrop of the English colonization of America in 1607. Following his World War II examination of U.S. soldiers’ existential narratives in “The Thin Red Line,” Malick reaches even further into history, to the English settlement of the new land and its Native people, disclosing the clash between the English and Native cultures.

    Courtesy of New Line Cinema
    Swashbucklin’: Colin Farrell plays 17th century English explorer John Smith, who became entranced by the young Pochahontas (portrayed by 14-year-old actress Q’Orianka Kilcher), in Terrence Malick’s latest historical drama.

    Fortunately, “New World” lacks the tear-jerking Hallmark moral to which the savage tale could easily have led. Malick decides instead to unveil the disillusioning fate of a young Native heroine (Q’Orianka Kilcher) in her journey to empathize with Europe and its multifaceted soul. Initially, the film gravitates around the adventurous spirit of John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his troop of semisenile sailors as they attempt to survive in a world bereft of the long shadow of the state and church. Later, we meet the Native commune: primitive, altruistic and harmoniously hierarchical.

    The depth of the production lies in its lack of verbal articulation. Instead, Malick presents a continuous sketch of characters absorbed in a world of fleeting passion and desolate routes of escape. The most vivid account is the affectionate relationship between Smith and the Native tribe’s princess (also known as Pocahontas in previous adaptations of the story). From their first shared glances, Malick captures the engaging glare of human frailty on the brink of an unquenchable curiosity. Before spoiling their waltz with the fate that awaits them, Malick shares a number of intimate (and wordless) scenes between the two caressing and playing under various wondrous sites reminiscent of an America that presently exists only in imagination.

    Malick freezes time when the two are entwined in their forsaken world. Restraining their own yearning impulses, the pair remains content with synchronous play and impassioned attention. No sex, no overtly erotic orchestra music, not even any foreplay; all that Malick spies into is the naked, innate force of passion by which two foreign characters are both struck. And so they resist indulgence in the face of anxiety and are thus treated to God’s garden for the scenes displayed on screen. The surreally simplistic company of Farrell and Kilcher puts Sofia Coppola’s expatriate “Lost in Translation” duo to network shame. Though the two lovers are eventually booted from the garden, it is their individual decisions and their respective instincts that entangle the once-pure relationship. With no serpent or tree to blame, Smith personally retreats with no binding burden to resolve but his own.

    For the remainder of the film, Malick follows the heroine’s postimpressionistic life. Exiled from her tribe for befriending Smith, she becomes an English-speaking, dress-wearing housewife of a charmingly polite and respective farmer, earnestly played by Christian Bale. In a heart-wrenching scene at the elopement of the two, there hangs the same independently fitted cross hovering over the Native’s head as she relinquishes any past she may have once lived.

    In its conclusion, the film seems a bit too restraining. Its virtuous use of ambivalence compels the audience to construe their own rendition of inner monologue that may or may not be in sync with the characters’ motives. The strength of the film, nonetheless, lies in the same issue. Malick is as disciplined a filmmaker as our generation can experience at the theaters. This film is not so much a prejudging documentary of abusively savage colonizers pointing rifles at the innocent Indians; it is a love story that is thrown into a setting between savage naivete and ambitious masculinity, mixed at the clash of subjective choices — and the consequences these choices entail. It is a new world where power and responsibility are inverted — shifted from the Empire and the tribe to the individual in hope of creating a fresh semblance of harmony and order, which turns out all too tragically.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal