Everyone who has read this blog knows I am not a big fan of the Walt Disney version of the Pocahontas story. It has its positives but a bossy lead character, terrible villain and sappy romance sink it for me.
As a contrast, I have wanted to watch the 2005 Terrence Malick version of the story called The New World, so it was a natural fit for my Blind Spot series!
I have long been a bit of a Terrence Malick apologist. For the last few years he has created films free from structure that are essentially art pieces. I enjoy most of them but I understand why many do not. However, here in The New World he actually has a narrative and he executes it beautifully. I wish he would go back to narratives just to shake things up for a little while!
As you can see in the clips above the true star of this film is the incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. He does all of Malick’s movies, and this is one of his most beautiful. I love the way he uses water, nature and light to convey the mood of a scene. This film doesn’t have a ton of dialogue and so the cinematography is essential to helping us understand what the characters are going through whether it be trauma or love.
Obviously the story of Pocahontas can be a sensitive one to retell but Malick evidently did his research and the tribal leaders were happy with the results.He even has the characters speak an extinct form of the Powhatan language that had to be reconstructed for the film.
They do portray a love story between John Smith and Pocahontas which is not historically accurate but it is done in a more realistic way to the time period. It feels more authentic and real than the Disney version.
Colin Farrell does a good job as John Smith and has good chemistry with Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. She works both in the tribal scenes and when she gets taken to England to live. I love that she isn’t a preachy character like in the Disney film but happy, joyful, strong, soft and sweet. She’s a person you can completely understand why men fall in love with her.
Christian Bale plays John Rolfe, Pocahontas’ husband in England in an understated role.
The only downside to The New World is it is long. (There are 3 versions 135, 150, 172 minutes. I watched 135). Malick is a director that can definitely be self-indulgent at times and he probably could have cut down on a few of the pretty twirling in nature scenes to make things a little tighter.
Oh well! A few slow moments are well worth it for the beautiful experience Malick gives us in The New World. It’s definitely worth seeing and it makes me happy the Pocahontas story was done so well at least once.
Overall Grade- A-