New World, TheReviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 04/13/06 23:02:25
Cinema is an audio-visual art. It is, and must be, incomplete in the absence of either of these two requisites. The films that are being made today rely only on one of these aspects. Almost every Bollywood film can be understood even with eyes closed, just by following the dialogues which resemble those in a radio-play. Most Hollywood action flicks do not require our hearing capacities to comprehend them. In other words, Bollywood cinema has reduced to photographed radio and Hollywood to photographed theatre. The use of camera as a language and sounds as a footnote seem to exist only in the books of cinema that talk about Godard, Antonioni and Truffaut. Terrence Malick is one elusive filmmaker who understands and adheres to the quintessence of cinema as an art form, a spatio-temporal one at that.Watching Malick’s latest film(his fourth in 32 years!), The New World, one cannot express in words the journey that he compels us to undertake. His reliance on cinema as a visual medium may prove to be tedious and cumbersome to those convinced that cinema is merely dumb means of entertainment, but is a treat to any patron of this art willing to give his/her senses an aesthetic makeover. To a resounding background score(James Horner), we meet explorer John Smith(Colin Farrell) dock on the banks of what will eventually be Jamestown, Virginia. The island is inhabited by Native Americans, referred to as naturals by Captain Christopher Newport(Christopher Plummer). Newport assigns Smith to explore the island and set up the foundation for a fresh commonwealth. Smith comes across the Natives in his exploration who nab him, apprehensive of their land being usurped, and take him to their chief Powhatan(August Schellenberg) to have him killed. Smith is saved by the chief’s youngest and most beloved daughter, the 14 year old Algonquian princess Pocahontas(Q’Orianka Kilcher), although her name is never mentioned in the film. The princess and Smith gradually fall in love not like stupid teenagers in modern films governed only by their raging hormones but out of curiosity for each other’s culture and an inexplicable inner desire to be together. Malick shoots their sequences of courtship with such beautiful grace, there’s a natural rhythm to the proceedings which is only made more heavenly by the natural colours that he bathes his film in. Using jump-cuts, he hides us from seeing his lovers in their most natural states, making us rely only on our sense of imagination. Voice-overs, by both the princess and Smith, help us create a mental picture of their feelings! Yes, feelings cannot be translated on screen…but Malick knows how to make you imagine them. Poetic words spoken in the minds of our lovers, gain greater meaning against the primitive backdrop that he intersperses them with.
The New World follows Pocahontas and Smith to their separation, owing mainly to Smith’s inability to accept his own feelings, and further until Pocahontas finds John Rolfe(Christian Bale) and marries him. However, it must be understood that The New World is not a story-driven movie. The story is a catalyst to drive home a concept; in this case, regeneration. Malick tells us the undeniable truth- nothing is permanent but change. The English settlers come and overthrow the Algonquian tribe, starting anew and reconstruct. Similarly, Pocahontas finds it in her to love Rolfe even after being left hurt, initially beyond repair, by her true love Smith. Malick is trying to tell us that all must and will die, only to make way for a new beginning. This sentiment is best explained in Newport’s cry, “God has given us a promised land; our youth is our strength, our inexperience our wisdom!”
To truly appreciate The New World, you must be able to respond to Malick’s camera that acts like a trained eye. When around Q’Orianka, the camera acts like it’s a person present there with her. Its focus shifts continually to where it finds most exciting, most often on her hands which themselves feel and touch things around her. The camera in a way, is attempting to understand this beauty…trying to touch her. Q’Orianka is such a stunning beauty for someone who’s just fourteen(fourteen while filming, she is sixteen now). There’s a distinctive individual quality to her innate sanguinity that has to be seen. Farrell impresses after a string of self-conscious performances, while Bale is exceptionally at ease in his very little screen time.'The New World' ultimately is a visual experience where words are only used when they are required and even then are rendered useless to an extent. Emmanuel Lubezki, the DOP, is the true victor of this film who under Malick’s transcendental direction creates images that are purely divine. A treat for the senses indeed!
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