"The New World" is the fifth film by Terrence Mallick, in the last four decades. Still, his films rouse great respect and anticipation. George Lucas while receiving his American Film Institute life time achievement award, joked "Next to Terry Mallick I am the person who gets great amount of credit for the least amount of work".
"The New World" is a film that deals with the early European explorers who landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1609. They are received with a mixture and warmth and suspicion by the native American tribe inhabiting that area. The princess of the tribe, Pocahontas, develops an attraction for the rebellious Captain John Smith (Colin Ferrell). The film starts of as a comparative study between the old world and the new world and the clash of the civilizations. Then it shifts gears into a full-throttled love story. It is actually two films rolled into one.
The movie has a curious structure. It develops relationships and events with snippets of information and montages assembled to perfection. This leads to a shaky start, but once the film settles down it flows with great majesty and poise. This brings us to the question of the pace of the movie. Some moviegoers might complain about the lethargic pace of the movie. Well, if you can just give in to the movie, it sucks you up and never lets go. Certain human emotions and issues become accessible only at a certain pace. It is comparable to meditation- even though it is tough to get into this state, once you are there, the serenity and bliss that one finds there is not possible to experience while you are, say, cardio-training (which is similar to what you feel while watching Fast and the Furious or Independence Day).
What is it about screen presence? How come when certain people come on screen, they just set the screen on fire- all other men, matter and objects seem to just recede mysteriously into oblivion. This is not something one can develop- you either have it or not. Pre-"Baba" Rajni had it, Marylin Monroe had it, Q'Orianka Kilcher, who plays the princess Pocahontas has it. What a mesmerizing presence.
The early part of the movie neatly handles the job of contrasting the two worlds and the men inhabiting the worlds- the key word in this comparison being harmony. Harmony with the world around you, harmony with yourself. It handles the aspect of love in a very tempered way. The first love that ceases Pocahontas is filled with passion and raw emotion- and the world seems impossible without it. But as she walks through life, she figures out that there is another form of love- possibly the more meaningful kind- a love that is informed by the hardships of life and experience- a one that is equally moving and rewarding. Such themes have been dealt with extensively in movies. For example, "Age of Innocence", based on the Edith Wharton novel, deals with almost exaclly the same themes. But, rarely has it been done with such finesse and slightness of touch. It is in the climax that the pace of the movie pays off. The emotional crescendo that the movie achieves at the end is informed and well deserved. Lot of movies try to marry grand themes with personal stories, lot of movies aim for greatness and immortality, only a few get there, and only even fewer get there with such command.