Friday, February 17, 2006

In The New World, we ALL will have scantily clad teenagers to call our own!

Sorry for the spotty blogging as of late. I've been busy, but you already knew that.

Terrence Malick's The New World is a gorgeous dream of a movie. Like the director's other films, it feels almost like a meditation on the subtle waves of the natural world, the power of memory and the pain of romantic loss. There's a yearning and a hunger in the film that isn't in 99% of the other films out there. It's a hunger, I think, for things that never were and never could be and never will be.

That said, this film isn't for everyone (as the box office reception has borne out). Of Malick's four features, it's his most Malick-y. To get into it, you have to completely submerge yourself in his wavelength. If you can't do that, there's little else in it to appeal to you. The story is almost an afterthought, the actors almost props. I can see why some critics I usually agree with are hating this so much.

Me? I found large portions of the movie to be emotionally overwhelming, almost heartbreaking. It's not my favorite by Malick, but I think it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his other films, and that's no small achievement.

That said, it gets curiously inert every so often. When Malick is just ignoring his story to show the joy of running through a sunny field or swimming in a river, the film is at its best. When he's trying to make his central love triangle live and breathe, the film doesn't quite work. Fortunately, these passages are fleeting and come only at the film's very end (there's a coda in London that has some scenes which feel tacked on).

Q'orianka Kilcher, however, manages to break through all of this. Malick has always done solid work with young females (think of Sissy Spacek in Badlands or the girl in Days of Heaven), and Kilcher is like a revelation here. She's intoxicating, and not in a creepy psychosexual way like so many other adolescent females are made to be. She's one of those great American symbols, always racing just in front of you so you don't know quite what she's supposed to represent. The natural world? America itself? Native Americans? Any and all readings could work.

In the end, Malick is a transcendentalist, interested most in the idea of what it means to be unspoiled. His film is about firsts. First contacts, first loves, first impressions, first losses.

And it is also about how futile and fleeting those firsts ultimately are.

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