• The New World is still only Malick’s fourth film to date in 2005 even if it is a whopping thirty-two (32) years since his debut Badlands. The themes and aesthetics are the same.

Though perhaps not quite as dogmatically rigid as Days of Heaven with the natural lighting and magic hour photography- The New World (complete with Emmanuel Lubezki on board as director of photography) would measure up here with just about any other film ever shot. The exterior location shooting (largely in Virginia, but certainly in England as well as the story dictates) is as much (if not more so) of a character as Colin Farrell’s John Smith or Q’orianka Kilcher’s Pocahontas.

One of the best shots (and there are dozens that belong in an art gallery) is the low-angle shot of Kilcher’s Pocahontas holding the sun between her hands

magic hour bliss

Malick’s sun (and yes, in cinema it does feel like it is his) is often present in the background

  • It is not just Lubezki on board with the talented crew. Jack Fisk is back as Malick’s production designer, James Horner does the score (though we’ll get to his achievement here later) and the rest of the cast and crew has talent all over the place. Christopher Plummer publicly bitched about Malick cutting him out (and if he’s mad, how about how little great actors like David Thewlis and Wes Studi are used?), and if you blink, you’ll miss talents like Ben Mendelsohn and Jonathan Pryce.
  • The New World begins with a look at one of Malick’s Edens on earth. Opening on amalgam of nature arrangements and a reflection in the water. Pocahontas and the Algonquins (or naturals, as they are often called in the film) are swimming and playing in the water. There is a voice-over established early as part of the form (sort of poem to mother earth). Next, the ships arrive carrying John Smith and the English. The arrival is glorious. This is accompanied by Wagner’s Vorspiel to Das Rheingold. This is the most important music in The New World (despite contributions in other parts of the film from James Horner and others). Malick reuses Wagner’s piece here a few times sublimely later in the film. It is just a wall of sound- it has the scales with the horns. When you pair that with the awesome imagery- it does feel like heaven on earth.

The New World begins with a look at one of Malick’s Edens on earth

prepare yourself for it early, the meeting of Malick’s photography and Wagner’s music create a synthesis of beauty that few films ever achieve

  • The message of the film is set from that opening. The English bring an element of war, fear, a certain raping of the land in comparison with the “naturals”. In luminous photography montage form (trademark to his style), Malick shows the English chopping down trees. And later, he shows them with boils, scabs, unclean, dying, disease, mosquitos, etc. Their little fortress they make is ugly, standing water and mud all over the place. “Damnation is like this” “a hell”. Greed. Searching for gold.

A striking low-angle shot at the 10-minute mark

  • Water on the rocks is part of the mix, along with magic hour shots, trees rooted in the water, ships off the coast
  • Even when in the cave dwelling of the Chief- Malick and Lubezki have the natural light pour in through the openings.
  • Like all of his previous films (Malick’s depiction of the Native Americans here is similar to those native to Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line), there is often playing and a sort of frivolity of the characters in the montage combination (along with shots of nature, grass swaying). They are one with nature, and here Farrell and Kilcher’s characters teach each other their languages. Farrell’s Smith describes the Native Americans as “Gentle, loving and faithful”. He talks about his own resurrection because of them “I was a dead man, now I live”.
  • Malick is a montagist (he shot over 1 million feet of film for this- he just shoots and shoots and compiles it later)—these aren’t really cutaways from the action at this point. This is his mode. The in-scene dialogue is largely dubbed (which gives him flexibility in the editing room), the priority is on the photography (which drive his themes), the voice-over (which, again- he can control before and after) and the actors are models. Malick often has the voice-over come in over the top of the in-scene dialogue to give you an idea of what he prioritizes here. This does not mean there can’t be good acting in a Malick film– it is just different from 99.9% of cinema.

a shot that could really be pulled from any Malick film- birds, grass, the reflecting water, and a major contribution to the work of art here is Wagner—that music is a large part of the stew.

  • It is a credit to Kilcher and Farrell that you believe in this love story. And even though it is very elliptical in nature (due to Malick’s editing style), her grieving process feels real (I think the extended running time helps here).
  • For Malick, it is always about the meeting of violence/sin (and I think “progress”) and the intrinsic beauty of nature- that is the duality.

At 108-minutes in (at least in the director’s cut version) there is a jaw-dropper of a frame at dust with the Native Americas in the river—staggered about the frame.

  • I will say that you do not sit up and pay attention to the voice-over like you do with Spacek’s Badlands. The voice-over is more poetic here- sort of part of the music if you will.
  • Christian Bale does not arrive until the 120-minute mark in the director’s cut version. He plays John Rolfe He is kind, patient, a man of virtue. This love triangle feels similar to the Days of Heaven.
  • Nearly the entire three-hour (director’s cut) running time is exterior photography. And again, although it is not all shot at dust— big, meaty chunks of it are (Days of Heaven’s running time is about half this overall). At the 150-minute mark, finally, Malick uses some artificial lighting with the meeting of the King and Queen.

152-minute mark—Wes Studi’s character in front of the stained-glass window—immaculate

  • While in England, the baroque ceilings, the landscaped gardens—all worthy of praise in the design.

One of the strongest compositions in this film is the one at the 158-minute mark. Kilcher is framed by the door approaching Farrell’s character. A marvelous piece of writing is his “I may have sailed past them” when she asks him if he found his Indies yet.

  • The film ends on Wagner (brilliant choice), her passing, the child playing and then slipping into a kaleidoscope of water running through rocks, the sun, the trees swaying from a low-angle (an angle repeated often) as the final frame.
  • Cinema has produced very few artists with an aesthetic dogma like Malick. On top of that, it is largely a visual artform and few (if any), have made films as beautiful as Malick has. This film may have been overlooked by many in 2005—but as we get farther and farther away—the rarity of this achievement becomes clearer.
  • A masterpiece