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This text has been submitted as an original contribution to cinetext on July 8, 2006.

The American Sublime, the Sublime American: The New World by Terrence Malick

Nature and Civilization, Individuality and Consciousness

The New Wolrd (New Line 2005)

by Daniel Garrett

"I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul."
-Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself," Leaves of Grass

Terrence Malick’s film The New World is a unique work of cinema and culture, as it utilizes both old-fashion aspects of film and life—nature, silence, gesture, and the readable eloquence of faces—and also modern awareness and aesthetic practice in its emphasis on consciousness, by making the thoughts and perceptions of the principal characters accessible to the audience, in the film’s exploration of the founding of Jamestown, and the relationship of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, and of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. The film offers adventure, biography, and history, and uses the relationships between Pocahontas and the two men as a symbol of the connections between two peoples. The New World’s recurring themes include nature and civilization, dream and truth, duty and betrayal, introspection and action, need and generosity, and pain and healing.

The New World, a film in which profundity can be read on its surface, in its images, dialog, and meditations, a film in which being as much as doing, perceiving as much as desiring, are important, was written by its director Terrence Malick, whose previous films include Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line. The New World’s production designer is Jack Fisk and its cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki, with film editing by Richard Chew, Hank Corwin, Saar Klein, and sound design by Skip Lievsay, and costuming by Jacqueline West. (The film cost about thirty million dollars to make, financed by New Line Cinema.) Fifteen now, but fourteen during filming, Q’Orianka Kilcher who plays Matoaka, also known as Pocahontas and Lady Rebecca, has described Malick, a Texas-reared Harvard graduate, to Teresa Wiltz of The Washington Post (January 15, 2006) as “a very spur-of-the-moment kind of director. He would see a tall funnel field or a tall grass from somewhere over there and he’d be like, ‘Oh, oh, Q’Orianka, can you take your shoes off and just run through the field? Be the wind! Be the wind! Good, good.’ ” Wes Studi (as Opechancanough) has lamented that many of his scenes have not made it into The New World screened in theaters, and that there was not more native perspective and language in the film, sacrifices made for Malick’s treatment of nature and love (according to a December 2005 interview with About.com), though some inclusion of Studi’s concerns, especially regarding the reconstructed language, may be represented in the home digital video disc version. Malick’s film philosophy has drawn speculation over the years. Hwanhee Lee produced a succinct interpretation of Malick’s oeuvre up to and including The Thin Red Line for the internet magazine Senses of Cinema in November 2002. Hwanhee Lee began by writing that Malick’s films can be “characterized as radical reevaluations of the current understandings of cinematic concepts such as image (and sound), character, and narrative” and sketched Malick’s probable influences, beside journalism and Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, as including “the writings of philosophical figures such as Wittgenstein, the works of realist, non-abstract modern painters such as Hopper and Wyeth, and silent films, embracing both the documentary tradition of Flaherty and the expressionist tradition of Murnau (by questioning, or ignoring, their ‘oppositional’ status).” Lee considers the lack of moral judgment in Malick’s films, and Malick’s treatment of the ambiguity of human action and motive, alienation, anxiety, and the mythology of personal interpretations and received history. He notes Malick’s inclination to combine fiction with documentary techniques—producing films that are “realistic and expressionistic.” Lee asserts that Malick’s films are less concerned with how the world is than that it is. The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America, an anthology of essays, edited by Hannah Patterson (Wallflower Press, London, 2003), is one of the few extensive studies done of Malick’s work, and discusses identity, youth, gender, landscape, history, philosophy, genre, spirituality, craft, and the critical reception of Malick’s work. Some of the speculation about Malick has been less informed, less respectful, concerned more with the filmmaker’s quirks than with his genius. The New York Times ran an article November 6, 2005 titled “The Terrence Malick Enigma” that talked about the few films he’s produced in several decades, his silence with the press, his aesthetics and the importance of editing to the final shape of his works, his various projects aborted for lack of funding, and his return to filmmaking. “For a movie opening soon, though, there is still a ridiculous amount of secrecy surrounding The New World,” wrote the article’s writer Caryn James, apparently used to the excessive exposure that comes with most major films. Another Times article by Steve Chagollan, less glib and gossipy, later in the same month (November 27, 2005), focused on the subject of The New World and noted that Native Americans in the past have often been portrayed “as marauding terrorists at worst or noble savages at best,” and that Malick, while focusing on the portrayal of a questionable romance between Pocahontas and John Smith, attempted verisimilitude in his treatment of culture and place, with Pocahontas seen as a necessary intermediary between her own people and the newcomers. (The indigenous studies director of the State University of New York at Buffalo, John Mohawk, is quoted as saying, “Pocahontas was not romantically involved with John Smith.”) It is, of course, simpler to speculate about the filmmaker than to see the film and gauge its meaning and significance.

Terrence Malick’s New World seems to be a film for an audience more sensitive than the one that is thought to exist now: he has produced a film with beauty, emotion, fact, and myth, offering within the film the perspective and the time to contemplate them. Does an artist actually conceive of an audience other than the one that exists for him in his own time? The usual evocation of shallow suspense and erotic titillation and nearly motiveless violence often seen in movies are little present in The New World, though the film does show us curiosity and mystery, sensuality and mutual attraction, and war, elements here rooted in character, history, need. Malick has created a film for the ideal viewer in each of us. Malick gives us heroic figures who seem more human than heroic, knowing that it is less their personalities than the effect of their characters—the longtime meaning of their actions and choices—that render them important. Are we perceptive enough to see and value these choices as they occur? The film is only meaningful and satisfying if we can.

The idea of a new world assumes there is a world that is old, known. Explorers were sent often to seek resources and riches in new territories. The Englishmen who traveled to the new world were sent by the English king and queen; and in the new world they found the land and sea’s abundance, and they found people. At the beginning of The New World, we see water and a reflection in the water, an image that is very dreamlike, an image that can signify dream or memory; and then we hear an invocation: “Come spirit, help us sing this story of our land…You are our mother.” It is possible to see the beginning of the film as offering at least three storytelling modes: one of images; one that is spoken and spiritual; and one that is written and historical. We see maps, the kind that often accompanies adventure and exploration. On the maps are ships, land, plants, flowers, lakes. We see drawings of settlements, drawings of violence and war between the natives and English soldiers. Then, the live action film begins: soon ships arrive—and Englishmen and Native Americans, two peoples who are strangers to each other, meet. Will they help or hurt, love or hate, each other? Why, how? The weather-beaten English ships arrive in 1607 to what they will come to create and call James Fort then Jamestown, Virginia. John Smith arrives in the new world having been kept below deck for insubordination (mutinous remarks). When we first see him he is savoring drops of water that fall on him. Farrell as John Smith is a sensual presence; in fact, he seems to lend to his character his own soul: he is intense, tired, courageous, sexually aware, and wary. John Smith is not innocent.

The Powhatan natives watch the ships arrive, and one of them whistles to call others to attention. We hear loud, beautiful music; it seems the music of anticipation and revelation. (The music has been identified as Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” which features water themes.) Upon the Englishmen’s arrival onshore, one of Smith’s fellows is eager to hang Smith (we later learn that he, Edward Wingfield, is a man with a flawed past and a hunger for power). “Let him go,” says the ship’s commander, the leader of the exploring party, Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer), who offers Smith another chance, with a warning.

The natives are referred to as naturals by the commander Newport, with the implication being that the Englishmen are something other than natural: civilized? unnatural? decadent? We see sky, land, and water, and the newcomers are happy to find large oysters and plenty of fish. “We’re going to live like kings,” one of them says. They begin to chop trees down, transforming nature: to make watchtowers, a fort, houses. Smith refers to the natives as gentle; but both instinct and observation tells us that he simply does not know how to recognize manifestations of human complexity in these strangers. When one of the Englishmen asks the commander Christopher Newport if they are going to go out to poke around, a euphemism, Newport answers, “We’re not here to pillage and raid.” (Obviously some of them have done that before.) Malick returns us to a time when a moral existence was possible for the settlers, for the new Americans: in their understanding of nature, in their treatment of others. The settlers’ own ambitions and practical needs will take them further afield.

When Matoaka (Pocahontas) and her brother play—imitating animals, for instance—they seem much younger than their apparent age; they seem innocent. In her eccentric book Pocahontas (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), Paula Gunn Allen says that Pocahontas’s tribe was the Mattaponi, one of several belonging to what natives called the tsenacommacah, or the Powhatan Alliance: and Powhatan was a name both for people of the dream-vision and also a title for Wahunsenacawh, the chief and chief dreamer of the alliance, and a member of the Pamunkey tribe. (There seems to have been overlapping tribal memberships.) Wahunsenacawh, or Powhatan, may have been the biological father of Pocahontas or only the group’s leader and father figure. Paula Gunn Allen, a professor emerita of English and American Indian Studies at UCLA and an American of Laguna Pueblo/Metis descent, also says that Pocahontas had a secret name, Amonute, possibly used for sacred ceremonies (255). Gunn Allen suggests the pervasive nature of spirituality—manito aki, the spiritual world—in native life, and sees Pocahontas as a girl with a special place in native life, as someone being trained to be a beloved woman or priestess.

When John Smith (Colin Farrell) first sees Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) he looks both curious and sad. Her brother calls her away from Smith, the first of several times that he will do so, but she will return to Smith, the stranger, the man with a past. Smith is not the only man whose character is judged. When one of the Englishmen steals some of the food, his punishment is that his ears be cut off, a punishment we are lucky enough not to see. After one of the natives picks up a small hatchet, and rapidly walks toward a group of settlers, he is shot in the back. Smith holds the shooter’s head down in the water as a sign of disapproval of the act, but as Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) says, “We’ve lost the favor of the naturals.” Their food is also low in quantity. Newport decides to return to England for supplies and orders Smith to travel and trade with a willing native king. “What are Smith’s qualifications?” asks Edward Wingfield (David Thewlis) and someone answers, “Those you lack.” Newport tells Smith that he has the makings of a leader, and yet wonders if Smith can be relied upon. Can Smith be relied upon regarding work; regarding the natives; regarding Pocahontas? Smith takes a boat with men and goes, but wonders, “Who are you, whom I so faintly hear?” It seems a recognition of some conscience or spirit that is more than his seeable, moving self. “What voice is this that speaks within me?”

The New World (Newline 2005)
The New World (New Line 2005).

The well-traveled adventurer John Smith (Farrell), like his commander Newport, sees the possibility of a new start, a fresh beginning, a place in which none need grow poor, in which there is good ground for all, without landlords, a place in which a new commonwealth can be built. Of course, as Smith and his assigned men search for natives with whom to trade and Smith ruminates about such happy possibilities, he and his men—among them, the mostly silent, scraggly Jehu Robinson (Ben Chaplin)—have begun to use some of the natives as unwilling guides, their hands bound. To compel help by force, to require aid that necessitates the subjugated will or injury of another, is usually not a good thing. Smith’s scouting party, reaching land, sees no markings, no natives with whom to trade, and one of them says, “We’re lost,” moments before one of the guides runs away; and Smith and his men are physically lost, but we can begin to suspect that they are showing small signs of becoming spiritually lost. After they take to their boats again, we hear what we’ve come to recognize not as a bird call but as native communication: a signal, and another native guide runs away, and soon Smith, in armor, wading through marshy land, wading through shadow and light, is attacked and captured by the natives of the Powhatan group, to which Pocahontas belongs. Native men look at Smith’s sun dial, which Smith tries to explain. The native men’s skins are marked by various decorations—some of the decorations are white, some black and brownish red, and the native men wear skirts of leather. Smith, who had used bound native guides, is brought to the native village with a leash around his neck. The village has been built within a grove of trees, and so is, unlike the fort, protected by rather than exposed to the elements. Even with their language untranslated, the natives have not only mystery but gravity, a perceptible culture and power. Smith seems to understand the language, and tries to suggest he and his kind can be of use—he demonstrates gunpowder, which frightens. It seems unfortunate, if not typical, that the demonstration of value would involve the promise of violence. Smith is held down—for execution, or the people’s safety, or for a transforming ritual (accounts vary, but Smith thought that he was to be killed), before Pocahontas throws herself on him as protection, asking that he be spared.

Although the native king’s advisors say that Smith and the other settlers should be driven away while they are few, the king decides there is something to be learned—and Smith can teach his daughter about Smith’s home country, England. The willingness to learn is, typically, a sign of the civilized temperament. The natives return to their usual concerns, such as growing corn. Smith and Pocahontas share words in the language of each: sky, sun, water, wind, even playing a game in which each tries to trip the other while remaining standing; and Smith and the village’s young men also begin to get to know each other. We see sensual dancing among the villagers. The scenes follow one another in a kind of montage: early filmmakers thought of montage as an idea expressed in successive shots, but filmmaker-theorist Sergei Eisenstein thought of montage as the simultaneous presentation—the collision—of two different visual and thematic ideas. Here, in The New World, seeing native culture and Smith’s introduction to and participation in it, we have a return to the old sense of a montage, and what is conveyed is that the natives have a culture it is wisdom and pleasure to learn.

I saw The New World when it first opened to the public in New York and Los Angeles in late December 2005, before Malick edited the film anew for a wider January 2006 release; and it seemed to me that the relationship between Smith and Pocahontas in the first viewing was more spiritual than sensual, and in the second viewing that the relationship was more sensual and emotional than spiritual. Some scenes were cut making the film shorter, but the apparent addition of brief, new scenes, with a slightly different angle or rhythm—quicker, featuring more intimate shots of Pocahontas and Smith, offering a few watchful, somewhat guilty looks and more touching and suggested kisses—allow a different reading. These might seem minor changes, but for me they change a great part of the meaning of the relationship between Pocahontas and Smith and also the meaning of the film. Joy in spirituality and sensuality might sometimes look or sound the same to an observer, but they do not feel the same to a participant, nor are their meanings the same. While the individual is always flesh, spirituality is an understanding that transcends flesh, an understanding that sees beneath and beyond it, whereas sensuality is the pleasure of physical being, of flesh. “Love and lust are as far asunder as a flower garden is from a brothel,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in “Chastity & Sensuality” (Thoreau: Collected Essays and Poems, Library of America/Literary Classics of the United States, 2001; 331). The distinction between spirituality and sensuality is like the difference between being and doing, or between perceiving and desiring. There are times when different aspects of being are radical: in one age, it is believing, in another it is knowing, and in another it is desiring—and for us, in a time when sex is everywhere, a spiritual encounter between Pocahontas and John Smith would have been much more unusual; and for her time and people it would have been the most important kind of relationship.

Terrence Malick in The New World comes close to revealing the spiritual presence beyond the material reality—the reality of nature—that we can see: he makes being—the luminescent fact of existence—vivid. Martin Heidegger wrote, “Man obviously is a being. As such he belongs to the totality of Being—just like the stone, the tree, or the eagle. To ‘belong’ here still means to be in the order of Being. But man’s distinctive feature lies in this, that he, as the being who thinks, is open to Being, face to face with Being; thus man referred to Being and so answers to it. Man is essentially this relationship of responding to Being, and he is only this. This ‘only’ does not mean a limitation, but rather an excess. A belonging to Being prevails within man, a belonging which listens to Being because it is appropriated to Being. And Being? Let us think of Being according to its original meaning, as presence. Being is present to man neither incidentally nor only on rare occasions. Being is present and abides only as it concerns man through the claim it makes on him. For it is man, open toward Being, who alone lets Being arrive as presence. Such becoming present needs the openness of a clearing, and by this need remains appropriated to human being” (Identity and Difference, The University of Chicago Press, 2002; 31). Heidegger goes on to say that man and Being belong to each other. (I am reminded that Terrence Malick taught philosophy, met Heidegger, and translated Heidegger’s The Essence of Reason in 1969, by Marc Furstenau and Leslie MacAvoy’s “Terrence Malick’s Heideggerian Cinema,” 173-185, in The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America, the 2003 anthology edited by Hannah Patterson for London’s Wallflower Press. The authors note, too, that we sometimes take the representation that cinema gives us for what is real, what is absent. The fundamental question is, What is our relationship to what exists?)

It is likely that John Smith had known the pleasures of the flesh, and had seen and probably experienced religious practices, but a spiritual encounter—in which he received a different sense of being—might have been new and profound. Smith has a duty to his men, and his king and country. Pocahontas has a duty to her father, the king, and to her people. Her father Powhatan (August Schellenberg) asks her to put her people first. She says, “I know myself.” Her father asks, “Even your heart?” (How can anyone know her heart, know how she will respond to new people, new situations—new emotions? It is the newness that defines the unknown, and which creates unpredictability.) Powhatan reminds Pocahontas that Smith is not one of them, but her intimacy with Smith continues. Her brother calls her away from Smith—and during both the first and second screening of the film, it seemed to me that he called her Rebecca (a name I thought she took later after Smith has left, after she began to live in the English colony, after she is baptized; he might have called her Matoaka, her birth name and a name with a similar sound). What Pocahontas and John Smith feel for each other compromises their duties; they become friends, and begin to love each other.

John Smith (Farrell) says that his time with Pocahontas (Kilcher) seems like a dream. We often define truth as that which repudiates our hopes. What seems like a dream is a place and time that does not exist according to the rules, and in the ways, that we are accustomed to, a place and time that fulfills wants or needs we assumed might not ever be met, a place and time that asks us to give up public duty for private satisfaction. When Pocahontas gives Smith a feather from her hair, he touches her shoulder, caresses her face, and gives her a kiss. He asks himself, “Love: shall we deny it when it visits us? Shall we not take what we are given?... There is only this, all else is unreal.” These are questions that can subvert a man’s sense of self, his allegiance to community, and his sense of reality. Meanwhile, Pocahontas asks to see her mother-goddess’s face, to see a sign; and she seems to have moved from an unquestioned faith in that spirit to needing proof. Is that what having Smith in her life has done, brought doubt?

As Pocahontas (Kilcher) comes to care for John Smith, she muses to herself that she is “Afraid of myself A god he seems to me. What else is life, but being near you? Do they suspect?” These thoughts, which we can hear, are confirmations of individuality: of consciousness, of feeling. Smith’s difference from Pocahontas no doubt endows him with a special air; and has begun to cause a spiritual separation from her people. (She watches a storm, with clouds and lightning, and it could be a manifestation of what she feels.) Introspection—whether in the form of perception, philosophy, or prayer—is what is not immediately said, but that which can and does shape later speech and action.

The native king, Powhatan, sends Smith back to James Fort, expecting the settlers to leave in the spring. Smith returns to his men with food carried by the natives. In front of the fort’s gate, a guard tells Smith, “The savages will have to stop here captain.” The fort’s children—nearly feral now—interrogate Smith, who was tried in absentia, based on a chapter in Leviticus: which nearly seems a cruel joke and indicates the seriousness with which people took religious doctrine, taking it for law. Wingfield, who had taken charge of the fort in Smith’s absence, is accused of abuse of power by other men, and Wingfield commences to execute Smith but is himself killed. Smith is chosen as the fort’s leader, or president.

Smith still thinks about Pocahontas, somewhat guiltily, handling the feather she gave him, but he decides the time with her was a dream, putting the feather away in a box. Life in the settlement involves men fighting over what day it is and Smith’s charge to them to build a well and their deluded prospecting for gold. In the settlement as the seasons change, there is sickness and hunger, with men boiling leather belts for food, and there is cold, including snow and a blizzard. (A man dies, and someone eats his hands. Who is savage? In the first film version I saw, Smith says to put it all down in the record but in the subsequent version that request was dropped: is that how history is censored? Paula Gunn Allen has made note of Windigo, a winter god that inspires madness and savagery; and with the fort’s boys chattering about other incidents of men eating the dead it seems that Windigo has visited.) Pocahontas leads a group of natives bringing food to Smith and his small, remaining party, and men kneel down to her in thanks. “Don’t trust me. You don’t know who I am,” Smith tells her, but they reach out for each other, wary of observers.

Want and need compel the actions of settlers and natives, and sometimes lead to conflict or acts of compassion: the settling of land in a place in which one is not genuinely welcomed, the use of unwilling native guides, the threat of competing claims on land, and Pocahontas going against the inclinations of her father and community to protect and help John Smith, even bringing the settlers food during a harsh and humbling winter. When it warms after the settlers’ first winter, John Smith travels to do more trading—and he seems to be distracted by his memory of Pocahontas, his eyes full of tears. There is a point when Smith thinks of going to her, of giving up his name: his relationship with her, as he sees it, would mean giving up his identity.

In the spring, when her father Powhatan expected the settlers to leave, her father’s scouts see corn crops—evidence of plans to stay, evidence of her giving the settlers seeds to plant (she has betrayed her father’s wishes). The king plans to attack. Pocahontas goes to Smith, asking him to “Come away.” He asks, “Where would we live, in the woods, a treetop, a hole in the ground?” He then asks her to come with him, but she leaves him. Neither thinks to live in the other’s world or is able to envision something else. Pocahontas walks back to her people, and finds logs in a pile—a broken down house? her own dwelling?—and then we see fire in a boat—a sacrifice to a deity? a funeral rite (hers)? The natives go to the English settlement and are shot upon before they can initiate an attack, with the soldiers facing the natives in a frontal assault; a preparedness that suggests forewarning. The battle scene, fought with the arrows and hatchets of the natives and the guns and swords of the English, is long, brutal, with some of the shuttering motion of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Smith is a good, possibly too good, fighter (he looks like he wandered in from a twenty-first century movie). The fighting is inter-cut with mostly silent depictions of nature. That might suggest that nature is peaceful while man is predatory, but we know that is not true. On page 15 of the Wallflower Press anthology The Cinema of Terrence Malick, Ron Mottram recalls in his “All Things Shining” that in The Thin Red Line the director Terrence Malick matches speculation about the avenging powers of nature with peaceful scenes of nature. It is as if Malick is saying that nature is beautiful but not simple—and all, including us, are part of nature. Ben McCann’s piece in the same book, “Enjoying the Scenery,” 75-85, is also about nature, its beauty, power, and conflicts, its symbolic weight: in his last paragraph, he writes that “we can see how both Badlands and Days of Heaven embody an organic, pantheistic and sublime conception of nature and the environment. The confluence of nature and human interaction are forever fraught with tension.”

In the fighting between the English and the natives, Pocahontas’s brother is injured, an injury in which she’s implicated after helping and warning the English, and a ritual involving smoke and a small turtle is performed for him; and Pocahontas is returned to her disapproving father, and that is when he exiles her. “You are no longer my child,” he says.

The New World (Newline 2005)
The New World (New Line 2005).

The natives uproot the settlers’ corn crop, taking back what Pocahontas has given. When the natives and the English fight, with the natives making their way inside the English fort, John Smith prays, “Lord, turn not away thy face. Let us not be brought to nothing.” Men do die, but the fort is not destroyed: men survive. Pocahontas is sent by her father to one of her uncles, who is willing to sell her for a copper kettle to the colonists; and against Smith’s wishes, she is purchased by the fort, with the thought that the fort will not be attacked by Powhatan with Pocahontas in it. Smith’s unwillingness to purchase her indicates to his men Smith’s disloyalty: he is relieved of authority, whipped, made to do manual labor, and hung by his feet. As he is whipped, Smith is mocked by one of the colonists, a madman known as Savage and played by Jon Savage, who rages in a moralistic fervor; he denounces Smith’s prominence in the settlement and also the natives (this commenting figure is used similarly to the way Amiri Baraka is used in Warren Beatty’s Bulworth, except where Baraka was an encouraging spirit, this man is a punitive one). The whipping is administered partly because Smith has insulted the personal vanity of one of his fellows, Argall (Yorick van Wageningen), who had saved Smith from Wingfield’s intended execution of him, a change in relation that is a demonstration of the undependability of human personality. One of the fascinating things about the film is that terrible things occur without much heralding or great emphasis. When Pocahontas is purchased by the fort as protection, she is welcomed by many who recall her generosity, and she is given the house of a deceased reverend. Pocahontas is both a hostage and a protected figure.

Nature is what surrounds them; and nature is what the two peoples fight over. When the commander Christopher Newport returns from England to the Jamestown colony with his large ships and firing cannons, the natives sue for peace. Newport has brought supplies, women, and a new royal assignment for John Smith (to find a passage to the Indies). Pocahontas is given a middle-age woman attendant, friendly, kind, who begins to instruct her in writing, western wear, and in being a proper young lady. Pocahontas, living with the colonists, takes on their habits and values, and becomes shy around Smith when they meet again, covering her legs, and wondering “Am I as you like?” She has become self-conscious in a new way; and becoming more like him—more like his kind—she also becomes, in manner though not feeling, more distant from him. Smith tells her, “I have never been the man I seemed to you to be.” He recognizes that, with her, he has not been the man he himself has known: he has been a different man—a false man, or a truer man. However, she says, “I belong to you.”

“Eden lies about us still,” Newport says to his people, “Let’s create a fresh example for humanity.” Newport also says, “God has given us a promised land,” which seems just a bit much, a confusion of religious belief with personal and national destiny—and a forgetting that there are others who have first claim on the land, simply because those others are different: natural and civil. It is an irony that John Smith had begun to become a new man—as Newport suggested—but Smith’s new assignment and Smith’s own doubt prevented further development of that.

Smith leaves Pocahontas without explanation. “He told you a pack of lies,” her woman attendant says. Smith has asked a colleague to claim, after two months, that he is dead; and when Pocahontas is told this, she grieves madly. She covers her face with ash, wanders about in mourning and dirt, thinking “You’ve gone away with my life, killed the god in me.” (Natives sometimes covered their faces with ash and fasted when pursuing a dream-vision. In withdrawing from the common life, is she seeking a dream-vision, contact with the spiritual?) The settlers feel sorry for her. Meanwhile, the native Powhatan village is burned and the natives take their portable belongings and flee: the destruction of their civilization has begun. We see a crop field full of smoke and ashes. The suffering of Pocahontas is shortly halted when she sees a man imprisoned in public and brings him a drink of water. She is observed then by the newly arrived gentleman and tobacco farmer John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who says she was regarded as broken and lost by the time he met her; and Rolfe asks to spend an afternoon with her. John Rolfe (Bale) is interested in Pocahontas, but we are not sure exactly why—except for the obvious, that she is a native princess, pretty, and different. Bale is perceptibly intelligent, and at first I thought him too obviously self-conscious, but he exists as counterpoint—in intelligence and morality—to Smith’s instincts; and Rolfe is serene, where Smith is troubled. “All your sorrow will give you strength,” Pocahontas’s woman attendant tells her, noting Pocahontas has a nature that can transform difficulty, using as metaphor a tree, which continues to grow despite broken branches. Rolfe begins to teach Pocahontas also, sharing his conception of time—and she asks him why the earth has colors and he smiles, unable to answer. In seeing someone else’s discomfort and responding to it, and in being tended to herself, and in learning new things, Pocahontas begins to leave the past and re-enter the present; she begins to heal. One might consider The New World two films: one about an innocent girl who is whole and becomes broken; and the other about a broken girl who becomes whole and a woman.

Pocahontas is baptized Rebecca, and given gifts by her neighbors before she leaves with Rolfe to work on his tobacco farm. We see scenes of farm work, of fertilizing plants with fish, of drying tobacco (tobacco was called apook and seen as a sacred plant by the natives). The relationship of individuals to nature, society, and history, with an accent on the centrality of consciousness, is what The New World presents. Nature offers the possibility of contemplation and transcendence, of resources and development: the spiritual and the material. After Pocahontas, now Rebecca, begins to work with John Rolfe, he still wonders about her: “Who are you? What do you dream of?” (He hugs her.) We watch her, as he does, walk and work and play in the yard. He thinks, “She weaves all things together.” What can this mean? That she, born native but taking on the manner of the colonists, connects the two cultures? That she connects spirituality and daily life? Whatever he sees, he likes enough to propose marriage.

In a letter to a prominent settler leader, Thomas Dale, Rolfe wrote about how enthralled he was by Pocahontas (Rebecca), a passion he subjected to much meditation and prayer in light of her having belonged to a different faith and culture, meditation that led him to think the marriage would be good for both her and him and also his god and country, a good he defends against the vulgar thoughts of others.

It is a marriage proposal that does not excite Rebecca, though she accepts, with tears. Why is she crying? Rebecca says she supposes that she must be happy, which is certainly a possibility, though I wondered if she were thinking that it would have been perfect if Smith had asked her. She asks Rolfe, “Where would we live?” Smith, with disbelief, had asked that question of her. Rolfe’s answer is better: “here or England, wherever you like.” Rolfe tells her that she does not love him, Rolfe, now, but that someday she will; and they do marry. Rolfe has been described by some as an aristocrat but Paula Gunn Allen asserts in the HarperSanFrancisco book Pocahontas, a book both deeply informed and highly speculative, that Rolfe, though a gentleman, was a commoner and that Pocahontas became known as Lady Rebecca not as a result of her marriage to Rolfe but in light of her prominence among the natives, as a daughter of royalty. Rolfe still watches his wife Rebecca as if she were a mystery—he watches her in sleep, in movement, in prayer, in work. To her spirit god, she asks, “Mother, why can I not feel as I should, must?” She thinks, “Once false, we must not be again”; and about Rolfe concludes, “He is like a tree; he shelters me.” We see ease, humor, warmth develop between them. (In addition, we see their outside oven, her hand-held mirror, and their free-ranging chickens, various elements of their lives.) Their son, Thomas, is born.

There are various things that work as symbols in the film The New World: the feather Pocahontas gives Smith (something that could have no meaning for anyone but the two of them); the copper kettle wanted as price for surrendering Pocahontas (suggests an unequal value system); the frightening cannons of the English ships (technology); the punishment block at the center of the fort (it holds a man’s head and hands, and the sight of it conveys isolation, shame, loss of freedom, and the centrality of communal judgment); Pocahontas’s gestural and spoken prayers to her mother goddess (the constancy of spirituality; the material world as part of a greater cosmos); trees—while Smith refers to his time with Pocahontas in the forest as like a dream, Pocahontas and Rolfe are each compared to a tree, as something rooted, growing, strong, protective, as natural, very real; and the child that Rebecca and Rolfe have (the union of two individuals, of two peoples).

After Rolfe and Rebecca marry and have a little boy, she is invited to meet the king and queen of England for a royal audience in her honor, but before they go she accidentally finds out during a visit to the fort that John Smith is still alive. She is wounded anew. “I’m married to him. He lives,” she tells Rolfe, who says that she does not know what marriage is exactly, a statement we can see he doubts (she may not know the law but she knows the feeling); also, if she does not know what marriage is, she cannot be married to him. “There is that in her I shall not know,” Rolfe thinks. They take a ship to England, and on the ship is one of her father’s men (Opechancanough, actor Wes Studi), sent to see England and curious himself about the god the Englishmen are always talking about. (Someone, a native priest, named Uttamatamakin—also called Tomokin—actually made the trip with Rebecca. I recall Kenneth Burke describing gods as names for motives that correspond to natural forces. Does the Christian god represent anything but the nature of man? Or property? We see Openchancanough in a large, empty church with painted windows.) Rebecca is warmly received in England; and on the streets she is recognized, bowed to; and she meets royalty in a formal setting, wearing a red robe with a white collar, and a gold braid on her dark blue-green hat. Although not in the film, it has been reported that Rebecca also attended the plays of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson while in England.

The New World (Newline 2005)
The New World (New Line 2005).

John Rolfe accepts the need for Rebecca, formerly Pocahontas, to see Smith. (“You will not be at peace until you see him,” says Rolfe.) “You are the man I thought you were and more,” says Rebecca to Rolfe, recognizing his generosity and understanding. The film respects the privacy of individuals enough to acknowledge it, and Malick explores that privacy: human spirits recognize each other, and are attracted or repelled by what they see. The male characters are both sensitive and strong, with John Smith pursuing a predictable male path, and John Rolfe making the feminine—through his unique response to Pocahontas—a part of his personality and life. The intelligent Rolfe is finally more spiritual than the more sensual Smith. “Love is a severe critic. Hate can pardon more than love. They who aspire to love worthily, subject themselves to an ordeal more rigid than any other,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in “Love” (Collected Essays and Poems; 325). Thoreau also wrote, “A man of fine perceptions is more truly feminine than a merely sentimental woman” (325).

Pocahontas is the most active female presence in the film, with the queen of England and Pocahontas’s attendant being the other significant women: one recognizes Pocahontas’s importance, and the other helps her make social transitions. Female colonists offer sympathy to Pocahontas and one unintentionally gives her significant information regarding John Smith’s destiny. Society, a provider of values, food, clothing, and shelter, is given to fossilizing intellectual habits (the prejudices of culture and religion), and given to use violence as deterrent and punishment. Terrence Malick presents a world of possibility and conflict, beauty and violence. Malick recognizes an important aspect of American history—the fact that the continent was peopled before the Europeans and Englishmen arrived. The best moments between the two peoples in the film are the arrival of the Englishmen, when the two peoples meet without violence and simply see and touch each other; and Pocahontas’s response to Smith and provision of help; and Smith’s surprising, nearly awe-filled (but betrayed) feeling for Pocahontas and Rolfe’s rather gentle love for her.

When Smith visits Pocahontas (Rebecca) at a grand estate in England, it is impossible not to contrast Rolfe’s honesty with Smith’s past compromises and deceptions. However, it’s important not to confuse being human and imperfect, as Smith is, with being evil. Christian Bale as John Rolfe conveys chivalry, curiosity, empathy, fascination, and intelligence: a benevolence and maturity that seem balm and reward for Pocahontas. When Pocahontas gets to meet John Smith again, there is a possibility of the renewal of love, but more than that is a chance to measure how much each has changed and what that change has meant. Pocahontas anxiously goes out to meet him but, once met, she then calmly looks at and listens to him. Q’Orianka Kilcher’s acting has delicacy, feeling, variety, and as her face is distinct—long, with high cheekbones, with lips that can look flat or plump, and light brown skin—and most of us were not familiar with her face before The New World, she can seem a wonder, as if she has many faces. Smith says he thought of Pocahontas, and mentions her success at court, her fame. We see her: she is a young English-American lady, Lady Rebecca, no longer a native princess. In his unchanged state—the same tormented look, the same clothes—he seems diminished; and while she smiles, he seems sad. “It seems as if I was speaking with you for the first time,” he says. They part. Rebecca joins Rolfe and asks to go home, to America, and she calls Rolfe husband, and they kiss, a renewal of their commitment. We see them playing with their little boy on the lawn of a small, attractive English country estate. “Mother, now I know where you live,” she thinks, apparently having found the proof of spirit she previously sought.


One of the early film theorists, Rudolf Arnheim, offered various admonitions to critics in the late 1920s to mid-1930s, among them: only mention themes and plot to illustrate a point; be informed about film history, technology, and production, with recognition of the collaborative nature of film, and without overvaluing the past so that historical works are presented as contemporary models; also, note economic factors and the ideological climate (see: Arnheim’s “Toward a Theory of Film Criticism” in Film Essays and Criticism, University of Wisconsin Press, 1997; 101-110). Obviously, Arnheim’s admonitions are defied or followed at will. What’s remarkable now is that Arnheim was skeptical of films with sound, thinking them less artistic than silent films, which he thought required more visual imagination for expression. He was also skeptical about the kind of critique that came to bear on historical films, when it’s assumed changes in the depiction of facts are made due to ignorance rather than conscious choice, clarifying: “Every alteration of history is, far more, a sharply calculated, economic measure designed to make the film more sympathetic, more attractive, exciting, splendid, thrilling for the public—in the same way that every film version of a novel or theater piece is changed” (Film Essays and Criticism; 109). Rudolf Arnheim thought that the idea that cinema consists of a few independent artists making films for a few art lovers an entirely false one. Clearly, I find Arnheim’s thoughts noteworthy as Terrence Malick is accepted as an artist, and he has given us a talking film with a historical subject, a subject that is well-known, in which certain facts are contested (Pocahontas was about twelve when she met John Smith, so some think a romance was unlikely, though there is a history of people mating young in America and Europe), and The New World has a film technique that is not—in pacing, in solemnity—typically ingratiating.

I want to note some of the critical responses The New World has received thus far. An early review in the December 12, 2005 film trade publication Variety by Todd McCarthy was thorough, balanced, but ultimately rejecting: McCarthy acknowledged that no one’s films look like Terrence Malick’s, and that “Malick brings palpably alive the physical manifestations of the British presence in Virginia, beginning in 1607.” He acknowledges the fictional embellishments of the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith, but notes the verisimilitude of the setting, a “convincing version of indigenous American life 400 years ago that has a gratifyingly hand-tooled feel. When Fort James is first seen, its ugliness truly resembles a scar upon the land.” McCarthy cites the film for a failure of character presentation, with an assertion I find bewildering: Malick “can’t get inside the heads of any of his characters and fails to establish a connection for the audience.” He also states, “there is no attempt to delineate the native group’s family or power structure, or this tribe’s relationship with its neighbors.” McCarthy cites what he perceives as the “muddled action, abrupt transitions, and a lulling torpor” of the film’s mid-section, concluding, “In the end, there is also a feeling of pictorial repetition of what Malick has done before, particularly in the reliance on nature shots.”

From the first group of reviews attendant to the late December 2005 screening, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis (December 23, 2005), wrote that Malick, a poet more than an historian, was interested in “how and why enlightened free men, when presented with new realms of possibility, decided to remake this world in their own image,” and posited that if the affair between Smith and Pocahontas seems ethereal it is because it is part of Malick’s “countermythology,” in which Pocahontas is self-directed, not selfless.

In the Los Angeles Times the same day, December 23, Carina Chocano wrote:

“Malick is an artist with a singular vision and the skill and support (one hopes) to realize it, and to apply conventional Hollywood standards to his films is to miss their point. He uses sound and imagery to create a vast sensory universe unfiltered through received notions, current politics or moral judgments and historical hindsight. He doesn’t attempt to re-create a period so much as he tries to experience it for the first time, drawing human-scale characters against the enormous and cataclysmic backdrop of nature and history. What we get is not an ‘objective’ or dispassionate view of the world but rather a series of subjective, experiential perspectives. He neither strives for verisimilitude nor spectacle but for an alchemic blend of both—life in all its power as it is experienced by sentient, sensitive beings.”

Chocano, who sees in Malick a fundamental respect for life, described the movie as philosophical, noting how beliefs about love, death, war, and nature, lead to an opposite belief before becoming a synthesis of both. She also notes the world the natives, Rebecca and one of her father’s advisors (Opechancanough, actor Wes Studi), found in England: “An ambassador sent by Chief Powhatan to learn more about the English intentions and ‘meet this God they’re always talking about,’ tours the sculptured gardens and topiaries of the royal court, marveling at the symmetrical trees and terraced gardens. Everywhere are straight lines and confined forms. It’s a geometric world, where nature has been conquered and cultivated, representing the inverse and opposite end-point of a civilization, which seen through the eyes of the Powhatan ambassador looks startlingly strange and new.”

Matt Zoller Seitz, in the December 21-27, 2005 New York Press, called the film a masterpiece, and, at end of an ecstatic review that celebrated Malick, his sometimes improvisatory method of working, and his actors, Zoller Seitz concluded by saying, “By presenting every character’s experience through the same cosmic, free-associative prism, Malick ascribes equal emotional significance to each individual’s life, a masterstroke that’s not just exciting but inspiring. Tributaries of individual experience merge to create a river of collective feeling and experience that sweeps you along as Malick’s heroes are swept along, in rapture. It is as if Malick is dreaming for all of us—a presumption as recklessly innocent and beautiful as Stephen Daedalus’ promise in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: ‘Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.’ ”

In the LA Weekly (December 23-29, 2005), Scott Foundas described the film as exuding “a rapturous, sensual beauty,” one in which it’s “like the images are touching you,” and that the film seemed to forsake the usual narrative boundaries on behalf of an abstract study of figures and environments, “like the films of the experimental filmmakers James Benning and Peter Hutton.” (P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000, from Oxford, notes that Benning was concerned also with Native Americans, whereas Hutton’s black-and-white films leisurely and luminously explored the quotidian.) Like many reviewers Foundas commended the performance of Q’Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, who “seems the embodiment of all that is pure and good about the natural world. As lissome as the grass itself, she could be Malick’s dream woman. And Smith, for all his benevolent intentions, is her despoiler.” Yet, Foundas—noting the paucity of dialog, the lack of dimension of secondary characters, and the prevalence of Malick’s good taste—found Malick’s “reveries have become suffocating.”

The New World (Newline 2005)
The New World (New Line 2005).

More recently, Friday, January 20, 2006, following the release of the revised version in January 2006, Manohla Dargis commented in The New York Times that the film—previously 150 minutes, and now 135 minutes—was “the first necessary film of this young year,” noting changes to the voiceover narration and a subtly faster tempo. She writes, “The most conspicuous addition is a bit of exposition that finds the leader of the voyage (played by Christopher Plummer) summarizing who and why the travelers are there, which may prove helpful to anyone walking in cold or to those who slept through high school history. It’s a whiff of convention in a film that otherwise still overwhelmingly hews its own aesthetic course.” She also noted that this “Smith is slyer, cagier (watch his eyes) and much less of a moral question mark.” Dargis saluted Malick’s ability to create meaning out of imagery, in his depiction of space and suggestion that the fort the English created to protect themselves also became their prison.

Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, in a review also available to San Francisco Gate.com readers, wrote in his January 20, 2006 commentary that The New World’s effects reminded him of music and poetry, and he called the film a “masterpiece,” but noted that it is “dull and then dazzling, dull and then brilliant, dull and then awe-inspiring. It lulls viewers into a pleasant trance and then interrupts that trance at frequent intervals for some of the best filmmaking imaginable—some of it beyond imagining.” LaSalle noted the film’s presentation of Pocahontas as the first American, part of an epic life journey, and that “Kilcher, a newcomer to movies, is everything one could hope for in the role. Farrell is at least as rugged and magnetic as Smith claimed to be, and Bale does that impossible thing—he makes goodness look interesting.”

Armond White made much of the spirituality of the film in his own consideration of the re-edited film in New York Press (January 25-31, 2006), stating that in its presentation of people from different cultures, “Malick distills these ingenuous souls’ feelings into quietly spoken interior monologues. Their secret thoughts comprise the film’s voice-over narration. Edited down, they evince two styles of heroic optimism—Pocahontas’s naiveté and Smith’s worldliness—which, when lyrically interwoven, constitute Malick’s most meaningful trope: an audacious series of prayers.” (“The cinema has always been interested in God,” begins an Andre Bazin essay, “Cinema and Theology,” in Bazin at Work, Routledge, 1997, 61-72, in which Bazin discusses film’s use of Bible stories, depictions of saints, and dramas featuring nuns and priests, with particular focus on Jean Delannoy’s 1950 film God Needs Men, an interpretation of a Henri Queffelec book, in which an unordained man replaces an incompetent ordained priest and is effective in the role, serving as conscience, spiritual witness, and even model for his community. Yet, Bazin considered the presentation of reality as one of the gifts of cinema. The question regarding The New World is whether the film contains spiritual content as well as spiritual gestures. Can we see its spiritual content as the abdication of spiritual vision by Smith and the affirmation of such vision by Rolfe? Or, is the acceptance of nature—of life—its spiritual content?) Armond White finds a difference in the relationship between Pocahontas and Smith in the first and second edits: “Pocahontas and Smith’s love is fraught by cultural tensions between settlers and natives. As their love blossoms, it is also stressed. In the first version, these paradoxes meandered; now Malick presents the phenomenon of cultural integration in overlapping phases: hope and peril, curiosity and ruin, love and fate.”

Pocahontas teaches Smith “new feelings by her dignity and strangeness,” wrote Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times review (January 20, 2006), calling her the bridge between two peoples. “The Indians live because they submit to the realities of their land, and the English nearly die because they are ignorant and arrogant,” Ebert surmises, stating that “these two civilizations could have built something new together—but could not, because what both societies knew at that time did not permit it.” Ebert described Malick as a visionary for a story that required one. Surprisingly, Jonathan Rosenbaum in another Chicago paper, the Chicago Reader, in listings for January 20 through January 26, 2006, wrote that he was not as charmed, that Malick’s “storytelling skill has atrophied, and he’s now given to transcendental reveries, discontinuous editing, offscreen monologues, and a pie-eyed sense of awe. All these things can be defended, even celebrated, but I couldn’t find my bearings.”

It seems reasonable to say that while mostly good—understanding, approving—the response given Terrence Malick’s The New World has been mixed.

The New World is a film that renews the significance of several questions that interest me very much: What is the root of moral authority? How is meaning created? What is a dependable standard of greatness? The ordinary roots of moral authority are communal, legal, and scriptural, but I am inclined to think that a moral authority, imperfect but useful, can rest in intellect, in knowledge of ideas and facts and their effects, and that evidence can be provided to others for their ethical consideration of what is true, right, and just. In the effects of heartbreak and war, it’s possible to see the limits of men. There are different authorities in the film: Captain Newport, John Smith, Powhatan, Pocahontas, Wingfield, Captain Argall, Pocahontas’s woman attendant, Opechancanough, and the king and queen of England. Authority fluctuates, depending on situation, time, and goal. With the fluctuation of authority, there is a shift in meaning—in the sense of which associations are most important, what the most lasting effect is likely to be. What is generosity to the settlers is betrayal to the natives in The New World. What is a loss of innocence and love is the beginning of maturity and fulfillment. Meaning is created as a result of perception, thought, recognition of effects, and accumulated associations. Meaning is created as a result of will and force. Meaning is created as a result of image, word, and deed. The New World offers the possibility of understanding. I resolve that, in addition to demonstrating a mastery of craft and discipline, an artist or thinker or work is great not only if he, she, or it, is comprehensive but if he, she, or it is comprehending—of all that we have been, are, or are likely to be. Is The New World a great film?

The New World is like The Constant Gardener and Brokeback Mountain in being unusually beautiful, nearly wondrous with beauty, and like them in focusing on loves that defy precedence or prediction. It is like Elizabethtown and Loggerheads and Thumbsucker in that the characters in The New World seem to exist for themselves rather than for our amusement, rather than for us. The film, in form and theme, shares the serious purpose of works by Antonioni, Bresson, and Sokurov. It is like Malick’s own Badlands in showing the union and disunion of a couple, Days of Heaven in demonstrating the awful effect of betrayal and deception, and The Thin Red Line in displaying the brutality and confusion of war. In The New World’s vision of a very different America—in its sense of how history might have evolved differently, with different values: respect for nature and those of other cultures, with shared work and shared resources—it reminds me of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust; and as with Daughters, one sees that this alternate reality has little obvious resonance in the ordinary lives we live now or even in the virtues that we widely celebrate. (Most of us are much less hopeful, less spiritual, leaving most of the film’s resonance to throb within us at its presentation of conflict.) The New World’s sense of place—and of time, which goes slowly, while the most momentous things happen within it—can’t help but be distinguished. The slow pacing of The New World, and its presentation of consciousness, give the film experimental aspects; and many of the characters suggest complexity despite the realm of nature in which they find themselves. Of course, Smith and Pocahontas make choices that relate to their personal wants and communal commitments, as do other characters: demonstrating that practicality can lead to sacrifices that can enlarge or reduce the humanity of one’s self or that of others. The New World’s presentation of and respect for Native Americans renders it distinct. Other than Godard’s Notre Musique and Heather Rae’s Trudell, how many recent films have referred to Native Americans in a significant way? Because of the respect paid to Pocahontas, natives are given a contemplation—of individuality, of spirit—they usually don’t get in film. However, I wish we followed more of the natives. We see some of their social habits but not much of their individual minds. (Does anyone else in the film have love relationships, other than Pocahontas? What did the Englishmen do for sex before women arrived from England?) The film, without denying the facts of English exploration and trespass and Native American suspicion and use of violence as deterrent, does not suggest the usual rhetoric of blame: and we can see two peoples wanting control of the same land. After all, it is often said, elsewhere, that Native Americans thought that land could not be owned; something that suggests that it—ideally—could be shared. In Pocahontas and John Rolfe we have the possibility of reconciliation.

“All transcendent goodness is one, though appreciated in different ways, or by different senses. In beauty we see it, in music we hear it, in fragrance we scent it, in the palatable the pure palate tastes it, and in rare health the whole body feels it. The variety is in the surface or manifestation; but the radical identity we fail to express. The lover sees in the glance of his beloved the same beauty that in the sunset paints the western skies,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in the essay “Love” (Collected Essays and Poems; 324).

Pocahontas might have brought all things together in her world, and something similar could be said of Terrence Malick: how many filmmakers get a viewer to think about the founding of America and transgressive love, dream and truth, Heidegger and Native American spirituality, pain and healing, Thoreau and film criticism? The sublime—the gorgeous presence of all things, and the shared energy in all living beings, and the choices involved in whether to go on living and how to live in knowledge of the facts of love, war, and death—is what Malick sees and shares, and what we, with varying efforts and success, come to perceive in The New World. We can look into the past and see very different people but also wonder about ourselves, possibly, as Terrence Malick has, and Walt Whitman before him:

"Great are yourself and myself,
We are just as good and bad as the oldest and youngest
      or any,
What the best and worst did we could do,
What they felt..do not we feel it in ourselves?
What they wished..do we not wish the same?"

-Walt Whitman, "Great Are the Myths," Leaves of Grass

Daniel Garrett is currently a New York resident, and his work has appeared in The African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, The Compulsive Reader, Offscreen, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today.

$ $ $Date: 2006/05/30 20:03:17 $