Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Need More Terrence Malick In My Life

             You ever get the feeling that God put something on this earth solely for your pleasure and benefit?  One time recently I was driving while listening to a Bill Evans jazz tune titled “Peace Piece,” a nice little piano song; and as I was driving I watched a fiery red sun setting directly behind the silhouette of a tall, majestic leafless tree.  After taking it all in—the romance between the sun, tree, and music, I decided, “Yep, that moment in time was carefully crafted just for me, and no one can tell me any different.”  It’s the same feeling my wife got that one time I cleaned the house. 

            Well, I also think some movies were just made for certain people.  Terrence Malick’s The New World is the new epitome of that for me.  Let me explain what I mean.   It has a 6.9 rating on IMDB (relatively low by IMDB standards, if a movie is under 7.0 then it’s usually a bad sign).  It has a 69 rating on Metacritic (decent score for Metacritic, but nothing to write home about).  It has a 60 on Rottentomatoes (way low for Tomatoes’ standards).  It made $12M in the U.S. box office on a budget of $30M.  So, relying on my conventional methods of determining what movies to watch failed me miserably this time.  

Nonetheless, as I watched this film with relatively low expectations, I was overcome by a strong sense of connection to it.  It’s truly a director-driven film; the story and script play second-fiddle to Malick’s photography of his landscapes, his old-English set design, and most importantly, his actors.  Showing vs. telling is very much at play here, as we observe the English explorers discovering their new world, the Native Americans discovering their new neighbors (it ends up being a “new world” for them too, after all), and then in the third act, Pocahontas discovering what for her is a new world when she travels with her husband John Rolfe back to Great Britain.  In all three of these cases, Malick expertly captures the feelings of the characters without the use of much dialogue.  Even then, a good portion of the speaking is voice-over.  I can’t explain why, but this approach to film-making just suits me.  As one critic who apparently didn’t think much of the film put it, “The New World is largely about Malick’s love-affair with his camera.”  Well, exactly. 

            For me, this is really a new type of movie, in a way.  I can honestly say that it’s more like watching a ballet than a film.  There are ensemble movements that advance the conflict and plot between the settlers and the Natives; there are solos of Pocahontas and John Smith as we observe their struggles and successes in dealing with their new surroundings, and of course, there are the romantic duets between both Pocahontas/John Smith as well as Pocahontas/John Rolfe.  As with any ballet, this is all accompanied by beautiful musical score.  The chemical reaction between all of these elements in the film evoked a reaction from me that only true art can do. 

            I’m not going to apologize for my strong opinion on this film despite the negativity surrounding it.  Like my sunset, tree, and jazz music, this movie was made just for me, and no one can convince me otherwise.