Sunday, August 12, 2012

The New World - Extended Cut













THE NEW WORLD – Extended Cut         B+                   
USA  (172 mi)  2005  ‘Scope  d:  Terrence Malick                              

There was no sea beyond the mountains, only a land stretching away forever in great meadows, a land which had no end.    —Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) 

A portrait of Pocahontas, born a Powhatan Indian but eventually converted to Christianity with a proper baptism, her short life imagined and memorialized by Malick, where the opening 45 minutes or so are the same as the original, but an extra half hour of extended sequences begin to occur placing more focus on the personal relationship between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, whose life she spared.  When Smith is returned to his settlement fort by the “Naturals,” he is greeted by desperate children living in squalor and starving for food, an odd sight since there are no women present, where men lay dying from disease, mostly malaria from mosquitoes in the swampy marsh where they landed, a contrast from the peace, beauty, and harmony of the Indian village.  Immediately, in the chaos of strife, there’s a struggle for power, accusations made, where the leader is shot and killed on the spot, leaving Smith in charge of a destitute lot of rag tag settlers.  In his internal reflections, he thinks not of his men, but of Pocahontas.  As Smith lived and observed the ways of the Naturals, one supposedly mentally challenged Indian is allowed inside the fort to explore the men and their weapons, all shown with a strange curiosity, a meeting with something mysteriously new.  Of course, the settlers look upon him with suspicion and contempt, already calling him a savage.  Rather than survival and self preservation, the settlers are more interested in digging for gold, showing a misplaced priority of their mission, which was to establish a colony.  The few crops they planted all die, offering little hope for a future settlement.  When the winter comes, the group is ill-prepared, freezing, and purposeless, filled with endless complaints, where without food, every hardship is exaggerated, creating a prevailing sense of hopelessness.  When Pocahontas arrives with an entourage bringing large quantities of food, the act itself appears like a mirage, like an utter miracle.  Malick makes it clear that the survival of the original mission would have failed were it not for the sympathetic actions of a so-called *savage* who exhibits qualities of foresight and empathy, exactly what the settlers lacked among themselves.  While the settlers bow down in thanks and appreciation, their memories are short and their expressed gratitude dies by the coming spring, becoming themselves the savages they believe to exist in others. 

If the winter visit proved anything, it was that both cultures mistrusted a developing closeness between Smith and Pocahontas, thinking this was *unnatural* and possibly even traitorous, as this newly developed loyalty to the “other” could turn against them.  As a result, what was a developing love and attraction turns as barren as the desolation of the winter.  Fear of the unknown other is paramount, and it drives the actions and behavior of both cultures.  In a kind of fantasy sequence, where Malick unifies the natural with the cinematic, creating a picture of unrealized perfection, something the world was not ready for then or now, they meet once again and perhaps even consummate their love in the openness of nature, where she gives herself to him, but in her mind he appears like a ghost that continually appears and disappears.  When the settlers plant corn, the Indians are furious, believing they have no intentions of leaving, accusing Pocahontas of betraying them by extending her help. In this abyss, there is no place for human understanding, only deep seeded fears about what could happen in the future.  When the confrontation finally comes, here it feels inevitable, as both sides feel betrayed by the other, though through the eyes of the cultural ambassadors Smith and Pocahontas, it feels like madness, like a world coming apart, where each are banished into eternal damnation, both prisoners for believing in something that doesn’t yet exist, Smith stripped of his powers and imprisoned, and Pocahontas purchased for a copper kettle as a kidnapped captive by the settlers, who call her the Princess, believing this will bring them protection.  But as one fort is burned to the ground in an attempt to drive them out, another has taken root down river before more boats arrive from across the sea, bringing women and reinforcements.

As a captive, Pocahontas is scrubbed clean and placed in a settler’s dress and heels, her old clothes burned, where she walks around in a daze, where she and Smith still have moments together, but rather than tell her the truth, that he’s been offered a commission from the King to search for the inland passage to the sea, he sneaks away under cover of night, inventing a lie about his supposed death, leaving her completely perplexed and alone.  While the Extended Cut centers upon the idealization of their relationship, where she believes all along that she belongs to him, it’s over, and both have separate paths and new destinies. When this new group of settlers burns down the Indian village, causing them to scatter into the woods, Pocahontas feels utterly lost and all but abandonded, and even contemplates suicide, forever speechless, filled with remorse and sorrow, wishing to return to her old ways—until out of the fog, she’s rescued by another Captain, tobacco farmer John Rolfe (Christian Bale) who takes an interest in her, taking quiet walks or sitting in the grass together saying nothing, filled with their inner thoughts.  Having gone through what she’s experienced, exiled from her way of life, her family, her love, and most of all her dreams, it’s the tenderness expressed here that truly exemplifies the spirit of Malick, who literally transforms her into the Resurrection.  Bale offers marriage as a means of forgetting all that she’s left behind, yet he as well is required to write a petition to the Governor stating his reasons for why he considers such an un-Christian marriage with a “savage” for the good of the Colonies, where sadly, even after marriage, she continues to lead a separate life disconnected from all others.

She overhears town gossip that Captain Smith is alive and returned to London just as she’s been invited to an audience before the King and Queen, creating a personal conflict, as she still believes in a spiritual connection with him.  The return to England are among the most dramatically powerful images in Malick’s career, unlike anything else he’s ever done, especially since they’re such a powerful contrast from the natural world shown earlier, a dizzyingly striking set of images, where the rich detail and color of the royal court could just as easily have been filmed by Kubrick.  Called Her Ladyship, they have her all but wrapped in a Union Jack.  The grounds of the castle are perfectly manicured, balanced by an interior of luxurious ornate décor, exquisitely visualized, another idealized picture of perfection that may also only be a dream, an example of something that humans aspire to be, but rarely if ever reach.  Love, the balance and equalizer of all variant and discordant things, is meant to be difficult and nearly unattainable, perhaps a transcendent state of grace, which is how the finale plays out, where all that was thought to be a dream turns out to be “the only truth.”  Life can be messy and filled with turmoil and blood, but reaching out for the unattainable is what defines humans above all other living creatures, a will to aspire to be more, where sometimes, strange as it seems, we actually find and achieve a place of immortality in this brave new world.  Pocahontas, as it turns out, was only 22 when she died, the victim of European infections that would kill untold numbers of Indians.  However, were it not for her and her remarkable ability to adapt between two entirely different cultural perspectives, most of us Americans would not exist and the shape of the world would be vastly different.       

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