The New World
Terrence Malick’s 2005 epic poem about the European settlement of Jamestown, the ensuing battles with furious natives, and a legendary cross-cultural love affair depicts the dangers of ambition and the necessity of conscience. With the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men), Malick captures a sense of the unspoiled beauty that once welcomed pilgrims to this “promised land.”
That beauty seems to speak directly and eloquently to the hearts of the central characters, the surly explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and the beautiful young native Rebecca (Q’orianka Kilcher). “What voice is this that speaks within me, guides me towards the best?” asks Smith as he helps his fellow settlers make a start. Enthralled, he has stumbled into love with the natives’ beguiling princess. They bring out the best in each other for a while, their trust expanding to unite the European newcomers and the wary natives. Rebecca thinks Smith is “a god.” He thinks her a treasure.
When war breaks out between the untrustworthy English and the panicking Indians, threatening to break this unlikely bond, Smith must fight to survive not only the natives’ attacks but also the betrayals of his own people. But there are other treasures calling this explorer. In time, Rebecca’s heart becomes painfully torn between the ambitious adventurer and a humbler man, a tobacco farmer named John Rolfe (Christian Bale) who promises faithfulness and love. Malick’s movie becomes a hymn to the spirit that moves through the natural world, whispering to us in mystery and metaphor about faithfulness, sustenance, and endurance through hardship and change.