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The suffocating beauty of Terrence Malicks earthy New World

Though the famous "romance" between Smith and Pocahontas (who was likely no more than 12 years old at the time) is more fiction than fact, it's easy to see why Malick has chosen to go in that direction. Malick's Pocahontas is more than just another in his gallery of wide-eyed virginal innocents (including Sissy Spacek in Badlandsand Linda Manz in Days of Heaven)—she's Mother Earth herself, and as played by the extraordinary newcomer Kilcher, she 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. Just one week on from Peter Jackson's behemoth, this is King Kongall over again, only with the gender roles reversed.

Historical fidelity notwithstanding, the scheme of The New Worldis all too easy to read: that Pocahontas will become a pawn in the increasingly violent territorial battles between the Indians and the British. That she will, like America herself, become domesticated—her sun-kissed body bound up in a corset, her bare feet squeezed awkwardly into high heels—and paraded before all of England as an exotic offering. That she will die a symbolic death far from her native land. Well before The New World's two-and-one-half hours are up, Malick's tree-hugging reveries have become suffocating, no matter the unquestionable tastefulness with which they're rendered—more painterly vistas, more Wagner (and a little Mozart, too), ravishing re-creations of 17th-century London. Surely, only a Philistine could find any fault with this, or believe, perchance, that Malick's famous poetic beauty had turned poetically fatal.

They're coming...
They're coming...

THE NEW WORLD WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY TERRENCE MALICK; PRODUCED BY SARAH GREEN. NOW PLAYING.

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