A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is focused on a clash of civilizations, European and Native Indian, beginning in 1607. Depicted largely in metaphorical imagery of woods, fields, rivers, and the settlement called Jamestown, the movie shows the difficulty of intercultural communication. It includes battle scenes (with guns, spears, tomahawks, explosions, and bloody bodies), as well as long, lyrical (non-narrative) passages that might be uninteresting for some younger viewers.
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What's the story?
Ambitious and gorgeous, Terrence Malick's THE NEW WORLD revisits the myth of the circa-1607 romance between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), revealing its characters' yearnings in landscapes and voiceovers. The romance occurs as Smith stays for months with the tribe -- whom the Europeans deem "the naturals" -- in an ostensible effort to help his own men survive, to win favor and learn strategies of living with the land rather than pitted against it. But even though Smith extols his hosts' communal values ("They no jealousy, no sense of possession"), he can't absorb them. Instead, he is bedeviled by his ambition, enticed by a new voyage to discover the Indies, leaving behind a lie for Pocahontas, that he's died at sea, so he never need return to her. Though she mourns for her lost love, she agrees to marry the solid, loyal, unexciting John Rolfe (Christian Bale).
Is it any good?
Malick's film is of two minds. On one hand, it refutes this pretty story by making Smith overtly a problem, an arrogant adventurer. On another, it offers poetic images to suggest she continues to love this white invader even after he abandons her.
Impressionistic as his films will be, Malick brings to bear on this saga a fascinated (and at times, fascinating) patience, as his camera wafts over natural woodsy scenes or dense rainfalls. Pocahontas warns John Rolfe, "There are things you don't know, things you could not guess." Ah yes, but her ripe mystery is so captivating that he can't not want her. However Rolfe or Smith or even you comprehend her, Pocahontas' tragedy is just this desire, that has so little to do with her.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the myth of John Smith and Pocahontas: given that she was probably 10 or 11 when they first met (and she saved him from death ordered by her father, a king), why might stories persist that theirs was a romance, based in mutual love and interests?
How does this version differ from the 1995 animated Disney musical, Pocahontas?
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