Author Topic: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World  (Read 4021 times)

oneaprilday

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2008, 09:13:37 PM »
...Okay, a quick Google search led me to Frances Mossiker's Pocahontas: The Life and the Legend, where, in a paragraph beginning, "Elsewhere, inital contacts were idyllic...," the captain of a 1584 expedition is quoted as having said, "We have never in the world encountered a more kind and loving people. ... We were entertained with kindness and friendship and were given everything they could provide.  We found these people gentle, loving, and faithful, lacking all guile and trickery.  It was as if they lived in a golden age of their own."

pixote

That is really interesting! And yes, very cool find. Even if it does not originate with Malick though, it fits right in with Malick's viewpoint/voice which, ultimately, the visuals confirm and which lotr-sam offers in part:

In some ways I think Malick is trying to get in touch with nature and idealizes those close to nature   



I always took it as Smith's view of them but we end up learning that they are just as capable of treachery when they kidnap and sell Pocahontas. I don't think he's saying they are better human beings as the Native Americans start that attack.

Yes, there's that, but still, I think their actions against the colonists are portrayed justified (and we don't feel much pity for those nasty colonists, do we?) because the colonists are trespassing, invading their land; the colonists were given leave to stay 'til spring, and Smith agreed they'd go. They didn't, thus they were attacked. Quite sensible and possibly noble. Their selling Pocahontas is also in some sense justified - she put the colonist invaders above the welfare of her people (her father warned her about this).

oneaprilday

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2008, 09:30:15 PM »
You know, I guess I could look at Malick's vision as just that - a kind of vision. Perhaps he doesn't truly believe the Native American culture was so idyllic and more fully human in actual reality, but with his work, he yearns for a world that is beyond ours, a world that returns to Eden in some sense. And I suppose that's what many of the early explorers were looking for, too, the fountain of youth, a place where one could begin afresh. And you're right, even if the Native Americans were justified in their attacks, Malick admits and shows us that Eden really can never be maintained or attained - but the yearning is still there. I can sympathize with that desire. I suppose I just don't like the classic kinds of cliches and/or binaries (white colonists bad, native peoples good) he, ultimately, doesn't avoid. (Is his portrayal really any different than Dances with Wolves, for example?) I want more subtlety from him, and I want something smaller - a yearning for peace and paradise that's portrayed in a much smaller and more complex way, say, as it is in Badlands and Days of Heaven.

sdedalus

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2008, 12:49:01 AM »
I'm glad you like the second half, but I think you're selling it short.  You're right about the film's shifting perspective: Smith's (and Pocahontas's) idealization of the Indians in the first half is both historically accurate, silly, New Agey romantic and cliché and totally undermined by the second half of the film. 

Malick shows us the Indians through the eyes of the colonists, and then shows the colonists through the eyes of the Indians.  The trip to England is, for me, the crucial sequence of the whole film.  It crystalizes the idea that the meeting between the two peoples was a dual discovery of two new worlds.  Wes Studi wandering through the geometrically manicured gardens is as full of awe and terror as Colin Ferrell lost in the swamp.  This is a radical decentering of perspective in film, wherein the focus on contact between European and Indian is always the discovery of one by the other and where one side is always demonized (Dances With Wolves).
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 12:51:10 AM by sdedalus »
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oneaprilday

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2008, 02:15:05 AM »
Ok, yeah, I see what you're saying - the film is probably more complex than I was getting initially. I'll have to think about it more.
However, given Malick's use of/love for shots of the glorious beauty of the natural world, seen throughout his films, contrasted with the really very cold look at England's manicured lawns and sculpted hedges, I just don't quite see that the first half of the film, with Smith's and Pocahontas's vision, is so totally undermined. I think Malick still sees something more ideal in the Americas, in a culture closer to nature.
I could say, I suppose, that like Pocahontas's tight-fitting European clothes, which, in the end, couldn't hold her in - she dances away and discovers "Mother" even in England - the natural world of England ultimately can't be held in and "managed" either - it is still present and powerful. Still, a culture that tries to control it at all feels as if it's the lesser, the one that, as Wordsworth says (in condemning an industrialized society) is only interested in "Getting and spending" and with "Nature" is "out of tune." Wordsworth, interestingly, further says, "Great God! I'd rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn" than be in the society he lives in because those pagan societies at least worshipped the gods of nature - "Proteus" and "Triton" - they revered nature to some degree. Like Wordsworth, I think Malick is a kind of Romantic poet, who finds truth, wholeness, one's fundamental spiritual element in nature. Would you buy that comparison? And if so, isn't the more natural culture, the one that isn't forcing nature into submission, the more noble?

sdedalus

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2008, 03:29:29 AM »
I don't know, maybe I'm allowing my own sensibility to override Malick's.  But I see just as much Beauty and Nobility in England as in America.  That's a necessary consequence of Pocahontas's pantheism: if God is in Nature, then she's in all kinds of Nature, regardless of how manicured it is.

I think the character of Rolfe is important here, as a contrast to the loser that Smith is, he shows that there's Nobility in Europe and not just smelly Romantic pedophiles.

I think Malick leans pro-Indian, but still, his film is probably the most balanced and respectful film on the subject I've seen.  Even Dead Man can't match it in that area.

Speaking of which, I want to create a Thanksgiving tradition of a double feature of Dead Man and The New World.
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Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #15 on: April 19, 2008, 09:56:52 AM »
Think about the first violent encounter between the Native Americans and the Colonists. One of the Indians steals a tool and is promptly shot. Granted that's a bit harsh but it wasn't done unprovoked. I also think you can't sell short the fact that the Indian's kidnapped and sold one of their own. Yes, Europe still had slaves at this time but we didn't sell our own people. In some was I think the Native Americans are just as evil as the Colonists.
 

oneaprilday

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2008, 12:13:40 PM »
I don't know, maybe I'm allowing my own sensibility to override Malick's.  But I see just as much Beauty and Nobility in England as in America. 

England certainly was grand - through Pocahontas's eyes the architechture, the bounty of the market, the glory of James I's court, was truly aweing. Not a great deal of time was spent there though and I think it did have a coldness to it; I didn't feel the camera was looking at the scene with much affection or warmth. But if we are looking from Pocahontas's perspective, that makes sense, I guess - she has an appreciation for what she sees, but she wants to go home in the end, and I really think Malick does, too.

I agree that Rolfe is important and noble, but I'm not sure if we're supposed to lose our sympathy completely for Smith? It is a hard decision for him after all; he came as an explorer - is he supposed to give all of that up for Pocahontas? And he sees what he could have had later; one does feel slightly sorry for him - he looks so small and insignificant in England - Pocahontas's perspective again, I guess; her god had fallen. (I love your description of him by the way - smelly, Romantic pedophile.  :D  Sounds a bit like what Kermode said of Farrel in that role: a "hairy" "mumbling" "bozo")

I haven't seen Dead Man - I'll have to check it out.


Think about the first violent encounter between the Native Americans and the Colonists. One of the Indians steals a tool and is promptly shot. Granted that's a bit harsh but it wasn't done unprovoked. I also think you can't sell short the fact that the Indian's kidnapped and sold one of their own. Yes, Europe still had slaves at this time but we didn't sell our own people. In some was I think the Native Americans are just as evil as the Colonists.
 

Perhaps, yes, the Native Americans aren't perfect, but to say shooting someone for taking something is "harsh" is quite an understatement. I hated the colonists in that moment (or felt I was supposed to). And I still stand by the tribe's treatment of Pocahontas as being in some sense justified - she was a traitor who threatened their survival.

sdedalus

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2008, 01:59:59 PM »
I agree that Rolfe is important and noble, but I'm not sure if we're supposed to lose our sympathy completely for Smith? It is a hard decision for him after all; he came as an explorer - is he supposed to give all of that up for Pocahontas? And he sees what he could have had later; one does feel slightly sorry for him - he looks so small and insignificant in England - Pocahontas's perspective again, I guess; her god had fallen. (I love your description of him by the way - smelly, Romantic pedophile.  :D  Sounds a bit like what Kermode said of Farrel in that role: a "hairy" "mumbling" "bozo")

Not so much lose our sympathy for him, as lose our admiration.  Smith is always the hero of the Pocahontas story (more than even her, at least when I was in school).  By the end of the film, he's been reduced to a pathetic figure, and yes, that does provoke some sympathy.  That he starts the film as the traditional hero and ends it so diminished by Rolfe and Rebecca is telling, I think.

And yes, you should see Dead Man.
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oneaprilday

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Re: Beginners' Marathon #3: The New World
« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2008, 02:03:46 PM »
Not so much lose our sympathy for him, as lose our admiration. 
Yes, you're right - that's a good distinction.

And yes, you should see Dead Man.
OK.  :)