Making sense of sensibility
It’s a bit late to review THE NEW WORLD, but Rich Leonardi yesterday sent me a solicit for his short post recommending Terrence Malick’s snoozefest from late last year. And Lee Walker recently expressed surprise in some private correspondence that I was not a fan of the film (to give just one stat on how out-of-step I was with my film-geek pals, I was the only one of 43 to vote “con” on THE NEW WORLD for our weekly “pro-mixed-con” Crix Pix poll). Lee said, quoting from memory, “this was just about the most overwhelming religious experience I’ve ever had in a theater,” and so he thought I would like it too. Until he went through my “Best of” lists and realized that DAYS OF HEAVEN and THE THIN RED LINE were nowhere to be found (I would have voted “con” on each of them too), while the “relatively conventional” BADLANDS was.
Now I don’t hate THE NEW WORLD as much as I did LINE, because it redeems itself a bit at the end, with the switch from the New World to London, and the shift of identification from John Smith to Pocahantas, who’s now in a World as strange and strangely beguiling to her as Virginia was to the British. But Malick pisses that away at the very end — that closing crescendo, the sudden halt and cut, and that precious gaze up a tree like a worshipful slave looking up at his dominatrix … I’m sorry, but that just IS campy.
No … I recognize what Malick is doing and the sensibility he’s reproducing; but I don’t like his style and his sensibility is virtually the opposite of mine. I find his slow pacing just aggravating and self-indulgent.¹ Religiously-speaking, Malick clearly shares much with the American Transcendentalists — he’s like a Thoreau for the 21st Century, and I generally think Thoreau a Romantic twit. Malick tries to find universes in ambient animal sounds and patterns of dripping rain, but fundamentally, nature just bores me² in a way that human beings (specific human beings, not the archetypes Malick uses — fine as Q’Orianka Kilcher was at playing Innocence), do not. Nature is just random acts of necessity, while man is made in God’s image (nature is not). So man is inherently interesting because varied, and he can be the subject of drama and surprise in a way that necessitarian nature cannot. Not a lot happens in THE CHILD or the Dardennes’ other films, but their films are so tight and intimate and so successfully get you inside their protagonists’ heads that you’re right up there on the screen.
Malick’s is also a style that produces praise for the film in language and terms that I cannot begin to comprehend. It’s mushy and vague and reminds me of nothing so much as 60s hippies describing their LSD trips. It also has dawned on me that I am dissing a somewhat Heideggerian movie and filmmaker in ways that betray my fundamental attitude as what Heidegger would describe as the essence of technology.
So … slow-paced nature, in the service of a religious vision I do not share and find superficial … THE NEW WORLD basically had no chance with me. I thought it as exciting as watching grass grow, and I really think half of Malick’s (obviously gorgeous) shots were primarily about watching the grass grow. To be perfectly honest I really only saw THE NEW WORLD from a sense of obligation, not on the expectation I’d like it.
¹ Yeah, yeah … this from the fanboy of Dreyer, Dardennes, Bergman, Ozu, Tsai and Kubrick. There’s a series of clinical case studies to be done on which “slow, obscure” directors catch the fancy of a particular cinephile and why.
² True facts about me and nature: I’ve never camped overnight (I tried to camp with a friend in his back yard once and couldn’t stand it and went inside around 2 am); I’ve never hunted or fished; I have never been on a horse or other equine (not even a donkey on the beach IIRC) as my desire for encounters with animals stops at pets and food; my idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service; and my idea of natural beauty is green concrete. I’m temperamentally about as uncrunchy as it gets.
No comments yet.