1. I watched the longest version, 2. Should’ve waited to do this in July for the gorgeous looking Criterion!
The New World is, like Tree of Life before it, something special. It tells a story that could be understood by anyone old enough for the Disney version of Pocahontas yet contains multitudes. It is a mad folly with deeply problematic representations of Native Americans (why are Pocahontas and a few children the only ones not wearing war paint makeup at all times?) that nevertheless treats them with the utmost respect. Lubezki may have pulled off the trick twice, but this makes The Revenant’s entirely natural lighting setup in the dead of winter look like a gray blob (and the one thing that particular movie had going for it was prettiness), with the golden hues of America in summer with constant birdsong and insects chirping and whirring away in the background making this a trip into the realm of the senses. The romance of John Smith (Colin Farrell, never better) and the astounding newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher (what happened to her career!?) is so ethereal and distant that it fascinates. At the risk of turning all my reviews of the good films into a trashing of the bad ones, To the Wonder’s attempts at portraying love between a couple who barely spoke each other’s language failed, whereas here it is a success of distances across cultures and realms, not just a white American and a white European, with the titular new world itself being a sort of Garden of Eden that has its own hidden treacheries, whether it be in the company’s men losing themselves in the ecstasies of deluding themselves that they could find gold, giving themselves over a little too fully to the powers of this beautiful, pure place…or perhaps it’s simply in the fundamental culture clash, with John Smith pleading “Exchange this false light for a true one,” when there’s not a single false light to be found. There is only revelling in the bliss of the creation of love, uncorrupted and unparted until it inevitably does just that. Smith’s lashing as a madman taunts him and we hear sweet nothings in between the crack of the whip, the dream shifts perspectives, and eventually the two meet in the middle in a finale that every viewer who knows the mythology knew was coming but which breaks the heart in how the woman who has now become Rebecca is forced to make the choice that quietly obliterates everything.