I usually make it a point NOT to watch Romance movies, mostly because they tend to bore me. I prefer suspense, mystery, crime dramas, or thrillers because they keep me more mentally stimulated. Such films make me feel more engaged and I like to think ahead and try to figure out the plots.
Last night, however, I found myself unexpectedly watching a romantic film, called the “The New World”, directed and written by Terrence Malick, starring Colin Farrel, Christian Bale, and featuring Q’Orianka Kilcher.
The film, as its title implies, is about the discovery of the New World and original Jamestown settlement in Virginia in the early 1600’s. Farrel and Bale play historical explorers/colonists that interect with the Native America tribes of the Virginia area, most notably the tribe of Pocahantas, played by Kilcher. The story was a mix of conquest, desperation, love won, and love lost. Farrel’s character Captain John Smith and Pocahantas meet soon after the English discover Virginia, and against the wishes of both the Native Americans and other English Settlers, find themselves in a blissful, crushing romance.
The film’s story was quite moving. It was slow paced, but very dense, filled with dramatic cinematography, and care-free scenes where Kilcher and Farrel nurse their romance along with self discovery, frolics through the forest, and the sharing of each other’s respective cultures.
About two-thirds the way through the movie, Farrel’s character is called upon by the King of England to leave Jamestown and attempt a discovery mission far away. This unexpected event tears the romance of Pocahantas and Captain Smith apart. It is especially brutal for Pocahantas, who was exiled from her tribe to live with the British. Pocahantas was told that Smith “drowned”, when in fact the audience knows that he left under orders from the King.
Now that Smith is gone, Pocahantas is bereft with the loss of his company and love. Slowly, the other colonists begin to help her become more acclamated to proper “English” living, which includes reading lessons, traditional female garb, and more intesive interactions with the inner-workings of the Jamestown settlement.
Christian Bale enters into the latter half of the film as land owner Rolfe, who notices Pocahantas right away and begins to court her. Despite his overt affections towards her, she is still at a loss to find feelings for him. Eventually, she ends up living with Rolfe, but barely speaking, and at times harkening back to her blissful days with Smith, wishing that he was still with her.
One day, to her surprise, she over-hears that Captain Smith is indeed alive and well. She is shocked to hear this news. At the same time, Rolfe has decided to propose marriage to her. During the scene where he proposes, Pocahantas is teary and has reservations about getting married: She still retains a lot of emotions for Captain Smith, but at the same time has come to love and deeply respect Rolfe for taking her in, being patient with her, and providing for her. She accepts his proposal despite her inner-emotional turmoil and knowledge that Smith is now still alive.
For me, this is where the movie came together emotionally. There are many other angles and sub-plots that I could mention, but I am not a film critic and want to elaborate on my own personal reaction to the story opposed to simply retelling the movie.
Director Malick demonstrates the depth of human passion, tolerance, forgiveness, and love quite gracefully in this film, and for some reason the story touched a nerve with me. I hardly ever cry after a movie, but after this one was through, my eyes welled up and I sat in my chair for a few minutes teary-eyed.
I think the one aspect of the film that got to me was its love story and the emotions it created in its characters.
I identify more with Christian Bale’s character Rolfe, the well meaning soul who tries to act properly and gentlemanly at all times; the man who kindly proposes marriage to an emotionally shattered Pocahantas despite the fact that he knows that her heart is, at times, not with him.
By the same token, I was swept away by Kilcher’s portrayal of Pocahantas in love with Farrel’s Captain Smith in the early parts of the movie, mostly because their love, despite everything else going on around them, seemed so free, so unadulterated, so engrossing and joyous.
What made me so teary eyed was that I felt these two perspectives of love and human relations are absent in my life. I know this may sound like a selfish reaction to a story about other people, but I realized by the time the film ended that one of life’s simplest, yet most complicated emotions, is not really present in my life.
I saw the enamoured Captain Smith and the dutiful nature of Rolfe as two juxtaposed types of love that when balanced, create the most wonderful of bonds: in this case, we saw how these men came to love and adore Pocahantas, a free spirited soul touched by nature, an open heart, and a liberated mind.
My constant struggle with BPD, depression, and diabetes robs me of a lot of happiness and energy, and as a result, I don’t find myself in situations where I can create and enjoy the emotions of love in my life.
If I take this film literally, I suppose that I should go out looking for a girl in a completely different culture that does not place value on the material things that drive me to get up and work everyday, just as Captain Smith found with Pocahantas when reflecting on the differences between the English colonists and Native Americans.
In reality, however, I think that the aching loneliness I feel can be filled by any variety of love…the fact to the matter is that I am not in a relationship (and haven’t been for a long time) and therefore I have lost touch with this emotion.
Love is everything Malick portrayed it to be in his masteful film, and in the end, the sadness I felt is the result of feeling a vast void in my heart where these feelings should be present.
In non-poetic terms, I need a girlfriend. More specifically, it doesn’t matter who she is as much as what we will come to feel and experience together: feelings that enlighten the heart, lift the soul, and bring happiness to the otherwise daily drudgery of life.
After about 20 minutes of crying I went online and read a few reviews of the film and watched some out-takes. The words of others helped bring me back into focus and also served as a reminder that movies are just stories retold in pictures and words – and that reality is not always main element at play.
I must say, however, that I was thankful for this work of art because it struck me in a way that made me think about my life, what makes ( or would make ) me happy, and what I want more than anything else. Whether you cry or not, “The New World” is worth watching, and it illicited buried feelings inside me that needed to come out and express themselves.