The New World/Interview with Q'Orianka Kilcher
The opening scenes of
The New World sweep you up with their imagery and use of natural sounds. When the English ships arrive, Malick takes the unusual perspective of the Indians as they run along the edge of the forest looking in amazement at what the tides have brought in, and not knowing the massive upheaval thats to come. Malick makes us realize that its a new world for both the English and the Native Americans. As Pocahontas, newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher captures a sense of wonder and curiosity. In directing Kilcher, Malick instructed her to act through silence, something the fourteen-year-old found challenging and inspiring.
Q'ORIANKA KILCHER: I did have a lot of dialogue in those scenes and a few minutes prior to filming those scenes Terry would go Q'Orianka, maybe just say this only one line and dont say anything else, oh good. It was in a way like learning a new language and I would try to internalize and convey it through my facial expressions and body movements.
In fact, Malick could approach much of his material as if it were a silent movie. This meant that he could call out directions as the cameras were rolling, says Kilcher.
Q'ORIANKA KILCHER: Sometimes he would see a fennel field blowing in the wind and he would say, in the middle of the shoot, Q'Orianka, go run through that fennel field, be the wind, be the wind. And so it would be little things like that that would come in spirit of moment and what he was seeing and the beauty that he saw in the simplicity of nature.
The result, Kilcher says, was like dancing with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, whose camera would follow her every move. Lubezkis often-transcendent images remind us that cinema is all about painting with light. Sunlight in this new world is vibrantly alive and provides a stark contrast to the gray ambience Pocahontas will find in England. Malick has a keen eye for the visual differences between the old and the new world. In America, trees grow wild and create a brilliant canopy of green. But in England, the trees are regimented into orderly rows and their wildness trimmed back to uniformed shapes. Pocahontas, like the wild trees, is made to conform to English customs.
MARY: Go ahead, thats it, smaller steps, little steps so it wont hurt your little feet.
Here, Pocahontas tries on English shoes and clothes, a scene actress Q'Orianka Kilcher says was heartbreaking to play.
Q'ORIANKA KILCHER: The first time I tried my corset and shoes on I actually had them tie my corset extra tight and put my shoes a size too small to feel the constriction of the way I imagined Pocahontas to feel because she never wore those things before and it was really heartbreaking for me because I felt like a caged bird and so constricted from being free and to think Pocahontas went through that it was amazing and sad at the same time.
Pocahontas gives up much but she also triumphs in her new world. In England she is presented as a princess at the royal court and praised for her courage, something Kilcher also admires.
Q'ORIANKA KILCHER: I would say courage to be a dreamer of two very different worlds coming together and collaborating and coexisting in peace hopefully, and just vision for the future, as well as struggles as a young woman trying to identify herself in a changing world while striving to stay true to her culture and her heritage, and a constant tug, her heart being tugged in two directions.
First her heart is pulled between the world of her fathers and the new world offered by John Smith. Later it is a tug of war between two very different men: Smith, the soldier of fortune and John Rolfe the farmer she marries. Through physical gestures, Malick conveys the contrast between young passion and a mature love. Thus, a simple close up of Pocahontas arms wrapped tightly around her husbands waist conveys more than pages of dialogue ever could.
The New World is a cinematic poem and as such its easy to make fun of, just as literary poems are often easy targets for parody. But if youre willing to toss aside conventional expectations of plot and surrender to Malicks rapturous imagery and sparse, simple dialogue, you will discover a brave new world of cinema, and see Malick as a visionary explorer.