Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Great Thanksgiving Film

Thanksgiving with time has essentially become an excuse to cook, drink wine, eat, and stay in comfortable clothes all day, except for the times I may have to go out and buy something for the cooking or drinking.  And later in the day, what else to do in a lazy mood but binge-watch a series or see a movie or two? When I think about it, I guess I could say that Thanksgiving has become something of a template for what retirement days, if ever reached, might be, though I wouldn't eat as much every day in retirement as I do on Thanksgiving.  But exercise (which I do early in the day on Thanksgiving), cook, eat, watch something enjoyable -- and write certainly -- wouldn't make for the least pleasurable old age.  But anyway, I'm getting off track, because what I really wanted to talk about here is a movie that just popped into my mind as one I might watch this year to mark the occasion. Why it hasn't occurred to me in years past as a  fitting Thanksgiving film I don't know, but regardless...I'm talking about Terrence Malick's The New World.

I haven't seen it since it played in theaters, for not all that long, back in 2005.  But it is, without doubt, the most memorable, and unusual, depiction of the Jamestown, Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe story I've ever come across.

Somehow the film is both majestic and otherworldly, not to mention, in the Terrence Malick way, astonishingly beautiful.  Yet it also has an immediacy that makes it feel as if history is actually unfolding, in all its weirdness and horror and moments of grace, before you. A lot of that is because, as I recall it, the film unfolds with virtually no exposition. The film feels like something both mythical and historically grounded, though it also seems as if Malick has only incomplete information to work with, which, of course, considering all the romance and exaggeration and downright nonsense that have come down to us about these events, he has.  Roger Ebert's review from the time sums up this quality well, saying "what distinguishes Malick's film is how he firmly refuses to know more than he should...The events in his film, including the tragic battles between the Indians [his usage] and the settlers, seem to be happening for the first time."

As he points out, tragic, in the end, is what much of it is.  We all understand that now.  Or should.  When civilizations meet, with conflicting values and belief systems, one eager to expand at all costs, no matter what destruction it will wreak, you get, well, what we've gotten. But The New World somehow conveys the essential mysteriousness of all these events, defamiliarizing them, making a story we've heard too many times to remember something strange and new.  

And what does any of this have to do with crime, here on a crime-themed blog? Nothing, I suppose, other than the obvious -- that you could say that the whole country (like most countries I've ever read about) was founded on a crime. Or multiple crimes. "How much better if Plymouth Rock had landed on the Pilgrims than the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock" and all that.  Still, nothing I've seen captures what might have been, what was pristine, what was there at the start, when anything was possible, as this film does. And the final sections, following Pocahantas to England, where she died, dressed in English finery, are extremely moving.

Yes, after the cooking and eating this year, I think I'm going to settle in and watch The New World again, thankful that Malick made it.

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