Arts New World and Same Old
I went to see Terence Malick’s beautiful, complicated The New World at the Neptune the other night, along with maybe 30 other people. The narrative was far more engaging than I expected, based on a bunch of reviews that insisted on calling it a “tone poem” and such like (dude, it’s not really a tone poem if it has pictures…). I won’t go into it too much, except to say that for a story about different kinds of love (love of an ideal vs. love of a reality), the film has a profound reach. Malick never quite goes where you expect him to, and he resists the obvious tricks of drama and characterization that would make the story easier to grasp, but harder to love. I think it’s about the eternal conflict between the existential and the transcendental, and there’s no mistaking that Malick favors the latter.
HOWEVER, the movie wasn’t the only show going on that night. A couple of wasted Native American street dwellers were sitting in the balcony, loudly heckling the film, repeating every line uttered by the natives in the film, and generally disrupting what would, under normal Seattle circumstances, be a highbrow, honky evening. It’s always a drag when people ruin movies by talking, but there was an obvious supradialectic at work here, between the events depicted in the film (white man vs. native, before the fall), and the events being enacted in the balcony (Native Americans vs. polite white society, 300 years later). The disruption was working on so many levels (literal, metaphorical, cultural, historical, humorous, tragic) that the folks on the ground level all seemed to be conscious of the vectors—at least they were in my imagination.
The hecklers were eventually removed, at length, and at high volume (“I thought this movie was about my family! I want my money back! Don’t fucking TOUCH ME!”), and we went on watching the tale of Pocahontas’s (and the land’s) domesticization by the forces of Christendom. In a way, it completed the story better than the 20 minutes Malick cut from its original release ever could have.