chapter  6
Pages 24

In interpreting The New World, however, it has to be acknowledged that

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although J. Hoberman (2006) eventually wrote in The Village Voice masterpiece, destined for midnight showings in trendy arts cinemas (a good thing on the whole, albeit somewhat backhanded as a compliment aimed at revealing the film’s strengths). In short, the film split the critics in the entertainment industry. Few were those who unqualifiedly praised Malick’s uninterrupted genius, and even among Malick supporters there were often moments of perplexity or reserve. For example, one critic (Burr 2006) called the film an “exhausting, astounding drama” adding that it is at once “self-indulgent, gorgeous, maddening, gruelling, [and] ultimately transcendent”—and that is from the pen of a Malick yea-sayer. As regards the question of nature, another critic-this time from the camp of Malick skeptics-summed up her objections by saying: “Terrence Malick may not care much for people, but he never met a tree he didn’t like” (Zacharek 2006). It remains unclear whether she knew just how right she was in saying this-though not in the way she intended-for Malick does indeed seem to offset human drama against the workings of nature, as we shall see below. One way or the other, this complaint, or versions of it, comes back again and again in the reviews of the film. Presumably, the problem has to do with the long, speculative shots of water, grasslands, marshes, forests, fungus, insects, and so on that make up the film, punctuated by the dialogue and action that many people might expect to be more prominent. Similar criticisms were voiced when The Thin Red Line was released, reaching their most extreme point, perhaps, when one commentator denounced Malick’s cinema as “metaphysical gas,” complaining that the narrative and human elements in the film were, for Malick, merely “a place to play with his philosophical conundrums about nature and our relationship to it” (Whalen 1999: 163, 165). Once again, the disbelievers may be onto something with such comments, though they tend to tackle the problem from the wrong end of things, often from the standpoint of all too traditional expectations and skepticism about film as a medium for philosophical reflection.