The New World, written and directed by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is one of those directors people either love or hate. His movies — this new one especially — are more about poetry than they are about narrative. Long stretches of intense, glorious photography without a single word spoken, and still the story is there.

But it’s not for everybody. The mathematician, who is not so much about the visual as I am, would have fallen asleep. I kept wanting to stop the flow of images so I could study them. Because they are so beautifully framed, and because Malick does such an incredible job of capturing a time and place. The Native American world is rendered with great attention to detail, but it’s the long-shots that really tell their story.

The story of Pocahantas and John Smith has been told many times, most usually trivialized and recast for modern sensibilities. I think there’s some of that here too in the way the young woman’s emotions are portrayed, but in general it seems to me that Malick probably has done the best job so far of approximating what it must have been like for the Englishmen who put foot on what was to be called Virginia in the year 1602. Who John Smith might have been, and how the land and people would have looked to him. Maybe.

I’m wondering how the Native American peoples are reacting to this movie.

Oh yes, the actors: they are very good, but with the exception of the young woman (apparently Q’Orianka Kilcher was just fourteen when the film was being shot) who played Pocahontas, they are almost beside the point. She’s the central character, the one the camera cares about most.

When it comes out on dvd I will rent it and spend a lot of time pausing to look at details, to study shots that right now I can recall with perfect clarity. Whether you should go see it depends on your interest in the subject and your patience with a story told mostly in visual terms.