Movie review: The New World (2005)

The New World focuses on John Smith and Pocahontas and their purported romantic relationship, although a romantic relationship between the two of them is far from certain.

The movie shows two cultures colliding, the Native American with no concept of property and the English who sought to enforce their laws based on property rights through violence. At times, it was painful to watch. The two cultures alternated between peaceful interaction (trade or offering food) and violence (killing each other).

The focus is on John Smith and the 1607 establishment of Jamestown in Virginia. We see the interactions with the Native Americans, the infighting among the colonists, and how quickly things change in the outpost.

John encounters Pocahontas when he seeks out Native Americans to trade with, particularly for food to get the outpost through the winter. The chief orders his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, to instruct him. And the two of them appear inseparable until the spring when he is returned to the half-starved and half-dead outpost. Mutiny, ever-present, bubbles to the surface. John emerges the leader of the outpost and then later is deposed.

Pocahontas ends up at the fort as a hostage. The supposed love affair with John ends when he leaves on an exploratory mission and orders someone to relay that he drowned. His motives are unclear. It doesn’t appear to be a problem with interracial marriage; Pocahontas ends up marrying another white man at the outpost.

While at the fort, Pocahontas begins to dress as an Englishwoman and takes an English name. As with John’s motives for leaving, the film does not try to explain her conversion to Christianity and to English ways.

The New World uses narration by John and Pocahontas to express their thoughts though some of these didn’t quite make sense to me, such as John longing for her yet leaving her. The film also used screen shots in a novel way, showing different perspectives of the same scene. Rather than adding to the film, they confused me, showing what seemed to be a previous scene shot after a later one.

The New World is a decently made film with solid acting, though I was left not understanding the motivations of John or Pocahontas. It did spur me to read up on the history of Jamestown, John Smith, and Pocahontas. In the end I was left with sadness over a relationship that was doomed from the start, for reasons that were not clear to me.

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