By Matt Zoller Seitz
"There is only this; all else is unreal."
The explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) has spoken that line in all three versions of Terrence Malick's The New World: the original, 150-minute 2005 theatrical cut (not available on DVD); the 135-minute theatrical recut (New Line, $14.98), and the latest incarnation, Malick's 172-minute extended cut. Each time Smith utters the line, it resonates differently, thanks to the changes wrought by the filmmaker—the length of certain scenes and shots, the rhythm and structure that Malick and his editors impose upon the material, and the transitions between sections (this release breaks the film into titled chapters).
In the first cut, which focused mainly on the effect of war and cultural change on individual lives, the pronoun this seemed to refer to the continent being disrupted and ultimately altered by English settlers: Paradise before the fall. In the second, which zeroed in on the personal evolution of Smith's great love, the Powhatan princess Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher), this seemed synonymous with the affair itself: a paradise within Paradise. But in the latest iteration—which gives formerly marginal characters little visual arias of behavior, and lets existing scenes play out at much greater length, favoring ambient noise over music—Smith's this means the present tense, to whatever he or the other characters are experiencing in the moment. Or, as Smith intones in another scene: "What else is life but living?"
To read the rest of the Time Out New York review, click here.