Sometimes it occurs to me that many idioms are quite evocative when you consider their literal meaning, however dulled by usage they’ve become. How many times have you heard the New/Old World dichotomy being used to describe the Americas vs Europe? And how many times have you really felt the sentiment underpinning that phrase?
In Terrence Malick’s 2005 film, the title accrues resonances beyond being merely a stock phrase to describe America. We watch a ship glide towards land to the grandiose strains of Wagner’s Das Rheingold– we see the joy that alights on a chained man belowdecks as he glimpses the terrain through a porthole. All of this utterly evokes the dreamlike novelty that will lead the colonists to speak of this World as a place laden with promise. And yet, for all that the watcher is momentarily caught up in that rich sense of potential- this film is no sentimental paean to Manifest Destiny. You are not left to forget the immense subjectivity of the term “new” here, as the natives observe the approaching intruders. […]