A dreamy, expressionistic collage of a movie, where history feels immediate and real instead of retold or mythologised, where Malick steers away from the narrative (historical or romanticised) of Pocahontas and the forming of Jamestown, instead curiously exploring the tones and emotions of those involved.
Shot in natural light, all handheld or steadicam, the whole film is montage rather than narrative, as much music as the Wagner it repeatedly pulls form, playing the same themes (Smith falling out of freedom and into bondage and vice versa, Pocahontas finding connection with Englishmen and with the nature of the changing world, exchanges between the Englishmen and the Native Americans, cycles of power in the settlement, etc.) but with subtle variations speaking to what changes in the new world, and what stays the same.
Malick tells these stories from such a macro level that their beauty and wonderment they inspire feel like consequences of the godlike way they’re told, moreso than any explicit condemnation of the unnatural. The film’s “villains” are rendered too empathetically for that, and yet another tainting of Eden is treated too much as a beginning than an ending for that. Malick avoids allegory here, instead reaching for a greater neutrality recognising that from a far-reaching enough perspective, mankind’s own drives are as consistent as the nature they struggle to come to terms with. It’s telling that however cold a colour palette London is rendered in, Pocahontas finds plenty of beauty there too. “Now I know where you live.” Four and a half copper kettles, and a compass.