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And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

“Just pretend like it’s a video game.”

-Candy, Spring Breakers

“Spring break forever, bitches.”

-Alien, Spring Breakers

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With Terrence Malick, it’s always subdued grace and understatement. His first film, Badlands, made a pair of dimwitted criminals into romantic heroes; his second, Days of Heaven, turned a simple romantic triangle between two farmhands and an estate owner into a transcendent fable with biblical overtones. The New World, his latest, surpasses either film (I haven’t yet seen The Thin Red Line, sadly) in its ambition, taking the story of the romance between John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) and giving it the scope of an epic. Running nearly 3 hours in its extended cut, Malick more than takes his time in telling his story, but the languorous pace contributes to the beauty and poetry of the romance. Malick has a gift for taking simple stories and giving them incredible weight, all while keeping everything at an arm’s length. He transports viewers to another time and place and tells stories that are both fleeting and timeless.

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At once heartbreaking and impenetrable, Days of Heaven presents some of the most gorgeous imagery in any film, and a tragic love triangle, but consistently holds everything at arm’s length, giving the impression of a dream or a fable. The director, Terrence Malick, takes such a matter of fact tone with the film’s events, but instead of creating a mood of disinterest, the affair becomes mysterious and transcendent. The film defies us to care, and we can’t help but.

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