Quick-Thoughts: Jan Troell’s The New Land (1972)

Wasn’t expecting The New Land to be the brutalist movie I’ve seen in quite some time, but good, it should be given the subject matter at hand. 

I find this to be far more ambitious, contemplative, and manipulative (in a good way) than the partially unembellished, modest style Jan Troell offered in its predecessor The Emigrants (1971): the callous editing, the psychotically explicit imagery, the constant symbolic gesturing, the very calculated timeframe structure and sequence of events, etc. Although in spite of all this, I think what I’ve gathered is actually the best asset about Troell’s talent all along was how intimate he’s been able to make sequences; his conversational escalations are so copiously uninterrupted, often featuring Karl and Kristina who’s love for one another is so convincing despite the disruptive obstacles that progressively aerate before their eyes as the film goes along and their lives begin to age nearer to an end. This causes their bond to appear all the more costly yet vulnerable for the audience as it becomes needier and needier in their troubling existentialist crisis in result of America’s failed image, since love seems to be their only strong hold left on prosperity. After taking all this time and sacrificing so much to travel from one place to the other out of false hope of it being lucrative, it’s at least hopeful to see that the one thing for which has always been good to this large family ended up persevering. I guess though, sometimes you just can’t shake the feeling of dissatisfaction simply by introducing the new when a lot of the new is very comparable to your old; The New Land feels as if the journey through hell (The Emigrants) was only but a trail leading in a circle right back to purgatory. Oh, the sacrifices the emigrants made for their future kin’s own plausible happiness.

There’s another part of me now that wishes for this film to be shown in history classes around America, as again, I feel like visual communicators such as feature-lengths or documentaries are going to convince and interest a lot more people of the perceptive of history than the reserved textbooks I grew up on reading ever could. The prominence of diseases has been so pivotal to this two-parter’s story that it hinges well on the idea that America couldn’t yet be a landmark of safe opportunity when the medicine just wasn’t there yet. The New Land also showcases English-speakers who used deception against foreigners which put their livelihoods and credence at risk, but not in a cartoonish way where it seems like the whole country was against the emigrants, but more so that they were aware of having the power to do so. Maybe the most perplexing aspect of Troell’s work here though would be in his depiction of Native Americans, which feels partially equivocal. Luckily, he seems to understand that they were 100% in the right but also isn’t afraid to sculpt the violent rebellion that they had made to counteract the more blood-thirsty manifestation of English settlers, which as we know, unfortunately encouraged white men even more so at the time to think that it was okay to enforce an entire genocide on them, corruptly deeming it as “lawful”. I know this is like American history 101, but in context with watching how Troell actually depicts it in the movie makes it seem a lot more heavy and complex than just that. It also, of course, adds to the lies of America’s initial slogan for “freedom” in view of the movie’s consistent and connected themes occurring amongst the Swedish emigrants. 

Troell to me has bent the line between the societal family dramas of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) and the unfulfilled prophecies of an “adventure” like Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) with The New Land. Hey, those are two high-class recommendations that should surely convince you now to watch this two-parter! 

Verdict: A-

My All-Time Favorite Movies

“The New Land” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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