At the heart of the film critical impulse lies the question, what is cinema for? This is central, even if not asked directly, even if the work at hand seems to hold no loftier ambitions than the avoidance of its own calamitous end. The act of writing on a particular film always points to an alternate work that might have been, one that exists only in the critic’s mind. Imagining a better or different object than the one at hand automatically introduces thorny questions of ideals and quintessentials, which in turn lead to purposes and absolutes. And if such a thing as a definitive “for” in cinema can be defined, captured in a bottle, then we also get closer to explaining that other underlying question of all art criticism: Why do we (critics) do what we do? Why all this watching and writing? If cinema can be said to be for anything, then let it be to offer up transformative experiences like The New World. Because if critics are to be consigned to post-facto sideline analysis of artistic achievements and failures, let us, once in a while witness an audacious, singular triumph. Terrence Malick’s fourth film is a rarity: an end, an absolute, a work of art that can’t be imagined better. Read Jeff Reichert on The New World.