Max von Sydow did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Karl-Oskar Nilsson in The New Land.
Max von Sydow leaves his roots of the existential angst filled world of Bergman for a much simpler world, although certainly no less grim technically speaking. Max von Sydow's performance is quite unassuming in nature as Karl-Oskar is a very unassuming man. The film opens as he and his family move into the new land that he purchased out in American west. von Sydow's performance early on is that of an uncontrollable enthusiasm. There is such a genuine joy in von Sydow's expression as he sees the place that he will call home. In every one of these moments as he looks over every piece of this life of his von Sydow's creates such a palatable optimism in the man as he boasts what he will make out of the untamed land. von Sydow shows a man who has the thrill of a man who is genuinely beginning the living of his dream, and in these early scenes von Sydow kinda personifies the American dream through his depiction of Karl-Oskar's view of what the New Land means to him. Of course a dream can only be so long before reality must set in.
The reality setting in is not necessarily a bad thing, well at least not at first. von Sydow though does well to just naturally portray the enthusiasm in Karl-Oskar slowly diminishes over time. It is not as though Karl-Oskar even has to suffer serious hardship at first rather von Sydow nicely shows just falling into a basic comfort with the land therefore technically speaking making the experience less special. von Sydow's performance becomes no less special though because of how consistently authentic his performance feels as he begins to just simply show Karl-Oskar relax in his surroundings. The film then proceeds to mostly depict just the day to day lives of Karl-Oskar and his immediate family. von Sydow thrives well within in the relatively simplistic story he lies in for awhile. There is something wonderful in the way von Sydow depicts Karl-Oskar manner in life. He is quietly compelling here as he always keeps Karl-Oskar alive as a man, he's not simply just there to be viewed doing various takes. There is always a personality and a life being lived because of von Sydow's very effective performance of Karl-Oskar as an average man though not a forgettable one.
von Sydow is particularly good in realizing the relationships of Karl-Oskar in a humble though very honest feeling fashion. There are just the well handled slight moments such as the certain awkwardness in Karl-Oskar when he deals with the local shopkeeper and has to deal with the language barrier, or just the moments where he basically just shoots the breeze with the other Swedish settlers, von Sydow just beautifully depicts another facet of Karl-Oskar lives. A more substantial relationship though is found between Karl-Oskar and his younger brother Robert (Eddie Axberg). von Sydow's is quite good as he establishes the difficult dynamic between the two. He shows Karl-Oskar as almost trying to lord over his brother constantly as though he is his father and that Robert should just listen to everything he says. von Sydow does well to not really bring any warmth in this respect needed to be a father figure which he's not because he's his brother not his father. von Sydow finds a certain harshness in his manner towards him finding that Karl-Oskar is almost too quick to judgment since he trying to be a father than really being one.
Then of course there is his most important relationship which is with his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann). It's an interesting relationship between the two because they really don't have many overtly romantic moments between one another. Technically their relationship is one of few words, but that does not mean it is a cold one. von Sydow and Ullmann have any absolutely flawless chemistry with one another. They manage to create the love between the two so it is always felt even though it is not truly often stated. Their interactions with one another though suggests a certain comfort in one another and the question of whether they love one another never must be asked, it is simply the truth from the performances from both of the actors. There is a sweetness and warmth that is so delicately earned that it is something to behold all on its own. von Sydow is outstanding in creating that underlying sense of tenderness that Karl-Oskar quietly exudes towards in his interactions to her particularly whenever she may be in distress. They find the relationship of two people who have loved each other for so long that it seems as though it will always be that way.
As the film progresses von Sydow is especially effective in depicting the continuing aging in Karl-Oskar and how he changes with his changing life as well as the changing landscape around him. von Sydow's transition is a marvel to behold as such a subtle and so honest feeling portrayal of a man going through life. von Sydow articulates every moment of the life in such a wonderful way whether it be one of considerable happiness, or sadness or all that lies between von Sydow makes it genuine. This makes Karl-Oskar's perhaps worst moment particularly powerful. That being when his wife is slowly dying because of internal problems brought upon by too many pregnancies, and despite warnings that another will be her death she indeed becomes pregnant once more. The final scene between von Sydow and Ullmann is absolutely heartbreaking as the two still keep within the nature of their characters yet find such poignancy in the final moment they share together. von Sydow is incredibly moving as he realizes just how devastating the loss is Karl-Oskar, as even in the few scenes afterwards he portrays Karl-Oskar as a man who will no longer be the same without his devoted wife by his side. I loved every face of Max von Sydow's work as he achieves greatness within what seems like such simplicity.