The war experience and its dehumanizing impact on human life, mind, and soul
Like Dunkirk, but through the story of the Frontier and its genocidal history—individual and collective.
Following suit on a number of recent movies: an invitation to uphold Love over any other possible or tempting way of “being in the world”.
Realism with an epic scope.
Conjuring other Westerns, with some generic rewriting.
Narrating possibilities for wrong to turn around and do right
Pushing the borders of Manichean scripts
Exploring the frontiers of good encroaching on a legacy of evil.
Mercy and forgiveness
Sacrifice and surrender
Gothic haunting and punishment and retribution.
Emotions and the call of duty
The individual and the collective: how to map the contours of agency in such a territory?
The different protagonists of the Western myth:
The Federal government (faraway: how to send orders, how to establish and maintain a rule of law)
The Indian tribes (rivalries between them too)
The US army
The conquest of the land
The outlaws who appropriate the land returned to the Indians by the US government
The open spaces
The raggedness of the land
The constant sense of danger
With some unusual ones:
Women as activists, denouncing the inhuman treatment of the Indians
Julius Caesar as a source of inspiration for Captain Joseph Blocker, a devoted reader of his memoirs.
And an unusual closure:
The hero getting on a train. Moving back East (Chicago) and not heading into the Western sun.
Of note, the following touches and sketches:
Fear and anguish (the woman in hiding trying not to let out a single cry)
Terror and horror
Awareness and denial
Grief and mourning
Resilience and oblivion.
Amnesia and indifference?
Trauma and wound
Revenge and the vicious circle of violence
Treachery and trust
A bond created by the common sharing of loss and sorrow: the Indian family’s compassion for the woman who has lost her three children and husband.
The giving and accepting of the blouse: a form of healing.
The different soldiers emblematizing different postures toward war:
The young French soldier, unprepared and incongruous
The seasoned officer, hardened by the business of war, yet set in motion by the question of the West Point graduate: “how did you feel the first time you killed a man?”
The West Point star: engaged and committed; yet armed with (only) a bookish understanding of war.
US history: the former soldiers of the Confederacy side by side with former Union soldiers
The common cause of the genocide.
Henry and changing racial relationships,
Joseph’s admiration and loyalty: “I would choose you over and over again”.
Joseph’s kindness towards Rosalie Quaid as a way to redeem himself? To find some regeneration in upholding that one life he can cater to in remembrance of all the lives he took as part of his ‘job’?
Yet, the addictive urge to do violence: slicing the throat of the man instead of shooting him. A form of visceral savagery acquired over the years: can it ever be exorcized? The gaze of the child and woman changes everything. He becomes aware of his cruelty.
A man, a woman, a child: some nuclear family? Different broken pieces communing as some anamnesis of the legacy of the Frontier: the retired soldier, the widow, the Indian orphan.
A happy ending?
Can happiness be found beyond the painful memories, the emotional casualties and the respective losses (team mates and friends, family, parents and relatives)?
This Western closing in an unusual way indeed, the (formulaic) sun inferred from the suggested script rising above some space off stage.
A Poem by Mary Oliver
die for it—
an idea, or the world.
What is the name
Of the deep breath I would take over and over
For all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter