by Steve Lancaster 2/3/14
Much has been said about the western recently. Brad has written movingly about the characters in Lonesome Dove, Open Range and Broken Trail. These are great movies in their own right and there is little I could add to the commentary.
The western is an art form uniquely American. I have a selection of movies for your consideration which I believe have a common theme, but are also distinctively American in their characterizations. Three were made in the 1950’s, the final trio in 2005-2012. There are many others. These, I must admit, are some of my favorites.
Each of these movies pits a defender of civilization against the barbarians. Each faces an existential crisis in dealing with evil and the challenges faced are great. Each movie deserves a long review, but to illustrate my point I am truncating the review to basics.
Will Kane (High Noon) is retiring, marrying his sweetheart and leaving town. A man Kane has put in prison, is coming for revenge on the train arriving at noon. Kane attempts to rally the town to fight the criminals, he asks for assistance from the people he had defended for many years. If you have seen the movie you know how it goes; if you have not seen it I won’t spoil it for you.
Shane (Shane) is a gunfighter who desires to put up his weapons and live peaceably. Involvement in his community forces him to act, picking up his weapons for the preservation of his community.
Ethan Edwards, (The Searchers) is a veteran of the Civil War (CSA). He returns home well after the end of the war. There is some question about his activities during the years post war and a suggestion that it may not have been entirely legal. Edwards and his nephew spend years searching for his lost niece (Natalie Wood), captured by Indians as a young child. The movie ends with families reunited except for Edwards who remains outside.
Tom Doniphon (The man who shot Liberty Valance) is a rancher in the wild west town of Shinbone. A town that is terrorized by Liberty Valance and the only man that Valance fears. Random Stoddard is a newly flocked lawyer from the east who is humiliated and robbed by Valance. It is not a good idea to piss off a lawyer even in the west. Stoddard and Valance ultimately come to a shootout that Stoddard thinks he won by some miracle. In reality it was Doniphon who shot Valance from hiding. Stoddard goes on to marry the girl Tom is in love with and becomes a senator for the new state. When he tells this story many years after the fact, the newspaper editor says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Again, the defender of civilization, Tom Doniphon, is on the outside.
The last is not a traditional western, but exhibits the same values as the others. The Dark Knight series of Batman pits Bruce Wayne against not only crime, but a conspiracy seeking to bring down civilization in the form of Gotham City. Wayne is trained by this very same conspiracy but rejects the ideology when asked to murder to prove his faith in the cause.
Throughout all three movies Bruce Wayne/Batman battles with the moral dilemma of protecting the citizens of Gotham and at the same time maintaining his integrity. Batman is torn by the need to defend and the concepts of freedom. He is the embodiment of the Psalm 121, “Behold, he that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”. Wayne achieves relative freedom by destroying Batman in the last movie, however, the unanswered question is will Batman return if needed. The Batman, like Will Kane, Shane, Ethan Edwards, and Tom Doniphon will always return to defend those who cannot defend themselves and their culture even without thanks. • (1000 views)