An 1826 historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper which has experienced Pop Cultural Osmosis and adapted for film numerous times, most recently 1992 by Michael Mann (see below). A story about the American Frontier, The Last of the Mohicans takes place in the British colony of New York in 1757, against the backdrop of the French and Indian War, the 9-year American version of the Seven Years' War which heavily involved Native Americans on both sides. The book mainly concerns the adventures of Hawkeye, a white man accompanied by the last two surviving members of the Mohican tribe, Chingachgook and his son Uncas, as the three trackers try to protect the two daughters of a Scottish colonel.Cooper's novel was one of the first great American novels, and was widely read during his time. It remains a commonly-taught book in America Literature courses and a staple of early American frontier mythology.The novel has been adapted into a number of movies, first in 1911, then again in 1920, 1932, 1936 and finally one starring DanielDay-Lewis in 1992. The 1992 film has been said by its director to be more of an update of the 1936 film than a straight adaptation of the book, so the resulting Adaptation has led to a significant level of controversy among the book's fans, although it is generally regarded as an exceptional film in terms of modern action-adventure epics.For more on the novel The Last of the Mohicans and other books in The Series, see The Leatherstocking Tales.For more on the 1992 film starring Daniel Day Lewis, see below.
Actor Allusion: The actual sovereign chief of the Five Nations played Ongewasgone, the Iroquois leader.
Adaptational Villainy: While not evil, Duncan Heyward comes across as a more unpleasant character than he does in Cooper's novel (or for that matter the 1936 version, in which he was more of a Romantic False Lead).
Adaptation Distillation: Omitted portions include redundant portions where the women are captured and quickly freed, a deranged white man at the Huron camp, a shooting contest, and Natty Bumpo disguised as a bear. The changes generally streamlined and improved on some lengthy and confusing segments in the novel.
The Alliance: In a Slice of Life montage, we see settlers and Iroquois assembling peaceably at Cameron's frontier cabin for a Harvest dinner and a traditionally violent Indian-style Lacrosse game with basketball hoops (settlers vs. Indians).note Ironically, the reason for the gathering is a militia levy to go fight the French and other Indians, but the British herald is disdainful of both groups.
Always Someone Better: For most of the film, Magua is made out to be the biggest Badass on the frontier. And then he makes the mistake of pissing off Chingachgook.
Magua: The Grey Hair's children were under Magua's knife. They escaped... When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.
Badass Grandpa: Chingachgook, while not old by modern standards, is treated as such by the other characters. When Magua, who up until then had been an unstoppable killing machine, finally fought Chingachgook he didn't stand a chance.
Bilingual Dialogue: Native characters slide in and out of multiple languages, including the dead languages of Huron and Mohican, which are subtitled. Magua, being a Huron enslaved by the Mohawk who became a French war captain turned British scout, seems to speak more languages than any other character; in the final parlay, he alone understands the whole conversation, and (he is not pleased). note It's both subtitled and translated on-screen by Heyward, who speaks French — except for the Huron part, which only Magua understands. Then there's this:
Heyward: You there! Scout. Must. Stop. Soon. Women. Are. Tired.
Magua: Three leagues. Better water. We stop there.
Heyward: No, we stop in the glade ahead. Understand?
Bittersweet Ending: Alice and Duncan are dead, along with Uncas, so Chingachgook is the last of his tribe, and will probably have no more children. However, Cora and Hawkeye are alive and together.
The 1936 version added a level of ambiguity, as Duncan has also survived and it is not made clear whether the remaining Munro daughter prefers Hawkeye or him.
Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Surprisingly realistic; the Native tribesmen wear homespun like their colonist neighbors, and both they and the colonist wear leather breeches and authentic hairstyles for the most part.
British Stuffiness: Heyward! With that "priggy nose of his" as one reviewer delicately put it.
Broad Strokes / Adaptation Displacement: The film is more an adaptation of the 1936 film than the original novel. Who lives, who dies, and who hooks up with who at the end are all adapted from the older film rather than the book.
The screenplay for the 1936 film is actually credited as an alternate version. Also Hawkeye's real name, which was Anglicized from Natty Bumppo to Nathaniel Poe.
Interestingly, Director Mann who is known for his neon urban color schemes, says this is the only film he ever did that had no artificial color wash. He wanted to capture the American woods without artificial lighting because he said they are rarely seen that way in media. Of course, this results in some pretty dark scenes.
Decoy Protagonist: Hawkeye, to a certain extent, since he is not in fact the title character.
Defictionalization: Several locations in the Eastern US, such as Chimney Rock where it was filmed,note (somewhat inaccurate to the legend which is set in the Adirondacks, but hey, you know) are popularly known as "Uncas Leap". This goes back to the 1800s when the story was first written, since the character of Uncas was based on a legendary Indian chief.
Dual Wielding: Somewhat ridiculously, Hawkeye picks up another musket and kills two enemies, one with his own musket and one with the borrowed musket. How he managed to aim both heavy rifles at different targets at the same time, even though he was shooting them at close range, is a mystery.
More realistically, several characters are shown wielding a tomahawk in one hand and a knife in the other.
The Empire: The British and French Empires, of course. Back when France was still a monarchy, no less.
Herald: Are you not a patriot!? A loyal subject to the Crown!?
Heyward:(later) British policies make the world England, sir.
Fake Nationality: Wes Studi, a Cherokee, plays a Huron masquerading as a Mohawk; white extras in facepaint were cast alongside Native extras for crowd scenes. Russell Means is Sioux, Daniel Day-Lewis is English and Madeleine Stowe (Cora) is American.
Heroic Sacrifice: When Magua demands revenge on Munro by burning his daughter Cora alive, Hawkeye offers himself instead. But Heyward deliberately mistranslates, offering himself. The others are released, and Heyward is burned alive.
This is a radical switcheroo from the 1936 film, where Hawkeye (Randolph Scott) actually does get tortured by fire, and Heyward (Henry Wilcoxon) rescues him before it goes too far.
He Who Fights Monsters: In Hawkeye's Kirk Summation, he asks Magua if he would use the ways of the Yengees and the Francais against other Indians. Magua says yes. The Sachem notes that he has never followed the Huron path.
Hollywood History: The 'Company' of the 60th regiment (Really an understrength platoon) that accompany Major Heyward and the Monroe daugthers who are massacred in order to show that Standard 18th century military tactics will not work in North America. Fair enough this early in the war for a standard British unit who are ambushed. But the 60th (The Royal Americans) were a unit raised in America and trained to specifically fight under these conditions and use them to their advantage.
Honor Before Reason: Ongewasgone, the Iroquois leader, commits to stay behind and fight on instead of break out of the beleaguered fort with the colonists.
I Will Find You: "You submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive! If they don't kill you they'll take you north... up to Huron land. You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."
Improbable Aiming Skills: Straight from the book, in which Hawkeye is a frontier William Tell. Notably, Hawkeye and the Mohicans use 18th century rifles to snipe moving targets 200 yards away - which, though possible, is bloody difficult.
Famed Method Actor Daniel Day-Lewis apparently learned how to reload an 18th-century musket on the run, although this troper can't picture how such a thing is possible. He also spent the entire film living in a tent and wearing leather skins which he made himself, which led him into a career as a cobbler in Italy for the remainder of the decade.
Judgment of Solomon: The Great Sachem Tamenund's ruling at the end of the film is a bit of Values Dissonance. From his point of view, it was a just ruling; the Native Americans did not mistreat captive women, but people might be punished for the crimes of their fathers. Women who ran the gauntlet, however, would be respected unharmed; they would be ransomed or allowed to marry into the tribe.
Hawkeye tells Cora "You submit, do you hear? You're strong!" for this reason. Takes on a whole new meaning when the deleted lines are added back in: "One of the Hurons may take you as a wife."
Ironically, the Sachem is an anachronism because at this time, the Hurons du Lacs were Jesuits, assimilated and pacifist, and they nearly got wiped out by the British as a result. (He was well aware of this and mentioned it in his speech.) Tamanund: Magua's ways are not those of the Huron.
Wait, Magua says he's going to the Huron of the Lakes to get a second opinion, so this can't be the same group.
Missing Episode / Keep Circulating the Tapes: The original Theatrical Cut, which includes an entirely different sound mix, additional scenes between Uncas and Alice, different takes in action scenes and different dialogue, and a song by (Enya's alma mater) Clanaad during the lead-up to the climax, is not available on DVD in the US, due to Creator Backlash. A Widescreen/THX VHS deluxe edition from 1997, and a Region 2 British DVD are the only editions available to the public. The director's cut in turn adds an action scene at the fort and different last lines to Chingachgook which is more cynical about the death of the frontier, and now there is a third, Ultimate Cut on Blu-ray, causing much confusion between different versions.
Mighty Whitey: Definitely present, but mostly subverted. The story does focus mostly on Hawkeye, but he isn't particularly better or worse at anything than his Mohican family.
Magua: Magua's village and lodges were burnt. Magua's children were killed by the English. I was taken a slave by the Mohawk who fought for the Grey Hair. Magua's wife... believed he was dead, and became the wife of another. The Grey Hair was the father of all that. In time, Magua became blood brother to the Mohawk... to become free. But always in his heart, he is Huron. And his heart will be whole again on the day the Grey Hair and all his seed are dead.
Race Lift: Cora, surprisingly enough. Results in the Unfortunate Implications of pairing Cora with the white guy instead of Uncas. Narrowly avoided in that Uncas and Chingachgook's portrayal and the other Indians are sufficiently Badass to overshadow Daniel Day-Lewis's acting, which is a neat trick.
The film also offers Alice and Uncas as a secondary couple, although it's really subtle unless you're watching the Theatrical Cut and even then it's somewhat subdued. But it definitely comes to the fore in the last scene.
Shirtless Scene: The 1992 film. Hawkeye's shirt magically disappears while hunting.
Shown Their Work: One of the first installments in the trend towards super-detailed historical reenactment. The director built a full-scale model of Fort William Henry and blasted it to smithereens, authentic reproduction muskets were made, leather items were all tanned on-set; a linguist was hired to reconstruct a dead Huron dialect for subtitled scenes.
Tranquil Fury: Chingachgook shows little emotion when dispatching Magua for killing his son, and doesn't crack a tear til after his final speech.
Translation Convention: Used and subverted. When characters who speak French are alone, it's spoken in English (oddly, General Montcalm speaks English anyhow with Just An Accent); but Native characters slide in and out of four different languages, which are subtitled for the viewer as Bilingual Dialogue, so all three tropes are used.
Montcalm:Col. Munro would. But General Webb will not honor the agreement and send the troops away. I fear that having let them go — which I must — I shall only fight the same men again when I drive towards Albany. (the two exchange a knowing glance)
Wicked Cultured: Subverted in an interesting way. Montcalm is shown receiving Indian chiefs as equals and recieving gifts of fealty from them, including a Jesuit choir of Huron Indian women. This is treated as a Pet the Dog moment showing the different French attitudes toward coexisting with natives, instead of implying that he is backstabbing his Indian underlings.