Let's start with the Indians. Our supposedly nuanced antagonists who for all intents and purposes may as well sport handlebar moustaches and tie Debbie to the railroad tracks. Their motive? Where Da White Women At
. That's it. The big ambush that sets the whole movie off? All so they could rape some White women. And after achieving this devious act, they spend the rest of the movie being largely incompetent. Every time they fight White people, they get their asses kicked, since apparently Indians don't understand the concept of cover even though they practically invented Guerrilla War
That's what I dislike about this movie the most. It takes a series of flawed premises, and tries to build up sympathy about them, but narrative just doesn't work like that. We can't empathize with the Indians because their actions lack internal consistency. If you think this was the height of discussion about racism in the fifties, watch or listen to an episode of Gunsmoke
that has Indians. In Gunsmoke
, they're people
. They don't run around raping everybody For The Evulz
. They have clearly defined, if sometimes wrongheaded motives, and they make for far better sympathetic characters because of it.
Where others see Deconstruction
, I see Parody Retcon
. Ethan is an Anti Hero
? Funny how he's indistinguishable from most of the characters John Wayne
had played up until that point. His Sidekick
is an Indian? So was Tonto
. And let's not forget the "wacky" sequence where Martin deals with an Accidental Marriage
to an Indian wife. We've seen all these tropes before. Just because the movie acknowledges them doesn't make any of it interesting.
It genuinely puzzles me that this movie is held in the high regard it is. In order to get anything approaching depth from these characters, you have to perform a butt-load of critical analysis. Very little serious "ambiguity" is seen on-screen. For everything evil thing Ethan does, the Comanches do something far worse. At best it's Black And Gray Morality
- assuming you ignore the fact that Martin argues for White
I can't recommend this movie even as period study. There were plenty of racist Westerns back then that weren't trying to be ironic about it- watch one of them if you want to learn about race relations. You'll probably get a better story, too.