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Film / Jeremiah Johnson

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A 1972 Western film directed by Sydney Pollack, based (partly) on the life of real-life mountain man John "Liver Eatin" Johnson.

Robert Redford stars as the eponymous Jeremiah Johnson, a jaded veteran of the Mexican/American war, who turns his back on the life he has previously led to become a mountain man up in the Colorado Rockies. His first winter is a difficult one which almost ends in starvation, but he is lucky enough to be taken in by the vastly more experienced Bear Claw (Will Geer). During his time up in the mountains, he becomes unwittingly betrothed to a Flathead Indian woman and adopts a mute young boy, only for them to be murdered at the hands of the Crow Indians. It doesn't get any better.

Tropes present in this work

  • Accidental Marriage: Jonhson gives the scalps and horses of the Blackfeet to the chief of the Flatheads. According to the Indian customs, the chief is forced to give Johnson a present and he can only offer him the hand of his daughter, that Johnson is forced to accept.
  • Beard of Sorrow: When Johnson wants to live alone in the mountains, he has a beard. When he starts enjoying his life with Swan and Caleb, he cuts off his beard. When they are killed by the Crow, he grows the beard again.
  • Bilingual Bonus: We've got English, French, and what can be assumed are various different Native American languages including those characteristic of the Flathead, Crow and Blackfoot. None of which are subtitled.
  • Biopic: The film is based on the life of John "Liver-Eating" Johnson (c. 1824 – 1900), from the time he settles down in the Wild West until the time he makes peace with the Crow.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After all his trials and tribulations, Paints His Shirt Red finally vows peace with Johnson, but Johnson has lost everything he could have called a family.
  • Bumbling Dad: Qualen, the Determined Homesteader, is one played for drama a bit. Johnson openly tells him that he probably won't be able to protect his family up there.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Averted. When Johnson is little short of forced into marrying Swan, the daughter of Flathead chief Two Tongues, she isn't attracted to Johnson. She's reluctant to marry him and initially hates the situation she finds herself in. Though we do get a nice little scene in which she kills a bird by throwing a stone at it. So not totally averted.
  • Cool Old Guy: Bear Claw.
  • Dead Man Writing: Johnson reads the will of Hatchet Jack, another mountain man, who died because a bear broke his legs—but he killed the bear before he died.
  • Determined Homesteader:
    • In the end, a homesteader settles down in the house of the Crazy Woman.
    • Deconstructed. Caleb was the son of a homesteader who was killed by the Indians, along with his brothers and sisters. He is traumatized by this experience and does not speak any more. He is eventually killed by the Crow.
    • Deconstructed. The Crazy Woman was the wife of a homesteader who was killed by the Indians, along with his children. She has gone mad because of this experience.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Bear Claw teaches Johnson how to survive in the moutains, but he acts like comic relief.
    • Del, who takes up that role after the first act, is just as weird in his own way.
  • Enemies Equals Greatness: Johnson is dismayed to find out that his reputation among the local native tribes is partly due to the fact that the Crow people want him dead.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Crazy Woman has gone crazy when her husband and children were brutally murdered by the Indians.
  • Heroic BSoD: Upon the death of his wife and adopted son, Johnson's silent mourning in his cabin is truly heartbreaking. He then proceeds to bring just about the entire Crow Tribe to their knees.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Crow's attacks on Johnson.
  • Intermission
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Del Gue is a pretty brutal fellow, but a genuine friend and ally to Johnson.
  • Mountain Man: This is a whole FILM ABOUT MOUNTAIN MEN.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: While the film presents the Rocky Mountains in all its beautiful glory, Jeremiah's first winter in the wilderness has him nearly dying of starvation and hypothermia until Bear Claw helps him; moments after, he has another close call with a grizzly bear that he kills for fur. Then, there's the hostile Crow and Blackfoot tribes.
  • Noble Savage: Zig Zagged. The film presents an extremely diverse view of Rocky Mountain Indians. Each tribe is discussed as bearing very different traits. Some are peaceful, some are war-mongering. You should probably watch the film to get an idea of just how diversely the different tribes are portrayed.
  • Parental Substitute: Johnson adopts Caleb, the son of the Crazy Woman.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Lots of them - the Crow tribe. Their code of honor dictates that they only pursue Johnson one at a time, rather than unleashing a battalion upon him. And Johnson defeats and kills every single one. Paints His Shirt Red finally offers peace after losing so many.
  • Rated M for Manly: A prime example, being a film all about a rugged mountain man and his adventures in the wild. Hell, one of Jeremiah's most notable moments is killing a GRIZZLY BEAR to harvest its fur! Total badass.
  • Sand Necktie: Del Gue is in this situation when Johnson meets him. Courtesy of the Blackfeet.
  • The Savage Indian: Zig Zagged. The Indians are the biggest threat to the protagonist. The Blackfeet killed the husband and children of the Crazy Woman. The Crow brutally kill Swan and Caleb, but a justification for this murder is given (they were killed because Johnson desecrated a cemetery). Moreover, other Indian tribes are described as peaceful.
  • Scenery Porn: The entire film is set in the Colorado Rockies and shot in various locations throughout Utah. Some of it was filmed in the Wasatch Mountains, near where Redford had bought a ski area a few years earlier (on the side of Mount Timpanogos) which he would rename Sundance and turn into the headquarters of the Sundance Film Festival.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The trauma of his experience during the war is such that Johnson wants to live alone in the mountains, far from the civilization.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Johnson adopts a mute young boy who has witnessed his family murdered by Indians. He also marries the beautiful daughter of a Flathead Indian chief and they all begin to live a content, if quiet, life together. Then they are both killed at the hands of the Crow when he is coerced into escorting missionaries across Crow burial ground. And that's it.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: For a film which is very dark, very violent and - more or less - ends badly, John Rubenstein's soundtrack is, for the most part, a tad whimsical for the depressing Shoot the Shaggy Dog tale that it turns out to be.
  • The Stoic: Johnson, for the most part, is a pretty remote guy.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Johnson, avenging the killing of his family and taking on an entire tribe.
  • The Voiceless: Johnson's 'adopted' son. Not surprising, after witnessing the murder of his family by Natives.