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Film / Legends of the Fall

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Legends of the Fall is a 1994 film based on the 1979 novel by Jim Harrison detailing the Generational Saga of the lives and loves of the Ludlow clan. The film is directed by Edward Zwick and stars Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, and Anthony Hopkins. John Toll won the Academy Award award that year for Best Cinematography.

The film's time frame spans the decade before World War I through the Prohibition era, and into the 1930s, ending with a brief scene set in 1963. It centers on the Ludlow family of Montana, including veteran of the Indian Wars Colonel William Ludlow (Hopkins), his sons Alfred (Quinn), Tristan (Pitt) and Samuel (Henry Thomas), and object of the brothers' love, Susannah (Ormond).

Legends of the Tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: Tristan definitely stands out compared to his brothers Alfred and Samuel's ordinary sounding names.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Susannah falls for edgy, rebellious, roguish and adventurous Tristan rather than the conservative, responsible and practical Alfred.
  • Aloof Older Brother: Alfred is the eldest, most serious, and most authoritarian of the three brothers.
  • Artistic License – History: The First World War scenes are set in the Second Battle of Ypres which occurred in April 1915. A title card proclaims the date as February. (At that time the Canadian Division, depicted in the film, had not yet fought a major battle.) Weapons and equipment worn by the extras are more correct for 1916 or later - in February-April 1915, the Canadians in France were wearing Canadian pattern uniforms, leather Oliver pattern web gear, and using the Ross rifle. The film shows them in British uniforms and gear, with Lee Enfield weapons, which would all be correct if the film took place a year or so later.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Tristan, Alfred, Col. Ludlow are all tough war veterans who are seen in nice suits.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Two battles with a particular bear, the second lethal to the sole surviving protagonist.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Tristan grows a beard after returning from war with PTSD. When he goes on his odyssey to recover from his sanity, his beard grows long. When he returns, having overcome his trauma, he's clean shaven again. He grows a beard again after Isabel Two dies.
  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Alfred is protective of his younger brothers.
    • Tristan is highly protective of Samuel. Which is what causes Tristan his Heroic BSoD after Samuel dies.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Alfred saves Tristan from being shot at by a corrupt sheriff with the last O'Banion brother with a shot.
  • Big "NO!": Tristan, repeatedly. When he's failed to save Samuel from being killed by Kaiser soldiers, which leads to his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. He lets out several when he sees that Isabel II has been shot. And a third while he gets in front of Colonel Ludlow after Ludlow shot the last O'Banion and the corrupt officer with him, but the sheriff is left standing to take a shot at them.
  • Big "YES!": Alfred screamed this during his argument with Tristan.
    Alfred: "Damn you, Tristan. You will marry her."
    Tristan: "And make an honest woman out of her?"
    Alfred: "YESSS!!!"
  • Blatant Lies: Susannah's voiceover of her letter expressing her delight at the birth of Tristan and Isabel II's son is played over a scene of her collapsing in tears at the news.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Tristan. He is a friendly and rebellious rogue.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends with Tristan getting attacked by a bear, both as a child and as an old man.
  • Brainy Brunette: Susannah. Appears to be educated, smart, logical and practical.
  • Break the Cutie: Tristan and Susannah both suffer from the loss of Samuel. Susannah especially goes from hopeful fiancee to despairing suicide.
  • Brutal Honesty: While his narration offers a longer monologue, Tristan's letter to fully break things off with Susannah is very blunt. "All we had is dead. As I am dead. Marry another."
  • Call to Adventure: Samuel feels he has a duty to go off to fight in World War I, and Alfred seems to agree. Tristan joins them, likely because Samuel's there (this could have affected Alfred as well). Tristan watches Samuel die after being riddled with bullets, Alfred is discharged due to an injured leg, and Tristan is discharged before the war ends.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally. The shotgun Tristan gives to his father after Walking the Earth plays a big part in the finale.
  • Comforting the Widow: Susannah attempts this after Isabel II's death, to no avail. Earlier on, Tristan's affair with her was a partial example - since she and Samuel had not married yet.
  • Crapsack World: None of the characters lead particularly happy lives, even when not considering the one who committed suicide out of despair.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Tristan's final encounter with the bear at the end of the film. Also most of the other deaths scattered throughout.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: Tristan is killed by a bear in 1963, after outliving the rest of his loved ones.
  • Defector from Decadence: Colonel Ludlow, sorta. He lives in his ranch to keep far away from politics, and makes obvious his disgust of the American government when Alfred says he's going to run for Congress while implying he's seen children shot and a village slaughtered in its sleep from government orders.
  • Dirty Cop: Sheriff Tynert and many if not all of his deputies are in the pockets of the O'Banion brothers.
  • Dies Wide Open: Isabel II dies this way after being accidentally shot by a police officer.
  • Disposable Woman: Isabel II doesn't get much screentime until her death. And even the sole purpose of that appears to be to send Tristan off the deep end again.
  • Distant Finale: Tristan dies long after the events of the story sometime in The '60s.
  • Dogged Nice Girl: Susannah repeatedly tries to get Tristan to understand the love that they share and tries to stop him from leaving her.
  • Doom Magnet: Tristan. Everyone he loved died young. According to One Stab:
    I thought Tristan would never live to be an old man. I was wrong about that. I was wrong about many things. It was those who loved him most who died young. He was a rock they broke themselves against however much he tried to protect them.
  • Driven to Suicide: After Tristan rejects Susannah, she shoots herself in despair.
  • Dude Magnet: Susannah. She manages to have all three Ludlow brothers falling in love with her.
  • The Dutiful Son: Alfred. Unfortunately, his idea of duty doesn't always match up with his father's idea.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Invoked In-Universe by the narrator (AKA One Stab) on elderly Tristan's Defiant to the End death fighting with the bear he'd maimed when he was young, made more awesome by the fact that he was probably around 75 at the time.
    One Stab: It was a good death.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Tristan's only request is that he be taken to the woods because, "I don't want my boy to see. Let's get on with it."
  • Failure Hero: Tristan, summarized by One Stab below in Walking Disaster Area. Most of Tristan's life is avenging the deaths of loved ones he failed to protect.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: Tristan and Isabel 2 get a brief one before and after their marriage, depicting her pregnancies and birth of their children.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: One of the cops does this at a roadblock with a Tommy Gun to get Tristan's attention. He ends up killing Isabell.
  • Foreshadowing - Mrs. Ludlow left because of bears. A bear is what kills her last surviving son years later.
  • Glory Seeker: Samuel speaks of having some yearning for personal glory in the war in a letter to Susannah. So he joins a reconnaissance once he gets a chance to dodge Tristan keeping him safe, and gets killed by a German machine-gun after being blinded in a gas attack.
  • A Good Way to Die: Tristan's death, getting eaten by a bear, is said to be "a good death."
  • Happily Married: Tristan and Isabel II have a happy marriage, in contrast to Tristan's wild and destructive affair with Susannah. Unfortunately, Isabel dies.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Colonel Ludlow is laid down by a stroke, enfeebled and unable to speak (except with a cigar in his mouth), using a chalkboard around his neck to communicate. However, he recovers enough to stand up fearlessly to Irish mobsters and give them pause, making it a Defied Trope in the end.
  • Howl of Sorrow: Tristan repeatedly screams "No!" upon seeing that Isabel 2 has been shot, then lets out an incoherent scream of rage as he charges at her killer.
  • Hypocrite: Alfred blasts Tristan for his relationship with Susannah, as she's essentially Samuel's widow, when he himself fell in Love at First Sight with her and declared that love at Samuel's grave.
  • Hunk: Tristan is a handsome cowboy.
  • I Will Wait for You: Susannah says this to Tristan before he leaves. Subverted in that Susannah didn't wait and ended up marrying Alfred.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: This is how the younger O'Banion brother met his end.
  • Important Haircut: Susannah hacks off her hair prior to committing suicide.
  • Instant Death Bullet: In some places - Isabel II is killed by a bullet in somewhere between her breast and shoulder. No one noticed until her mother did and began screaming about it, and Isabel was already dead by that time. Ludlow and Alfred also have their targets fall with little fuss when the last O'Banion comes by for revenge, though Ludlow was using a double-barreled shotgun. Averted in other places - Samuel manages to seem conscious up until dying despite being riddled by machine-gun bullets for about ten seconds, and Roscoe Decker kills one of the O'Banions by shooting him in the right shoulder, watching him get up, and then shooting him in the gut.
  • The Irish Mob: The O'Banions, the only group of bootleggers prominently depicted, are Irish.
  • Informed Ability: We're told early on that Susannah has many ideas and political opinions about the topics of the day. We never hear her speak about any of them. She at least feigns no understanding of business and, as the wife of a congressman, doesn't give her first speech until years after he's been in office.
  • It's Personal: Implied heavily by One Stab at the end that the bear Tristan had maimed decades ago was looking for payback.
  • Karmic Death: Tristan is killed by the bear he maimed.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Susannah wears her hair down to her waist in Regal Ringlets. She maintains her long hair into the 1920s, when shorter hair styles had started to become fashionable.
  • Love at First Sight: All of the Ludlow brothers in regards to Susannah.
  • Love Confession: Alfred confessed his love for Susannah in a rather awkward situation.
  • Love Hurts: What do you expect when all three brothers fall in love with the same girl? Or when a girl's fiancé dies tragically in battle? Or when unrequited love takes place? Or when the man you love abandons you, never comes back for years at a time, and then writes you a letter telling you: "All that they had is dead. MARRY ANOTHER"? And when the woman couldn't be with the man they really love, they commit suicide? And when the man himself finds a Second Love, only for her to die tragically as well?
  • Love Triangle: More like a love rhombus or love square, with all three Ludlow brothers falling in love with Susannah.
  • Magical Native American: One Stab has a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane connection to Tristan, whom he incorporated into various Cree rituals and traditions.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: One Stab seems to sense when Tristan puts Samuel's heart in an urn. He's also able to sense when Tristan returns to the ranch. Both could be magic or just coincidences and intuition.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Tristan is a Pretty Boy and a Hunk who spends a lot of the film doing manly things around the ranch while drenched in golden light.
  • Never Found the Body: Tristan after his fatal encounter with the bear, according to One Stab.
  • Nice Girl: Susannah is always nice to everyone.
  • The One That Got Away: Tristan for Susannah. She always loved him but eventually, the love was unreciprocated.
  • Parental Abandonment: The Ludlow brother's mother left because she wasn't comfortable with the living situations. She felt there were too many bears. While they never have a child together, Susannah in the middle of the film asks the deeply troubled Tristan that if they did, would he still be leaving the ranch. He quietly says yes.
  • Parental Favoritism: Col. Ludlow seemed to show favoritism towards Tristan. Alfred expressed it as much, and Ludlow had a stroke once he read a letter from Tristan which made his return to the ranch seem dubious.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: You might expect that Tristan is holding Susannah in a passionate embrace on the film poster, but he's actually carrying the corpse of Isabel Two.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: As Tristan was leaving the Ludlow Ranch to find himself, Susannah begged him to stay. Despite her best efforts, Tristan was adamant. She responded, "I Will Wait for You. Even if it takes forever." She doesn't.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: There's obviously problems waiting to happen with Susannah being a fiancee to Samuel and his brothers also clearly being love-struck with her, but it's Samuel's death that causes things to get truly rocky among the entire Ludlow family. Isabel 2's death as well, as it causes all hell to break loose after a period of relative happiness and stability.
  • Precocious Crush: Isabel II, a child, has one on the much older Tristan. When she grows up, it turns into actual love.
  • Proper Lady: Susannah. She is ladylike and polite.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Tristan. He is adventurous and carefree by nature.
  • Reformed Criminal: Roscoe Decker. He's clearly wanted by the authorities for something, but no one in the Ludlow family ever mention that or gives it any mind.
  • Regal Ringlets: Susannah. She has long, curly hair.
  • Removed from the Picture: After Tristan went away for many years without any communication, Alfred managed to marry Susannah after years of unrequited love. When Tristan came back, that was the beginning of Susannah's emotional descent which ended with her being Driven to Suicide.
  • Retired Badass:
    • One Stab, as Tristan claims he had counted coup hundreds of times but by that point, One Stab just lives peacefully with the Colonel and his sons.
    • Colonel Ludlow also clearly held something over from his military days when he fearlessly fires a double-barreled shotgun at the last O'Banion brother's group of three once he sees them distracted for a moment looking at One Stab calming a testy horse. Since those weapons only hold two shells, it's Alfred who has to kill the last one.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • Tristan goes on a vendetta rampage through the German lines after Samuel is killed. Later, he nearly beats to death the cop who murdered Isabel Two, and following his release from prison for this assault, kills ALL of those responsible for her death.
    • Nor when Samuel was killed earlier. He'd actually already killed the Germans who killed Samuel during his rescue attempt. The ones he scalped were just another set of enemy soldiers.
  • The Roaring '20s: Part of the Prohibition-related chapters.
  • Sanity Slippage: Tristan suffers PTSD and survivor's guilt over failing to save Samuel. He spends years getting over it.
  • Scenery Gorn: Trenches littered with decaying fallen soldiers during World War I.
  • Scenery Porn: From the Ludlow ranch to the African Safari.
  • Second Love:
    • Susannah loves Samuel, but once he dies, she's able to exercise her smoldering desire for Tristan.
    • Tristan legitimately falls in love with Isabel Two after finding that Sussanah has moved on and married Alfred in his absence.
  • Settle for Sibling: Susannah marrying Alfred after giving up on Tristan returning.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Tristan's reaction to Isabel Two when he returns.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: By the end, what has been accomplished? Everyone Tristan loved died, and then he died too.
  • Shout-Out: Samuel's senseless death mirrors that of Gallipoli.
  • Shirtless Scene: Tristan has a few shirtless scenes throughout the film.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Alfred falls in love with Susannah and never gets over it. He apparently spends years in the state capital building a financial and political empire without ever meeting a woman to take his mind off of her.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Susannah. First with Samuel and then with Alfred.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Susannah appears to be one of the few female characters in the film which is predominantly male in casting. Not to mention that Susannah serves as a love interest to all three Ludlow brothers, in the same way that Smurfette is sought after by all male Smurfs.
  • Snow Means Death: They buried Samuel's heart during the winter.
  • Spurned into Suicide: Susannah kills herself after Tristan rejects her.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Tristan and Susannah oh so much. When they first meet, Susannah is engaged to (and seems to love) his younger brother. They have an affair after his death, but Tristan abandons her and marries Isabel II. Even after Isabel's death, he rejects Susannah and she ends up killing herself. Tristan lives out the rest of his days without marrying another.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Isabel 2 is killed out of nowhere after a period of relative stability as well as a nice day out for the family.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Interestingly enough Susannah fits into all three roles depending on what brother she's with. When she is with Samuel in her youth, she is the Child (an Ingenue; sweet and innocent). The brother she actually marries - Alfred - turns her into the Wife. In her passionate affair with Tristan, she becomes the Seductress.
  • Too Happy to Live: Following a long period of genuine happiness and stability, a nice day out for the family is capped off by Isabel 2 being abruptly shot and killed.
  • Tragedy: Most of Tristan's loved ones died tragically while he outlived them.
  • Tragic Dream: Susannah wanted to bear Tristan's children when they were still together. Unfortunately for her, Isabel II filled that role. Despite what her letter says regarding her fond wishes for the birth of Tristan's children, she was in reality utterly devastated.
  • Twilight of the Old West: The Ludlows are ranchers in the early 20th century. The bottom falling out of the cattle market after World War I sinks their fortunes.
  • Unbalanced By Rival's Kid: Susannah practically collapses upon reading a letter telling her of the birth of Tristan and Isabel II's son. When she meets the boy several years later, she's almost in tears.
  • The Unfair Sex: Inverted. In a scene from the trailer, the Colonel yells at Susannah for being nothing but trouble since she came to the house. Rather than the son that made a pass at his brother's fiancée.
  • The Unfavorite: Alfred is everyone's third-favorite Ludlow brother. He states openly that their father always liked him least, and he's the only brother that Susannah never falls in love with. In fact, she kills herself rather than have to remain married to him.
  • Unrequited Love: Alfred falls instantly in love with Susannah, but after Samuel's death, she rebuffs his advances. Only after Tristan abandons her for years, leaving her all alone on the ranch with no prospects does she marry him, and still she kills herself rather than remain married to him if she can't have Tristan.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Isabel II marries one of the three guys that grew up with her.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Alfred's decisions constantly alienate him from his father. When he compromises his ethics in a Big Damn Hero moment, he finally reconciles with the Colonel, giving each other a long, heartfelt hug.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Sheriff and the O'Banions arrive at the ranch looking for someone, who's picture resembles ranch hand Decker. Decker even leaves upon seeing them coming up, before they can get a good look at him. The Colonel and Albert make up a story about the man in the picture having been there years earlier, but left to go overseas. We never find out why the O'Banions are looking for Decker, nor why they show no interest when he's in the car when Isabel II is shot. It's entirely about having an excuse to introduce the villains and corrupt Sheriff.
  • When She Smiles: An epic one given by Julia Ormond's character. Siskel & Ebert raved about it in their review.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Tristan and Susannah circle around each other for the entirety of the film, but the circumstances are never right for a long-term romance.