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Film / Seraphim Falls

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"Only the dead know the end of war."
Carver, quoting Plato

A 2006 cult western which boils down to 90 minutes of Liam Neeson chasing Pierce Brosnan across the wilder parts of Nevada.

An unknown event during the final days of the American Civil War has made captain Gideon, who fought for the Union, the arch-enemy of ex-Confederate colonel Carver. Now Carver is out for revenge. He's gathered a team of mercenary trackers and they've managed to pick up Gideon’s trail. However, at first Gideon doesn't actually know why he is being chased; the viewer follows his struggle to stay alive as he begins to understand what horrible part of his past has come to haunt him.

The movie starts out as a straightforward manhunt, but gradually takes a more philosophical turn. Its surreal final scenes decidedly make it stand out from the average western or revenge movie (and some of their significance will only be apparent to those who are really paying attention).


This film provides examples of:

  • Audible Sharpness
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. After being driven hard across the desert with little water, Gideon's horse simply collapses beneath him. He gives it a Mercy Kill and hides in its carcass to surprise Carver and his last mercenary.
  • Badass Beard: Gideon has a massive beard at the start when Carver and his men are pursuing him across the snowy mountains.
  • Badass Longcoat: Carver wears a duster as he and his men pursue Gideon.
  • Badass Preacher: The priest of the religious settlers claims that the scar in his neck is from a gunfight with Mormons. Which he won.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In
  • Colonel Badass / Retired Badass: Both main characters appear to have been war heroes for their respective sides. Gideon in particular has a legendary reputation – he is said to have once killed a hundred men in a single battle.
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  • Combat Pragmatist: Gideon knows better than to fight with honour when the odds are stacked so heavily against him. Carver apparently isn’t much for fairness either – when he and Gideon are both disarmed, his fighting method consists entirely of him punching his opponent repeatedly on the gunshot wound in his arm.
  • Crapsack World: The Wild West is mostly shown as this (even missionaries are willing to steal water and bullets), and Carver believes everywhere else is the same. “Nobody can protect nobody in this world.”
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Gideon and Carver both lost everything in the Civil War. Gideon saw both of his sons killed at the Battle of Antietam. Carver’s family were hiding in their house, which Gideon burned without knowing they were inside.
  • Determinator: Again, both of the main characters. The entire plot is a show of just how determined they are.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Probably. The ending is ambiguous.
  • Deal with the Devil: Both characters end up making deals with someone who very well may be the literal Devil, aka Madame Louise. Both trade something that would make it easier for them to survive (Gideon's horse, Carver's water) for something that will perpetuate their feud (a bullet for Gideon, a gun for Carver).
  • Disposable Woman: Family, in this case.
  • Dramatic Irony: Late in the film, Carver checks his ammo supplies to find he only has a single bullet left. Not long after, he confronts Gideon with that single bullet and quickly expends it shooting Hayes, who Gideon is holding captive. All the while, he acts like his gun is fully loaded and Gideon never finds out otherwise.
  • Five-Man Band: The trackers, in a way. Carver is the Big Bad with Hayes as his Dragon. Parsons, having more experience than the others, is The Evil Genius; Pope is arguably The Brute with the Kid acting as The Dark Chick.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Gideon has scars around his right eye; they are in a “good scars” location, but rough enough to count as “evil scars” too.
  • Gorn: A severely-hypothermic Captain Gideon desperately warms himself by gutting one of Carver’s trackers and plunging his arms into the guy’s abdominal cavity. It gets nastier from there.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Very much so. Carver’s thirst for revenge seems justified, but his utter ruthlessness and stubborn conviction make his righteousness a matter of opinion. Gideon is introduced as a helpless victim, but we gradually realize that he’s a little too good at killing people, and then we learn what he (kind of) did to Carver.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Pretty much right at the beginning.
  • It's All About Me: Carver does not care too much about his goons.
  • I Want Them Alive: Carver is very clear to his mercenaries that they don't get paid if they kill Gideon.
  • Kick the Dog: Carver makes sure there is no way for his goons to win except through helping him by shooting the horse. Besides, he told you the horse was his.
  • Knife Nut: Gideon’s weapon of choice is a massive Bowie knife, though he loses his guns in the opening scene, so it’s not like he has a choice. Still, he is frighteningly lethal with it. He also uses it for a variety of non-combat survival purposes, as soldiers are trained to do.
  • Lou Cypher: In a blink-and-you'll miss it moment a sign on the back of Madame Louise's wagon says "Louise C. Fair, Proprietor," implying Madame Louise is the Devil
  • Magical Native American: When the film veers into Magical Realism in the third act, a Native American man played by Wes Studi appears to each of the two main characters by a water hole in the middle of a barren desert. He trades Pierce Brosnan's character some water for the horse that Brosnan had stolen from Liam Neeson, then gives Neeson the horse for free. When Neeson gives him money anyway, he discards the coins. His name is listed as Charon in the credits, and the film suggests that he's a demon who is engineering a final confrontation between the two nemeses.
  • The Namesake: Seraphim Falls is where Carver's homestead was located when Gideon burned it down, accidentally killing Carver's family in the process.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Horribly averted. In the first scene, Gideon is shot in the arm; he suffers from the wound for the entire duration of the movie, and Carver uses this to his advantage when they get down to Good Old Fisticuffs.
  • Pet the Dog: When Carver and his band leaves the farm, Carver orders that Pope's horse be left behind.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The trackers. They become more and more reluctant to serve Carver as they discover how dangerous their prey is. He keeps them on his side by renegotiating their pay several times and denying them a way out of the hunt.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Whereas Carver is a Hollywood Atheist, Gideon wears a crucifix, and prays just before riding out into the desert. He also quotes the Bible to Carver: "Those who live by the sword, shall perish by the sword."
  • Revenge Before Reason: After Hayes dies, Gideon rides off into the desert and certain death. Carver still goes after him.
  • Satan: Madame Louise’s full name is written on the back of her wagon:Louise C. Fair.
  • Scenery Porn: And lots of it.
  • Title Drop: Gideon attempts to scope out Carver's camp, only to be cornered by him. Gideon, who at this point doesn't know why he's being chased, asks why. Carver simply replies, "Seraphim Falls." Gideon immediately understands, but the audience doesn't. See The Namesake.
  • Worst Aid: Gideon treats the bullet wound in his arm with his knife, first digging out the bullet, then cauterizing the injury with the heated blade. It ain’t pretty.


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