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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:

  • Affably Evil: The bank robber who first offers Gideon whiskey is the only one who wants to kill him after he observes their status as fugitives, but still displays some Honor Before Reason when asking Gideon to turn around, as he won’t shoot a man in the back. His soft-spoken cousin who recognizes Gideon and seems to show both fear and sympathy for him plays this straighter. And then there's the affable yet ominous trader Madame Fair (assuming she really is evil).
  • Ambiguously Evil: Madame Fair and Charon may in fact be sinister supernatural embodiments, or they may just be regular people who happen to encounter Gideon and Carver and indirectly further their feud.
  • 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 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
  • Blade Enthusiast: 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.
  • Children Are Innocent: We still get a bit of this vibe from the homesteaders children even though one stole from Gideon and the other is a Little Miss Badass.
  • 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.
  • 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, for Gideon.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Gideon gives the Affably Evil bank robber a warning not to fight him, and curses him for making him kill him after he persists.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Greedy Jerkass, assassin and possible ephebophile Hayes shows disgust at what Gideon did to his horse right before Gideon ambushes them by bursting out of the carcass.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Hayes to Carver's group of trackers, and Virgil the bank robber.
  • 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.
  • Little Miss Badass: Charlotte the homesteaders daughter, who holds Gideon at gunpoint when he arrives at the farm, thinking he's a thief, and speaks up defiantly to Carver and his men.
  • 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.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: The Kid is (to Carver's manhunters) and Cousin Bill (to the gang of bank robbers) are both soft-spoken and not really cruel.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: Charon and Madame Louise in the final act.
  • The Namesake: Seraphim Falls is where Carver's homestead was located when Gideon burned it down, accidentally killing Carver's family in the process.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The three bank robbers. Cousin Bill is unaggressive and solemn when talking about the war (nice). Evan is quick to threaten Gideon, is mentioned as having shot a teller during a bank robbery and only decides not to fight Gideon out of pragmatism (mean). Virgil is cheerful when he first meets Gideon, offering him whiskey, and later refusing to shoot a man in the back, but all the same is quick to decide that a potential witness must be killed (in-between).
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Parsons for the manhunters (at least after the Kid. dies) and Cousin Bill to the three bank robber.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Parsons deciding to leave the hunt and take in the body of the dead bank robber Gideon killed, who is wanted for more than Carver is offering them to catch Gideon.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: both Carver and Gideon, in the backstory. Gideon's sons died on the battlefield and one or both of Carver's children died in the fire set by Gideon.
  • Pet the Dog: When Carver and his band leaves the farm, Carver orders that Pope's horse be left behind.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Evan, the third bank robber while kind of ruthless feels no need to go after Gideon (both before and after Gideon kills his brother) due to the harshness of the desert being likely to kill him anyway.
  • 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Jerkass Hayes doesn’t actually rape anyone, but is clearly interested in the prospect of it when the trackers stop at the homesteaders cabin and he leers at Charlotte.
  • 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."
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Downplayed, Carver shoots Parsons. horse when he quits the hunt, leaving him to either walk back to civilization with nothing to show for it or likely die in the desert, especially if he tries to take the body of the bank robber with him for the bounty.
  • 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, from snowy mountains to endless deserts.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: The homesteader family lying to Carver and his men that Gideon stole their horse and that the gold Carver's men found was stolen from him (ironically, their son did steal some gold after scoping through Gideon's things, but it apparently remains unfound while the actual gold that they find is what Gideon paid his father) and they buy it and leave the family unharmed.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cousin Bill has a forlorn, somewhat frightened look on his face as he describes the Battle of Antietam and what he saw Gideon do there.
  • Stout Strength: Pope has the look, but we don't see him display much.
  • Straw Misogynist: Hayes is either this or a Troll when he tells The Kid (whose writing a letter) that wife is spelled w-h-o-r-e, and that a woman won’t ever be yours unless you pay her for the night.
  • 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.
  • The Trickster: The Magical Native American has some of this in his manner.
  • Uncertain Doom Carver's son races into the burnin house along with his wife, and while he isn't seen getting out, he also isn't visible with Mrs. Carver and the baby, staring out the window before killed by the flames.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Pope.
  • 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.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The reason behind the tragedy that caused the conflict. Gideon thought that Carver was The Remnant, Still Fighting the Civil War and went to his farm to confront him, when really he'd accepted the fall of the South gracefully and was living in peace.