Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Western Journal: The Magnificent Seven

I'm posting some short entries from the journal I keep for a class called Wild Wild West. It's a film analysis class that centers around westerns, natch. Despite that, I think there are topics raised that can be of interest to anyone who likes to delve into film, regardless of their feelings about westerns in particular. I'm mainly doing this in the hopes that the ensuing discussions will help me generate a topic for the long paper due at the course's end. Please share your thoughts!

Naturally, as I write these for the class I write them with the knowledge that the professor has SEEN the films. That shouldn't always matter, however, to the ideas I bring up. You know me - always looking for the abstract angle.

I’ve often said that people who hate westerns don’t really understand what westerns are about (especially those who hate westerns but love Star Wars, a western in sci-fi clothing). Rather than just rustic, violent stories about men who work with steers, I see a reflection of most Americans' most flattering and untrue images of themselves.

In most westerns, you can find a variation on one basic theme. People are struggling for their lives, their rights, or both. They have to deal with their problems themselves; either there is no authority to go to, authority is beyond reach, or the protagonists are the authorities and thus are responsible for the situation themselves. In the western, the hero stands on his own two feet and makes no apologies for doing what needs to be done.

Americans are raised with that attitude to some degree. The little kid that runs to his mommy or the teacher every time there is a conflict is not respected by his peers. We all reach a point when help is denied in an effort to teach us self-reliance. Afterward, we pride ourselves on our ability to do things for ourselves, to take the bull by the horns. The frontier itself stands for such do-it-yourselfness. Anything a man had on the frontier, he had because he got it for himself.

On the other hand, that same self-reliant toddler likes to know that mommy is available when things exceed his ability to cope. Societies like that as well; few of us feel confident to deal with fires, floods, or armed maniacs without trained and equipped authorities to help. Religion by its very nature requires submission to a greater authority, even while simultaneously telling us that God helps those who help themselves.

Given that, it’s easy to see the appeal of The Magnificent Seven. As members of a developed society with 911 at our disposal, we can relate to the villagers, even if we don’t really want to. They need help with something that is beyond their means, and seek men who know how to deal with it. Sometimes, as we do ourselves, they distrust the same authorities they call upon. We can also, however, imagine ourselves in the gunfighter’s shoes where we would like to be – cool, in control, and capable. The one that people come to for help- the professional. The Magnificent Seven gives us both our reality and our fantasy in one neat package. In the end, however, it assures us that it is the villagers – the people who we relate to in reality, like it or not – who are the only ones to win.


Faith Cooper said...

The Magnificent Seven is one of the best American Westerns.. I want to see those wonderful scenes.. It is nice to know that this old film is now available on dvd.

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