themes and issues

The Archetypes of Western Movies

During my childhood, Far West was everywhere; everything in the mid-Sixties was cowboys & Indians and stuff like that. Films, tv commercials, songs, comics were all permeated by the ultimate sense of freedom and adventure which only western culture (no matter how much contrived it was) could give you.

As much as films are concerned, I have always loved westerns because people don’t talk too much (!), but, above all, for the common themes they always seem to deal with. The most important one is the constant struggle between the new world and the old disappearing one: Pioneers vs. Indians; Peasants vs. Cowboys; Law & Order vs. Outlaws; Trains vs. Carriages; Winchester Rifles vs. Bows and Arrows (the list could go on). During the struggle, something even more important happens before our eyes: this something is the making of a legend (mythopoeia, if we want to use a Greek word).

The first time I saw a film called “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” by John Ford I was 13. Despite the fact that I was not completely sure of understanding every detail of the story (I even fell asleep at a certain point), I immediately had the impression of watching something special, a film with all the ingredients of classical westerns, but different from all the other ones. It was not before many years later that I understood why.

A man returns to his hometown for his best friend’s funeral. He is a very important politician, but he is also well-known and respected by everybody in town, because many years before he had killed a dangerous outlaw called Liberty Valance (by the way: is it just a coincidence that “Liberty” is the outlaw’s name?). But did things really go this way? Is the new world, in which law and order seem to dominate, really better than the old one, more violent but romantic?

John Ford tells a story, always walking a step behind, showing us the clockwork mechanism of mythopoeia. As I listen to some old people going through their past memories, I cannot help thinking this is what we all exactly do from a certain point of our life, always retelling a bored audience the same stories from our personal West.

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2 thoughts on “The Archetypes of Western Movies

  1. “I cannot help thinking this is what we all exactly do from a certain point of our life, always retelling a bored audience the same stories from our personal West”

    That “bored”, Ukefranz! It really knocks me down… For I can feel it applies to everyone, old and young… to you, me, our students and all the people out there… and I wonder… have we as people really lost the ability to listen? do we get stuck in a time loop, “always retelling the same stories from our personal West” without realizing it, as we grow older?

    Thanks for sharing your “west” 🙂

    • In order to be a good storyteller, you should, first of all, be a good listener (because a good story can be found everywhere, and good stories help us to pass the night at the campfire, metaphorically speaking). So many people are so obsessed by themselves to dismiss other people’s stories (other people’s lives) as simply meaningless. In so doing, they miss half the fun and become more and more boring. As we grow older, let’s try not to make the same mistake!

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