In Hawks’ hands, however, a movie about an episode in the history of America’s livestock business becomes mythic, epic, and philosophical.
Especially remarkable as it was Howard Hawks' first Western. In his first foray, he revamped the Western into something more visceral and thrilling, dark and brooding, as well as quirky and hilarious. In a way, it was the 'Citizen Kane' of Westerns and may have inspired new directions for John Ford as well. RED RIVER might have been rumbling in a corner of Ford's mind when he made THE SEARCHERS. Pauline Kael who generally didn't care for Westerns liked Hawk's first venture into the genre. I'm sure she was delighted by its level of wit and repartee usually found in the screwball comedy, already mastered by Hawks who was a great woman's director.
The frontier strips away the trappings of civilization and displays human nature and the origins of society naked in all their glory and squalor. Like such great Westerns as The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance , and Once Upon a Time in the West, Red River is an origin story about the transition from savage to civil society.
It's more complicated in the American Setting. We can trace European history from savagery(like in QUEST FOR FIRE and ONE MILLION B.C. with Raquel Welch) to barbarism(like in THE VIKINGS and 13th WARRIOR) to civilization — EXCALIBUR is about the change from chaos still marked by barbarian ways to the visionary rise of higher order, with all its advantages and problems. In contrast, America was made by the most advanced civilization at the time, that of Anglos who eradicated the lands of native savages but were not themselves savage. Although some degree of reversion(to nature and barbarism) took place among white frontiersmen, it wasn't long-lasting because progress and industrialization soon followed at breakneck speed. (In late 18th century, the Founders thought it might take centuries to conquer and settle the West. It happened in a matter of decades in the 19th century.) Unlike the Russian movement eastward into Siberia that was painstakingly gradual, the Anglo-American conquest of the West happened in a blink of the eye, historically speaking. Not long after the likes of Davy Crockett made it out West, they were soon followed, in a generation or two, by bankers, railroad men, clergy, and all sorts of merchants(and of course farmers). Also, the reversion was somewhat toward barbarism but never toward savagery. It's not like white men became American Tarzans. Some picked up Indian ways, especially the mountain men, but ranchers never lost their sense of social order and status. Whites also learned a lot from the Mexicans(who weren't savage but part of Hispanic culture) who pioneered the cowboy style and techniques. Indeed, Anglo movement to the Southwest was less stark in its contrasts than the movement into the Northwest. Up there, white men really encountered savagery of nature and Indian tribes. But the Southwest had already been partially tamed and domesticated by Spanish/Mexicans, and even the Indian tribes there were somewhat more advanced than the tribes in the colder north. The case of Anglos and Mexicans(as they often got along and even inter-married) was markedly different from the Anglos vs Indians in the North. The story of the American West isn't so much about an organic transition from 'savagery' to 'civilization'(like what happened in the Old World) but a transplantation of an already developed civilizational model on once savage territory.
THE SEARCHERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST are less about movement from savagery to civilization than outlawry to Rule of Law(though Leone's film is more cynical as it associated capitalism and industry themselves with criminality and gangsterism, whereas outlaws led by the Mexican Cheyenne[Jason Robards] in the story become, accidentally or not, the heroes who save the woman). While the settlers in John Ford's classics are in frontier lands, they've kept their folkish sense of community intact; if anything, it's been strengthened because they rely on one other for survival far more than city people do. They haven't reverted to the natural way, even to neo-barbarism. They uphold solid Christian ways and family values. In THE SEARCHERS, they are moving into Indian lands, and the red savages retaliate against the invaders out of vengeance(and/or cruel sadism). In LIBERTY VALANCE, the Indians are gone but the outlaws take advantage, much like the hoodlums in HIGH NOON. We shouldn't confuse criminality with savagery. As vicious and blood-thirsty as savages could be, they are being true to themselves. They live in a state of nature and regard animals as fellow spirits and brethren. They kill not as criminals but as proud warriors and hunters. Just as we wouldn't condemn lions or bears as 'murderers', savages do what comes naturally to their way of existence. In contrast, outlaws are the products of civilization. They know there are rules and social norms but violate them anyway because they like to be bad. As frightful as the Indians in THE SEARCHERS are, they have a crude dignity because their way of life is about pride of warriorhood. In contrast, the outlaws in LIBERTY VALANCE really are scum because they move in and out of society. They consciously act bad in a social order governed by rule of law. Ford made it somewhat more ambiguous because Liberty Valance is at times useful to the 'respectable' men of the community who hire him as muscle. But then, is it all that different from Jewish elites giving legal and moral cover to Antifa scum and BLM thugs to intimidate white patriotic voices who demand to be heard and represented? Whether ranchers or bankers, civilized order had ways of hiring thugs and outlaws to do the dirty work. US government even hired contract killers in the mafia to take out Fidel Castro, and of course, after WWII, US found many uses of the mafia in Italy and yakuza in Japan to suppress leftist elements. The employment of outlaws as enforcers by the railroad tycoon in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is even more sinister than the use of Liberty Valance. While red savages may be merciless, the march of civilization progress is ruthless in its own way: Eradication of natives, wholesale destruction of nature, slave trade & plantations, exploitation of cheap labor(white ethnic immigrant and Chinese), and etc. Organized crime and pervasive gangsterism took root in the heart of civilization: Italy, New York, Chicago, and etc. "I'm going to make an offer he can't refuse."
In a way, modern civilization is sort of like Neon Savagery(especially with the large presence of blacks who have savagery encoded in their very genes), the point of TAXI DRIVER. If American Indians are close to nature and act halfway like animals, modern urbanites have been uprooted from family, community, and heritage. With unprecedented freedom, the modern city dweller can indulge in excesses without inhibitions of cultural restraint or moral shame(or the retaliatory balancing act of nature). In some ways, it's a more naked kind of savagery. An urbanite may not go around scalping people or hurling spears at strangers, but he could be a soulless consumer who lives by the neo-animal instincts of food and pleasure. Indeed, what is the culture of America but sports games and idolization of celebrities as the new shamans? In nature, a savage at least faces the risk of being destroyed by the very violence he exults in. Chuck a spear at a bear, and maybe the bear will tear you to pieces. Hump everything in sight, and maybe you'll die of disease. But, modern civilization not only encourages animal appetites but offers safety nets for the indulgent, which makes the appetites grow worse, like with the trashy elements in Portland and Kenosha. HIV was nature balancing excessive homo behavior, but science has procured medicines that allow homos to act like deranged perverts without facing disastrous consequences. Whether late Roman elite society or the current West, it's as if civilization can breed decadence that allows for a worse kind of neo-savagery that is shielded from the consequences of savage behavior. Savagery with safety-nets is worse than savagery met with counter-savagery(as in state of nature). Anarcho-Tyranny works hand-in-glove with cosmo-savagery. Community, in contrast, for all its limitations and problems, seeks a balance between the individual and the larger society. No wonder communitarians are at odds with libertarians. But then, both current communitarianism and libertarianism are useless because both worship the same gods of Jew-Negro-Homo Worship.
This transition is particularly problematic for Americans, since our default programming is liberal individualism that prizes equality, personal freedom, contractual obligation, private life, and comfort above things like adventure, conquest, honor, and glory, to say nothing of holiness and truth.
Those are big words and have multiple meanings. 'Equality' can be anything from Rule of Law and meritocracy to Christian Socialism to Stalinism. It's true that modern folks tend to take certain things for granted. They talk of 'rights' as if such exists in nature, is ordained by God, or simply comes with the territory of being human. In truth, the concept of rights is a social construct, and rights are operable only insofar as they are defended and enforced by rule of law backed by threat of force. A kind of infantilism has spread among the populace due to not only constant talk of 'muh rights' and 'muh liberty' but the economics of plenty in a country where obesity is a bigger problem than starvation among the poor. It's like children who believe money grows on trees(or just pops out of their parents' wallets and purses).
Still, it's understandable why those who use brutish means to accumulate property and wealth would want to move toward a contractual method backed by rule of law. After all, what they took by force could be taken away with even greater force... like in nature where a hyena steals carcass from a jackal only to have it stolen by a leopard, which might lose it to a lion, which might lose it to a pride of lions. It's like gangsters gain loot by robbery but secure it by deals with bankers who make it all legal, which goes to show Rule of Law can also be a kind of gangsterism(like with Paul Singer and George Soros with their armies of lawyers and friends in high places).
In a way, Europeanization(or white transition from barbarism to civilization) is contradictory because it uses the modes of one to achieve the modes of the other. In contrast, Africanization(or black wallowing in savagery) is more consistent. Blacks act like savages to act like savages and keep it all savage. Unlike white folks who acted brutal and even ruthless to make way for order and civilization, blacks rampage and steal stuff to be like apes; they wallow in brutality like it be one big house party or something. Black violence is more grasshopper-like, or 'let the good times roll'. It's no wonder whites have the 'guilt complex'. Whites used violence and brutality to create order and a system of rule of law(and rights), in which they took great pride of achievement. But in associating whiteness with gentlemanly ways, whites had a tendency to overlook their brutal means or to morally justify the past as having been worth it(despite the human costs). But anti-white forces, especially verbally clever Jews, could point to the hypocrisy of how the white gentleman's world was really created by white 'barbarian' ways. Perhaps, this wouldn't have been possible but for the holier-than-thou sanctimony of Christianity that preaches brotherly love, self-sacrifice, turn-the-other-cheek, and etc.; indeed, good luck with Jews trying to guilt-bait Muslims whose Faith calls for Jihad and justifies violence in the name of the Prophet.
When blacks act violent, it is to wallow in violence and loot & burn it all down. When whites act violent, it is to create a new order in which outright violence is no longer the preferred method of doing things; violence becomes the rightful tool of the state in meting out justice against those who would disturb the peace... though in our times, the state sanctions the violence of certain groups, like Antifa and BLM, against the relatively far more orderly and peaceful people(like MAGA types) because US is now a Jewish supremacist gangster state where the Tribe is 'more equal than others'.
Come to think of it, it's rather foolish for anyone to worry about 'equality' in current US where the top 1% has more wealth than the entire middle class, where Zionists are showered with praises and endless dollars for Israel while BDS, or justice for Palestinians, is smacked down by whore politicians of both parties and in 'blue' and 'red' states alike. There is talk of 'equity', but it's not about equality for ALL groups but about MORE for certain favored groups, which makes it essentially neo-supremacist. In other words, if blacks are vastly over-represented in certain fields(like pro sports), it's never a problem but something to celebrate. If anyone says NBA is almost all black and therefore 'exclusive' and 'unequal', he will be denounced as a 'racist'. There can never be Too Many Blacks, but where blacks are underrepresented, that is a Huge Injustice because, yes indeed, Too Few Blacks is intolerable. Likewise, it's never a problem if there are Too Many Homos in certain fields. Even in areas where homos are vastly overrepresented in proportion to their population, it is to be celebrated. So, if the fashion industry is dominated by homos than by women, all better applaud... or be damned as 'homophobes'. And of course, there can never be Too Many Jews in Wall Street, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Law Firms, judicial system, and among owners of sports teams. 'Equity' isn't about equality for all but MORE for blacks where they are underrepresented because they are deemed special, indeed superior to the rest.
What governs current America(and West in general) isn't the ideology of liberal individualism(which would be something like libertarianism) but the idolatry of tribal specialness, namely those of Jews, blacks, and homos, the only groups that really matter and lord above the rest. Just ask the Palestinians if the US is about 'liberal individualism'. Indeed, things would be much better for white folks IF the US operated on the basis of liberal individualism because, at the very least, whites-as-individuals would be treated equally as individuals among Jews, blacks, homos, and other groups. But certain identities take precedence over generic individuality of Americans.
The ONLY time in US history that prioritized equal rights as general practice was maybe from the mid-50s to mid-60s when the Civil Rights Movement took off amidst booming prosperity and youthful idealism when all seemed possible(and affordable). Before that, US was really about white domination in just about all fields. Even most white 'liberals' practiced open discrimination and favored fellow whites. But just when white popular sentiments were shifting toward a fairer system for all, Jews and blacks rejiggered the system for their tribal advantages. Civil Rights Movement soon turned into Appease-the-Blacks-Lest-They-Riot Movement. And it became more obvious by the day that Jews took a leading role in the Civil Rights Movement NOT to transform US into a fairer society but to burden whites with special guilt so as to control and exploit them for purposes of Jewish Supremacism. After all, even as Jews excoriated whites into feeling sorry for the past mistreatment of blacks, they also insisted on total white support for Zionist crushing of Palestinian aspirations. It was all bait-and-switch, but because the rhetoric of 'equal rights' or 'civil rights' took hold of the Narrative, a lot of people think White Woes owe to rise in 'equality' when the real problem is the rise of Jewish/black supremacism, followed by homo neo-aristocratism.
Of course, it wasn't just the Civil Rights Movement but the result of HBD factors. Jewish exercise of superiority in wit, will, and intelligence made whites feel awe of Jews as the true master race — notice even Jared Taylor still has wet dreams of high-IQ Jews eventually joining forces with hu-whites. And black talent in popular music and domination in sports(plus jungle fever based on black buns and dongs) made whites regard blacks as the awesome superior race of Muhammad Ali's and James Browns, what with so many of the big white acts since the 50s, like Elvis, Beatles, and Rolling Stones, owing heavily to black music, but then white fascination with black music goes back to ragtime and jazz(and existed even in Roman times when Roman elite women had orgies with African gladiator champions). But many white nationalist types would rather not touch on these issues because it hurts their sensitivities that Jews and blacks can be superior to whites in anything. So, they'd rather pretend that the problem is 'equality'.
Trevor Lynch pits "equality, personal freedom, contractual obligation, private life, and comfort" against "adventure, conquest, honor, and glory, holiness and truth", but in the case of American History, the two sets of 'principles' were often complementary. Why did many more Anglos take a chance in the New World than the French did? France was ruled by aristocrats, most of whom preferred privilege and comfort of their own estates to risking a new life across the ocean; and the French subjects had less freedom and incentives for risk-taking. (Indeed, I can't think of another caste/class that is more comfort-oriented than the nobility. Whereas peasants must eke out an existence, merchants must work hard at trade, and industrialists must build & run factories, all it takes to be a nobleman is to be born one. What can be easier than to be born into privilege and pampered from childhood and dressed in 'gayish' attire? Just by birthright, one is entitled to better housing, food, clothing, and all sorts of amenities. One is doted from childhood and grows up with a sense of entitlement. If barbarian-warriors as proto-noblemen had to fight to gain a piece of turf, the established nobility was surrounded by privilege and creature comforts. They wore dainty attire designed by effete homos. Their idea of living was horse-riding, costume balls, and powdering their faces. Or hanging around salons and exchanging gossip while fanning themselves with silk fans.)
Anglos outpaced the French in colonizing the New World because they had more individual incentives. While risks were high, so were the rewards for individuals willing to take a chance in new environment. Equality for such risk-takers simply meant they had something closer to an equal chance of owning their own property. In Europe, they might be tenant-farmers, especially as all the land was claimed by the nobility whose ownership was a matter of inheritance, or living off the achievements of their ancestors. But in the New World with as-yet plenty of open territory, even a commoner could stake his claim and own property. Material incentives have always mattered, which is why capitalism beat communism. Che Guevara spoke of Moral than Material Incentives, i.e. workers on farms and factory should work selflessly for justice, progress, brotherhood of man, and other lofty utopian ideals, but emotional incentives only go so far. Just like most Christians mouthed the correct platitudes but acted more in accordance to persona/material interests, so did the nobility, most of whom would have sold their mother down the river for extra social advantage. Consider all the family feuds among monarchs and noblemen. In EL CID, the Spanish Order is constantly threatened by the battle of egos among siblings. Ideally, noblemen are supposed to serve God and King, to be brave warriors in defense of territory and justice. They are supposed to rule with a sense of noblesse oblige. But practice was something else... just like real communism was far from ideal communism. Indeed, the biggest problem of egalitarianism is not that it produces real equality(which has never been the case) but instead just another form of aristocratism, which was George Orwell's point in ANIMAL FARM. For example, campaigns against 'antisemitism' haven't made Jews equal to gentiles but unequal in being shielded from any criticism of Jewish Power. BLM isn't about equal justice for blacks but black privilege to act thuggish and criminal without consequence. Blacks are now like Savage Nobles(not to be confused with Noble Savages), i.e. the laws that apply to whites don't apply to them as they are deserving of special privileges. The fact that it's okay for blacks to kill blacks and for blacks to kill whites but not okay for whites to kill blacks(even thugs) is suggestive of the old aristocratic ways where noblemen could kill other noblemen in duels but common-folk better not touch the hair of a nobleman even when the nobleman acted abusive and rotten.
So many Anglos were willing to join in the conquest and adventure for more equality and personal freedom. And even though they knew they had to work hard at it, they hoped for comfort as the ultimate reward with a land and home/hearth to call their own. Who in his right mind would favor discomfort over comfort? Did kings sit on beds of nails? Did noblemen favor potato sacks over silk clothing? Did French cuisine result from French nobility's insistence on gruel and fish-heads? No, the rich wanted creamy stuff; they preferred cakes while the masses barely had enough bread. Even hunters risk life and limb to finally make the kill and enjoy some good eating. No pain, no gain, and the gain is comfort. Athletes strain with blood and sweat, but it is to make money and gain favors. The only profession committed to virtuous poverty and hardship is the missionary life; of course, the kind of religious folks who climb to higher positions are out for something more than virtue. In the movie HAWAII(by George Roy Hill), one missionary is committed to a life of frugality, but his compatriots take over swathes of territory and grow rich. As one cynical character says, "You came here to do good but did well for yourselves."
Spanish America was more aristocratic in conquest and development, but who would point to it as success? (If AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD is about 'glory', less of it the better.) The American South has been called quasi-aristocratic, but if aristocratic types are wise and sensible, why did Southern elites build an economy built on black slavery? They lacked foresight and thought only in terms of short-term gain. And what a bunch of idiots to think they could take on the Industrial North with 4x the population. Maybe they did it for 'honor', but honor is no substitute for sense and reason. Lynch places 'honor' and 'holiness and truth' in the same column, but honor often blinds people to the facts. Japan, for instance, had no chance against the US, but its honor-obsession led it to down a disastrous path, totally oblivious to the TRUTH of war. As for holiness, it is a much deeper concept than honor. Honor is a matter among men, whereas holiness is about man and God(or gods), which is why the warrior and the priest are two different creatures, at least in theory, because in practice it seems like the most successful generals and preachers have something in common: they are rather good at politics/business than in honor or holiness. General Milley and Joel Osteen(and the Devil Pope).
Those who romanticize the nobility tend to be either deluded or servile. Even though the nobility has comprised only a sliver of society, they believe they themselves would be part of this special elect in a noble-run order. This is fairy-tale mentality, like the little girl who always identifies with the princess. Apparently, they believe themselves to be superior. But, if nobility is based on birthright, it means a moron born into nobility has privilege over a superior person born as commoner. Another type that yearns for nobility is the toady type. Even if he understands that his chance of being a noblemen is slim, he hopes to play the role of loyal servant & flunky and be petted on the head by his master. Like a dog. He wants to play squire.
The problem is nobility as a system is only justified in times of war. Once peace prevails upon the land, noblemen end up like the Knights of the Round Table in EXCALIBUR. Fighting men without the fight just party and drink and grow indolent and argue over trifles. But at least the knights do their own fighting in EXCALIBUR. Through much of history, it was the foot-soldiers drawn from common folks who often did the bulk of fighting and dying in wars, especially once longbows and rifles rendered swords into objects more of symbolism than combat.
In a way, the cowboy myth combines the ideal of equality and the romance of nobility. In the American West, anyone could ride a horse and carry a gun. 20% of the cowboys were black, and rustling cows(and fighting Indians) must have been more fun than picking cotton. Unlike in Old Europe where noblemen rode horses and near-monopolized the right to bear arms, gun rights were universal in America and horses were plentiful. So, the cowboy was like a universal aristocrat, a common nobleman. Mere equality is a bit boring, and mere nobility is stultifying, with a few lording over the rest as helots. But a world where everyone could ride horses, carry guns, have personal pride, and stake his own territory, it had the promise of justice and privilege of good fortune. It's no wonder the Western was once the most popular genre around the world.
Unfortunately, as Red River shows, you can’t carve civilization out of the wilderness by following liberal principles—although it is increasingly evident that liberalism can wreck any society that takes it too seriously. Liberalism forces us either to cover up the illiberal origins of our society or to destroy it in a fit of self-loathing.
It depends on how one defines liberalism. In a way, what made the Modern West possible was the Liberal Spirit. All non-Western cultures were far more conservative than the West. Even among Western nations, the most adventurous ones were the most liberal ones, like Netherlands and England. Catholic Spain initially took the lead in journeys of discovery but took a deeply conservative turn and became averse to risks and concentrated on what it had than reaching for more. The ultra-conservative Byzantine Empire shrank from lack of vitality and was eventually swallowed up by the Ottomans who, in time, would also grow ultra-conservative and fail to make progress vis-a-vis the more liberal West. China once built ships to travel as far as Africa but lost the 'liberal' spirit and turned inward like a turtle so sure of its invincibility before the rude awakening in the 19th century. Japan was more liberal during its civil war period. The various clans looked to Europeans for better guns and technology. But once Japan was united under the Tokugawas, it turned extremely conservative and kept contact with foreigners to a bare minimum. It was forced into a more a liberal position in the 19th century when it realized it had to learn from the West in order to develop and defend itself. In contrast, far more conservative Korea followed the lead of China and fell under foreign powers.
So, while it's true that excessive liberalism can lead to destruction, so can excessive conservatism. It can lead to stagnation, which breeds a decadence of its own, like with the Ottoman sultans and their harems, or the Spanish monarchy with its inbred morons. Even leftist systems can turn overly conservative and fail to make necessary changes. Like Soviet Union under Brezhnev, the era of stability but also steep stagnation. The liberal outlook is curious, adventurous, thrill-seeking, risk-taking, and expansive. It's about venturing far beyond home, leaving the comfort zone. It's about taking flight, like a bird. The conservative way is more like the turtle, hiding in its own shell, or a ground hog that burrows into the dirt for security. The best order is one with liberal outlook and conservative compass, aka fascism. It's like a ship needs sail, rudder, and anchor. It's like trees need both roots(and trunk) and branches(and leaves).
The TV series SHOGUN is indicative of the difference between East and West. In Japan, the various clans are fighting for dominance to secure Japan from the rest of the world. It's all about Japanese vying for control of Japan. In contrast, Europeans in Japan are vying for control of the world: Dutch vs Portuguese/Spanish vs English(and later Russians coming across Siberia). Because the Japanese clans need advantage in weapons(via trade with Europeans), there is an understanding between Japanese and Europeans for the time being. But this kind of liberalism is merely a means, not an end. It's strategic and temporary than principled and timeless. The ultimate goal of Japan is to forge unity and then shut Japan from the rest of the world whereas the West is trying to incorporate Japan(and eventually all of Asia) into the nascent global world order. The West has the far more liberal spirit as the End of History.
Because 'liberal' is a big word and has multiple meanings, John Wayne's character of Tom Dunson may not seem 'liberal' by current definitions. But in the larger historical context, he is part of the Liberal Spirit that made the white man venture far from home in search of new frontiers. Indeed, the leading voices in favor of imperialism in Old Europe were Liberal than Conservative. Conservatives wanted to focus on matters at home and emphasized stability/security above all else, whereas the Liberals were on the look for more opportunities for discovery and investment. (Conservatism came to defend the empire only after the Liberalists created it in the first place.) Someone like Dunson would have been rare among the Hindus, Confucians, and even the Muslims.
Indeed, individualism is what fueled Anglo adventurism and frontier spirit far beyond that of any other culture. Dunson takes this to extremes and indeed is something of an outlier even among his own race, rather like Ethan in THE SEARCHERS who is a misfit among his own kind. But one thing for sure, in the context of wider historical and cultural perspective, he represents the liberal spirit. Not in the do-goody willy-nilly Ken-Burnsy sense but in the love of adventure and risk-taking, the will to push beyond known boundaries. And there's the individual pride that makes him want to be his own master, his own king, than bow down to others. In most cultures, everyone had his place and allotted duties, and the 'good life' amounted to how one fulfilled those obligations. One's individuality was subordinate to one's given role in life. In contrast, Tom Dunson defines himself and plays by his own rules. He has a neo-barbarian streak but also a sense of individuality that could only have been realized through high civilization. He isn't just some wild man tussling for turf but a man of some vision and big idea.
In a way, liberalism gave way to the rule of law precisely because it unleashed so much competitive 'barbarian' energies. In other words, smart liberalism(as opposed to various dumb ones) is fully cognizant of the 'illiberal' animal energies of man. An ultra-conservative order need not worry about these illiberal and wily spirits because of the rigid hierarchy where rulers rule and the ruled obey. In an unfree society, the only thing that matters is making sure everyone sticks to his role and does his duties, nothing more, nothing less. But liberalism allows more freedom, and more freedom means more competition among free actors for their share of opportunity, wealth, success, and status. Instead of everyone just hunkering down and doing his duty, he uses his freedom to pursue happiness. But if it's a free-for-all, the result is mayhem. Therefore, in order for liberalism to allow for more freedom/individualism and to maintain order & stability, there has to be a rule-based order. This was the genius of the Anglo Way. It's something of a paradox that the British were both pioneers of modern liberty and among the most disciplined & rule-centered people in the world. They even came up with rules for the brutal sport of boxing. This way, mankind could harness the vital animal drive as fuel for competition & adventure yet also channel those energies toward pursuits that weren't mutually destructive among the competitors, i.e. winners would win gracefully and losers would accept that the others won fair-and-square. It's the difference between Grand Prix and Demolition Derby. Both are competitive and bring out warrior spirits, but one is governed by rules while the other welcomes mayhem.
(But there’s another option as well: to embrace the truth about our origins and stop immolating ourselves before the Moloch of liberal norms.)
But embracing such a truth would nullify one's commitment to civilization. Rather, the key is to acknowledge the origins while also rejecting it as outdated(though it may become relevant once again if and when the order falls apart and things must be built from scratch). In THE GODFATHER, Vito Corleone did the dirty things so that his son, Michael, wouldn't have to. And Michael works hard to go from the underworld to the upper-world. Much of British fortunes were built on piracy when the English were upstarts faced with the greater powers of Spain and France. Slave trade also filled British coffers. Those origins of British wealth and power must be acknowledged but, in order to make the transition toward higher civilization, cannot be embraced, let alone celebrated. But the real trick is to acknowledge that ALL peoples and cultures have done the same thing and, furthermore, without reaching higher levels of organization and productivity that would allow a people to finally bid farewell to the more brutish methods of wealth-creation and power-maintenance. But even without what is known as 'liberal guilt', a system can fall apart because a people become accustomed to newly created wealth and privileges and no longer want to dirty their hands with nitty-gritty. Like the decline of the family in Thomas Mann's BUDDENBROOKS.
In the end, the problem is less liberalism per se than who controls it. After all, if the toxicity of liberalism affects all people equally, then Jews would be filled with 'liberal guilt' over their tribal supremacism, history of exploiting gentiles, role in the slave trade, domination of opium trade in China, pushing for Middle East wars, participation in communism, and etc. But Jews use liberalism to make themselves out to be the saints of history while all blame is dumped on goyim, especially Northern Europeans. In the past, American Liberalism and Progressivism were into 'scientific racism' and white pride. Even while acknowledging the tragic aspects of American History, they also reminded white Americans of their uniquely vaunted place in modern history. So, in the end, the problem isn't so much ideology as how it is used by which people and for what purpose. For example, early communism in Russia was largely controlled by Jews who used it for Jewish ethnic advantages. Later, communism came to be dominated by goyim who used it to persecute Zionists. Jews and blacks use 'liberalism' for tribal power and to blame whitey. Whites, under Jewish mind-control, have come to use 'liberalism' to spit in their own reflection. It's like religion. If you use it to mean that God is your side, you feel empowered. But if you use it to mean God favors others over you, you feel powerless.
RED RIVER is a big adventure movie than a big concept one, the biggest of which may be Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE that incredibly welds together the Ellis Island narrative with the Wild West myth. In THE DEER HUNTER, blue collar men in some Pennsylvania town go hunting and end up not in the Appalachia but in the Rockies in Washington State. Next, they are seen back home with a deer on the hood. It's as if all the territories between the East and West never registered in Cimino's mind. Likewise, it's as if the ethnic immigrants went directly from Ellis Island to some godforsaken place in Wyoming(or Montana) in HEAVEN'S GATE. It's like Twilight Zone version of US history where entire populations are suddenly transported from the docks of big East Coast cities to the vast Northwest Frontier in the blink of an eye; the Midwest simply doesn't exist. Only a director as bold and visionary(and crackpot and ludicrous) as Cimino could have conceived of such a thing. Perhaps, he wanted to pull together all the loose ends of the American Pageant, a kind of Eastern-Western, where elite Harvard boys and newly arrived impoverished immigrants do battle with rancher barons and cowboys of the Wild West. Perhaps, the biggest concept Western ever, and a favorite of the homo film critic Robin Wood. Though Cimino was Italian-American, his imagination was rather European. Vastness of Russia notwithstanding, most Europeans had a hard time wrapping their heads around how truly gigantic America is. In FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Jews embarking on the journey to America think they will be neighbors because one is destined for NY while the other is for Chicago. In Cimino's telling, the US might as well be the size of Western Europe because the immigrants fresh off the boat end up in the Northwest sooner than later.
The leader of the wagon train doesn’t want Dunson to go. They are all safer sticking together... The leader says Dunson agreed to go to California. Dunson says he signed nothing... The leader says that Dunson is too good with a gun to lose. Dunson replies that he’s also too good with a gun to keep. In the end, it comes down to the threat of force.
The above description indicates Dunson is an outlier, representative of a certain type of the American frontier spirit but far from quintessential(which would be the characters of THE BIG COUNTRY by William Wyler who are more the larger-than-life archetypes of the men who built the West). In other words, even if the Wild West didn't have Dunsons, the job would have gotten done, just like the white folks in THE SEARCHERS would have fulfilled their historic destiny without the likes of Ethan. Still, men like Dunson spiced up the West with greater derring-do and reckless behavior. You wouldn't want him as neighbor, but his kind makes for high adventure and theatrics, like Colonel Kilgore in APOCALYPSE NOW and George C. Scott in PATTON. As such, it'd be misleading to draw general conclusions about historical processes from Dunson's (mis)adventures. In a way, it was a departure for John Wayne. Because of his manly size and air of confidence, Wayne always stood out from the rest of the cast. That said, he still stood with than apart from them. His star-making role in STAGECOACH became the template for many roles to come. He's a bigger and tougher man than most but always siding with and standing by the good folks. He serves as their pillar. Even as a suspect in STAGECOACH, he goes out of his way to show he's a good guy who would never abandon the passengers(from the Indian menace) for personal reasons.
In contrast, his character in RED RIVER is borderline pathological in his self-aggrandizement that grows into full-blown hubris. Without much reflection, he charges forward. He is tough and has many admirable qualities but also setting himself up for a well-deserved comeuppance.
This opening scene establishes that Tom Dunson is not a man to be reasoned with. Once he makes up his mind, he is immovable. Being open to persuasion, of course, is one of the principles of parliamentary democracy. Dunson, however, is quick to reach for his gun to silence his critics. He’s a budding tyrant, not a liberal democrat. But, as it turns out, it takes a tyrant to found a great ranch in the wilderness.
He's not to be reasoned with but is nevertheless a reasoning man. Also, even as he insists on going his own way, he is adaptive and pragmatic to shifting situations and has some sense of limitations. After all, he's out to grab as much as he can but not all of it. And he's not really at war with the wilderness as the Mexicans have already half-tamed the land. In a way, it's as much the result of civilization vs civilization(Anglos vs Hispanic) as between whites vs reds.
The Founding Fathers were liberal democrats relative to the far more authoritarian patriarchs who came to dominate Latin America(which continued to have caudillos well into the 20th century), but it seems the 'liberals' achieved far more than the 'tyrants' especially because of the contrasts in foundations. Also, the reason why the Anglos did so much more than the Mexicans in the Southwest was because they were less tolerant of tyranny. If most brown folks meekly submitted to the tyranny of Hispanic overlords, white men stood their own grounds. Indeed, even though Dunson builds a great ranch and hires a lot of men to work for him, they don't bow down before him as their master. He's just boss.
Furthermore, Dunson's 'tyranny' is paradoxically in service of liberty and individuality. Free movement of peoples in the West made things more competitive and conflict-prone. That means one has to be tougher to claim a piece of territory and hold it. Dunson's 'tyranny' isn't to rule over minions but to stake out a piece to call his own. Indeed, he doesn't want to deal with servile men but tough men. Sure, they must take orders from him but must also have minds of their own and be able to wing it without orders. He takes an instant-liking to the wandering boy because the kid's tough and takes no shit from no one. It's like a drill sergeant acts tough with soldiers not to beat them down into wimps but to build them into tough fighting men. In FULL METAL JACKET, the sergeant becomes partial to Joker for showing initiative, toughness, and smarts. Joker admitted he cracked the joke: "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?" Though gut-punched by the sergeant, he got up and made a war cry. Later, he saw through the sergeant's mind-trick and refused to reverse himself. Duly impressed, Sergeant 'promotes' him in the barracks hierarchy. This is a different kind of 'tyranny' than the Orientalist kind. In Japan, superiors tyrannized inferiors simply to make them obey and do as told. In contrast, the American Way has been to toughen young men up so that they will stand firm and show initiative, i.e. go from childhood individuality to adult individuality.
By the way, Dunson doesn't reach for the gun to silence his critics. If anything, he will listen to any man and is open to persuasion. But ultimately, HE must make the decision. He reaches for the gun not to shut people up but to threaten or blow away anyone who dares to take action against him. As long as it's a game of words, Dunson will talk and will listen to any man — he comes to a compromise with a neighboring rancher concerned about his cows being branded as Dunson's. Dunson turns to violence when talk is no longer the option.
A few hours later, the wagon train is massacred by Indians. Dunson and Groot see the smoke in the distance and prepare to defend themselves... Dunson also recovers his engagement bracelet from one of the braves, who surely killed Fen to take it.
One wonders if Dunson's action is a curse or a blessing. If his gunmanship could have saved the wagon trail(and the girl who loves him) from the Indians, he should have been there. He was most remiss in his duties to the larger community. A curse hanging over him.
On the other hand, maybe the Indians were too numerous and even his skills would have been ineffective against them, in which case he would have joined the dead. Then, it was a blessing that he went his own way. Apparently, he didn't feel for the girl as much as Ethan felt for Martha in THE SEARCHERS.
The next morning, they come upon a boy named Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn) leading a cow... He’s gibbering from the horror. Dunson snaps him out of it with a brutal slap. It’s a rough beginning...
That's a crucial scene and sets up their final encounter in the movie. One wonders if Matt was really out of his mind(from shock) or just play 'dumb' to lower the defenses of the two men as he approached them. He recovers his wits the instant he's slapped and even quickdraws a gun on Dunson who, in turn, feints to wrest the gun from the kid. At any rate, the scene shows that Dunson is more a toughie than a tyrant. A tyrant wouldn't have tolerated a kid pulling a gun at him and staring right into his eyes with a sly grin. Dunson, in contrast, is actually impressed by the kid. Even after taking the boy's gun, his only advice is "Don't trust anyone", in other words, "Kid, you gotta be even tougher." And the boy, even after being orphaned(literally from his murdered parents or figuratively from the band he rode in with) by the Indian raid and knocked to the ground by Dunson, just dusts the dirt off and stands up. Dunson sees the kid has a spine and hands back the gun. A tyrant wants minions, submissive and obedient. A toughie wants other toughies. Even as each toughie seeks to be the alpha male, he admires fellow toughies, not wussies. And the kid passed the smell test of toughness. Almost instantly, he is more than a rescue, some helpless orphan; he is a junior partner. Dunson wants men with a streak of defiance and pride, a kind of rough dignity, than a pushover, flunky, or toady. He wants men with a firm handshake, not ones who bow down mindlessly to authority. Of course, this contradiction between his preference for tough men and his insistence on being boss later leads to tensions. Still, Anglo-American measure of manhood has been built on the ability to stand one's own ground in words, fists, and guns.
This has been the difference between Anglos and Mexicans. Though Anglos came in all sizes and demeanors, they believed in the ideal of individuality, toughness and pride. In contrast, Mexican society was about jefes on top and minions on bottom. The reason could be cultural and/or racial. Spanish society was more about hierarchy and less about individuality/initiative; it had less room for tough guys like Dunson who insisted on doing things their way. Another reason could be that the majority of Mexicans were brown folks, aka beaners or Tacoans, who were genetically predisposed to behave more like Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel Show. Perhaps, the Aztecs got away with stuff like mass human sacrifice because so many brown folks were such submissive minions who just marched to their slaughter than ran or fought back; and today, violence in Mexico is the result of too many Nice Beaner Mexicans who don't stand up to the drug cartels and the like. They would rather keep a low profile and eat tacos and chili peppers. If black criminality is the result of Too Many Blacks acting crazy, brown criminality is often the result of Too Many Browns acting like timid scared folks of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN; they need Gringos to come and save them from the bandits. Even in THE WILD BUNCH, Mapache and his henchmen are finally wiped out by the Gringos('otra vez') who act American than Mexican. (But it seems the Jewish War on Whites has led to the minionization of Anglos. In UK, Australia, and the US, Anglos have become some of the biggest cuckeroo dork wussies of Jews, blacks, and homos the world has ever seen. Granted, there are still many white folks who believe in freedom and pride, but the masses won't get anywhere without leadership. This is why Jews hated Donald Trump who, at least in style, played the leader role in the White Awakening. Just like cattle on their own won't make it to pasture or market, white people, no matter how angry and motivated, won't get anywhere without being steered by their own Moses figures. The question is, do the white masses have independent white elites who will lead them to green pastures or white cuck elites who will lead them to slaughter? Of course, Jews know this, which is why they focused on turning white elites into worthless cucks like Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, or Youngbungdongkin, not to mention the even bigger cucks in the Democratic Party. Alas, Trump could only play the role of White Awakener as his ultimate agenda was to serve the Jews. If whites are to survive, they need the next phases with the White Liberator and then the White Empowerer.)
If there is a disconnect between the young Matt and adult Matt(played by Montgomery Clift), the latter seems too nice and gentle compared to our first impression of the kid, who seemed not only tough but defiant and a bit impish. But then, Clift was a tooter, and there is an effeminate quality to his role. At any rate, the first encounter between Dunson and Matt was of distrust, violence, and mutual admiration, which become the basis of their later conflict and flare back up in the last scene.
When Tom finds the spot he wants to settle down on, he is greeted by two Mexican riders, who inform him that this land belongs by grant and patent from the King of all the Spains to one Don Diego, who resides 400 miles to the south. Groot thinks that’s too much land for one man. So does Tom. Groot is a Lockean, who believed that when we appropriate property from the state of nature, we should leave as much and as good for others. Tom, however, has no such notions. He wants to build his own empire.
The scene shows that, in Dunson's case, despite few pesky Indians remaining here and there, RED RIVER's origin-story is more about the clash of civilizations than civilization vs savagery. After all, Dunson points out that the Mexicans took the land from the Indians, and so, he's taking the land from the Mexicans. Then, what is the difference between the Anglo civilizational style and the Hispanic civilizational style? The Anglo expansion is more individualist and liberal. Even though Dunson is hardly a model citizen by current 'liberal' standards, his outlook and values are far more liberal than that of Spanish civilization that is more about traditional tyranny than individual enterprise. The two Mexican riders may be good with guns but they are minions who serve a tyrant with special claim over so much land. Why didn't Mexicans try to take the land from the oligarchs and big landowners? Why were they willing to be meek peons and peasants or serve as minions of the big lords? Because Hispanic World was ruled by tyranny and tradition. (Even the Mexican Revolution was a collective affair than a struggle for individual rights and freedom.) In contrast, Dunson believes that he, though a common man without an ounce of noble blood or some highfalutin lineage, is deserving of land and liberty with mettle and hard work. When he faces off against the Mexican gunman, he is risking his life for his own interests whereas the Mexican is risking his life for his superior. So, even if Dunson seems 'illiberal' by today's idea of 'liberalism', he is a far more liberal character when contrasted with the Mexican World with its rigid hierarchies and systems of who has what and what must be obeyed. Mexicans have been there for much longer than the newly arrived Anglos, but the difference is the Anglos are already staking their own claims whereas, in all that time, most Mexicans just accepted the state of affairs where a handful of Spanish-blooded tyrants claimed most of the land.
Groot is a 'Lockean'? LOL. Also, even though Dunson has bigger ambitions than Groot, they aren't all that far apart. Neither man is motivated by ideas but appetite, and Dunson simply has more. Man with bigger stomach consumes more, just like a brown bear devours more than a black bear. Dunson doesn't want an empire or think in imperial terms, like the Hispanics do. He doesn't want to rule over others but rule over his own; he just wants to make sure that what's his cut is big. There are neighboring ranchers, and he accepts their presence, just as they must accept his. If possible, he'd rather avoid a cattle war.
If anything, the arrival of men like Dunson signals the shift of Southwest Territory from Imperial Hegemony of the Spanish to the Individual Autonomy of the Anglos. Instead of some land baron laying claim to vast territories he doesn't even use, Dunson's way is to lay claim to land for use, and he knows there will be plenty of other individuals who lay similar claims to lands nearby. The violence when it flares up isn't the result of some Anglo seeking to be Emperor of the West but of vigilance of territorial disputes intrinsic to ranching. Whereas farmers could more-or-less draw clear boundaries, it was never so simple with the ever mobile cattle, which is why the Southwest Territory in its formation was the bloodiest in US history(apart from wars). In a way, there might have been less violence if US settled the Southwest in traditional imperial style. Suppose the ruling powers bestowed all the territory to some nobleman and his ownership couldn't be questioned. Then, there would have been no mass onrush by would-be settlers to grab what-is-mine. But, the Anglo Way was more liberal, meaning any individual with ambition and drive could try his luck in the new territory. It resulted in many individuals jostling for turf and spilling lots of blood, leading to the Billy the Kid legend.
Matt is the son Tom never had. But there is a strange intimacy between them... There’s more than just a hint of pederasty here. This is what happens on the frontier when women are left behind as too weak.
It's more homo-ish than 'pederasty' though it's obvious that neither man is supposed to be a homo like the toots in BROKEBACK MOUNTIN'. One might use the icky new term 'homo-social' to describe their relationship. (If such be 'homo-social', are Catholic priests and Islamic Imans 'homo-spiritual' because they are all men? Ridiculous term, this 'homo-social'.) Some have read homosexual subtexts into ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and other Hawks' movies, but it seems to me mostly projection. Of course, it's possible that the writer meant it to be there but Hawks either didn't care or ignored it.
Still, the most homo-ish scene in RED RIVER is when Matt and another gunman, Cherry Valance(cherry LOL), compare their shooting styles and skills like two fruits in a bathhouse flexing their muscles and showing their stiffies. It's like guns and buns, toots and shoots.
By the way, as the big cattle drive in the movie takes place years after Dunson set up the ranch, women have surely settled into the community as well; besides, many of the pioneering folks were women from the get-go, and they were tougher and hardier than most men today. But they're mostly not shown because RED RIVER is a story about men and what they do. It sort of like what the college dean says in the novel THE BREAD GIVERS by Anzia Yezierska: "All pioneers must get hard to survive", he said. He pointed to an old faded painting of his grandmother. "Look! My grandmother came to the wilderness in an ox cart and with a gun on her lap. She had to chop down trees to build a shelter for herself and her children. I'm more than a little ashamed to realize if I had to contend with the wilderness I'd perish with the unfit..."
Paradoxically, the Western Frontier was both a Manly Man's World and one where women gained rough equality(or at least some degree of parity) with men before the rest of the country caught up. In the established and more civilized East, women could make nice as homemakers, but in the West, women had to learn to ride horses and shoot at Indians and varmints alongside their men; and they had to make the homes before they could go into homemaking. It's like Laurie in THE SEARCHERS has grit and spunk. She grew up doing boy stuff. So, women got the vote in the West before the rest of the country. And Howard Hawks always had a thing for tough chicks who could hold their own. He didn't like men who complained, which is why he loathed HIGH NOON filled with anxious characters who wrestle with conscience, and he liked women who could hang with the men. You either do it or don't. You slug, your hug, but either way, don't make a big deal of it.
As the drive progresses and obstacles mount up, the men become sullen and restive, and Tom becomes increasingly obsessive and tyrannical: Captain Ahab in a saddle.
Supposedly, the writer of the original story was inspired by MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.
Pauline Kael: "Chase admitted, it's actually MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY turned into a Western, with Wayne as Captain Bligh and Clift as Fletcher Christian"
In a way, Dunson becomes more extreme, even unhinged. There's too much pride riding on the drive. Still, it's reasonable from his point of view because a man is only as good as his word. Those men gave their word to him. It was an oral contract: They would ride it out to the end, and he would pay them. It was understood that quitting is not an option, just like desertion is a serious crime in the military. Thus, Dunson's violence isn't arbitrary or based on whims of tyranny. It's based on mutual agreement, a sense of honor among men. Success or fail, the fact is those men gave their word to him, and he took them on based on that premise. From his perspective, they violated the 'law' and must pay. Dunson sincerely considers himself a fair man with the men. After the stampede led to one of his men's death, he tells Matt, "We'll bury him and read over him in the morning. And Matt... about his wife... see that she gets the full pay for the whole drive, just as if he finished it. And get her a... anything else you can think up." So, in his mind, he is more than just with his men. He even keeps the bargain with the dead man and his wife. So, when other men go back on their word and run off, he not only takes it personally but genuinely believes they are in the wrong. Besides, it's not like Dunson is taking it easy and basking in luxury while his men suffer. He shares all their hardships; he rides the same, sleeps the same, eats and drinks the same. If the men must drink swill for coffee, Dunson does too. In his mind, he is being on equal terms with them. He's more like a platoon leader in the field of combat than some general sitting in a posh office handing out orders.
Tom(Dunson) has no sense of being on equal footing with other men.
Yes and no. He's clearly the boss and leader. And yet, because he shares all their hardships on the journey, he believes he's on equal footing with them. He isn't just a leader of the men but one of the men.... unlike an aristocrat who wines and dines on the choicest morsels while the men must make do with grubs. This is why he especially feels betrayed by the men. In contrast, the Charlton Heston character in MAJOR DUNDEE comes across as something of a hypocrite because he doesn't always practice what he preaches.
Matt stayed with Dunson for as long as he did because he's seen both sides of the man. Dunson can be tough and ruthless but is not without a heart, a sentimental side. He even buried the Mexican he killed when he took the land and read the Bible over his grave. He made sure even his victims got proper burials. It's unlikely Dunson could have built a successful cattle operation if he were only about brutality and meanness. His men trust him because he's kept his word and been fair with them. And Matt is a bit touched by Dunson's concern for the dead man's wife. But there is the other side as well. The morning after the stampede, Dunson decides to horsewhip the overgrown child of a man whose sweet tooth set off the stampede. Sweet-Tooth-Man, though a fool, has pride enough to draw his gun(and surely get shot to death in the bargain by Dunson) than be whipped in front of everyone, but Matt comes to the rescue by shooting him first(to injure than to kill), whereby Dunson lets it be. In a way, Dunson is almost grateful that Matt intervened and arrived at a compromise position. The child-man got shot and punished but was allowed to live(and keep his pride intact). Of course, Dunson is too proud to admit Matt did the right thing.
...Matt leads a mutiny.. Tom vows to kill Matt... Tyranny might have been necessary to create the ranch and start the drive. But men are not animals, and Matt’s more democratic style of management is necessary to finish it. As the men move closer to civilization, they begin taking on some of its features. And in this case, who can blame them?
But didn't the rise of civilization lead to greater tyranny, at least for a long stretch before modernity and mass productivity allowed for more leisure and liberty for the masses? Many anthropologists believe that savages and barbarians were actually more democratic in the way they did things. Savages didn't have complex castes or classes. While some hunters/warriors had more power and prestige, they were more or less on equal footing with their peers. And they discussed matters as near-equals before a hunt, battle, or adventure. Things became less democratic with the rise of civilization, which led to the emergence of castes/classes and rigid specialization of skills, labor, and duties. A serf lived in civilization but was far less equal than a savage among his own kind. Even slavery among savages tended to be fluid, and slaves could become members of the tribe. It took complex civilization to come up with notions like the Untouchables in India. Spartans and Assyrians were highly civilized but also extremely authoritarian, though Spartan warriors, having passed the excruciating rites of passage, were at least near-equal among their compatriots(who made up an elite minority over the majority Messenians).
Dunson's problem isn't so much his toughness but its excess fueled by pride. Matt gains confidence of the men because he's willing to be more pragmatic in accordance to changing circumstances. It's sort of like what Merlin says to Arthur about Uther:
Arthur: "What kind of man was my father?"
Merlin: "Oh, he was brave, he was strong. He was a great knight."
Arthur: "Was he a great king?"
Merlin: "Well, he was rash. He never learned how to look into men's hearts. Least of all his own."
One advantage Matt has over Dunson is something called empathy.
If Dunson had been excessively indulgent with his men, that too would have been problematic, and in that case, Matt would have had to play tougher and tighten the slack. the real problem is excess, either way. This is what Oliver Stone missed in his confused morality play of PLATOON. He presents one sergeant(Tom Berenger) as overly tough, mean, and harsh while presenting the other(Willem Dafoe) as decent, kindly, and thoughtful. In truth, both men fail the test because one is too hard while the other is too soft. While it's true that the mean sergeant goes overboard, the nice sergeant's logic makes no sense: If he really believes the US should get kicked in the butt and that soldiering is about getting high on pot with Negroes, what the hell is he doing serving all these tours in Vietnam? Why not just go back to the states and join a hippie commune?
In the last act of Red River, Matt completes the drive. When his scouts find a wagon train ahead, complete with women and coffee, Matt changes the drive’s course to meet them. The men clearly need a break, and they are low on supplies. Tom never would have considered it. When the wagon train comes under Indian attack, Matt abandons the herd and rides to the rescue. Tom never would have bothered.
Matt heads for the wagons for relief but finds trouble with the Indians and nearly gets killed in the bargain(though he fears Dunson more than the Indians). I'm not sure Dunson never would have considered it, that is going toward the wagons. What matters most to Dunson is that HE's the one to make the final decision. Missouri as destination per se is less important than the fact that HE decided, and as in any organization(authoritarian or democratic), the buck stops with the boss. So, if HE decided to change course, that would have been okay. He's so used to being the leader that he's become overly confident and proud. So, had he considered it, he would done it and expected others to follow, or else.
When Matt meets and falls for a beautiful woman, Tess Millay (Joanne Dru), she asks to leave with him, but he refuses. She’s too weak for the road ahead. But he leaves her with Tom’s engagement token.
Not weak because she's a woman though. Weak because she's wounded. If anything, she's a feisty creature who more than holds her own in encounters with men. She asks questions first and doesn't like to be told what to do. She's very much a Howard Hawks staple, like Lauren Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. He liked tough gals who were at least the equal of men in the game of wit and wiles. And this woman is determined and makes her moves, usually before the men do. She shoots at Indians and, though not good with the gun, hardly flinches when an arrow hits her shoulder. Amidst the pain, she keeps her cool and sense of humor. Even under fire, she cares more for what she wants, handsome Matt, than worries about what may happen to her if the Indians prevail. And before she finally faints from the pain after the arrow is pulled out, she slugs Matt in the face as her savior/tormenter. John Ford also featured strong women(often fiery Irish ones), but they tended to be straight and narrow. Tess, in contrast, has something of the sultry vamp. There's the glow of the good girl but also shades of the bad, the temptress and whore. She smokes and hides a pistol in her shoulder brace in cold calculation.
And when she meets Dunson, the man determined to kill the object of her passion, she uses all manner of manipulation and even contemplates murder. Her love is aggressive. She has laid claim to Matt like Dunson once laid claim to a piece of Texas. Just like he had to have it and nothing better stand in his way, she feels likewise about her feelings for Matt. She will cajole and use her wiles to get what she wants.
She's also significant as the one who completes the circle. Dunson rode into the Southwest and lost his girl(to the Indians) because he went his own way. Tess could have ended up the same way but for the fact that Matt intervened and saved the wagon from the Indians. When Dunson lost his girl long ago, he never bothered to pick another woman(even though Groot and others found their own women and started families). Perhaps, Dunson, though low on guilt, is nevertheless haunted by regrets, and it seems he never quite forgot about the girl. And maybe his refusal to get married was a kind of subconscious self-punishment, a way of remembering the girl with whom he could have had a son. And yet, even though he lost the girl, a young boy wandered into his life and became a kind of substitute son, the boy he might have had with the girl. And what a tragedy it would be if Dunson killed Matt who saved a woman in the way the Dunson failed to do so long ago. Knowingly or not, Tess plants a seed of 'conscience' in Dunson's heart. He's still resolved to kill him but a brake's been placed in the momentum. When Tess heard of this terrifying figure Dunson, she was convinced he must be vile and monstrous because how could any decent man want to kill a good guy like Matt? So, she even hid a pistol and contemplated killing Dunson. But upon talking to him, she realizes he's not this monster but a man of real qualities who's driven more by pride than hatred. It's not hostility built on genuine hatred but on frustrated love. Also, even though she is still in love with Matt, she can see how a woman can fall for Dunson as well. Indeed, she half falls for him as well.
(Dunson) knows he is getting old. He knows that Matt is the closest thing he will ever have to a son. He knows that if he kills him, there will be nobody to carry on his vision once he has gone.
That's why he asks Tess to have his child, and she agrees to IF he chooses to end the hunt for Matt. While a woman's reproductive years are limited, a man can produce seed well into old age. Of course, her answer could have been just stalling before she could find the moment to kill him. But then, maybe she loves Matt so much that she would even have the child of Dunson to prevent Dunson's killing him. If Dunson really wants an heir, he can find some woman and still have children. But he has to finish the business with Matt. Consciously, Dunson feels betrayed and is resolved to kill him. But subconsciously, there's a sense he wants to meet up with Matt and square things because they have too much history together. Dunson is a like a house divided unto itself.
So, it's not that Matt is Dunson's only hope for a son. It's that Matt means a great deal to him. Indeed, Dunson's kind of hatred for Matt can only be the flipside of a great love. Why do family members often hate one another even more than they hate strangers? Eugene O'Neill built a cottage industry around such emotions. So did Arthur Miller with ALL MY SONS and A DEATH OF A SALESMAN. It's because of deep emotional bonds and deep love that make a sense of betrayal or failure so much more hurtful. If a stranger steals from you, you can hate him and forget him. If a son steals from you, that's really going to sting. Of course, Matt didn't really steal anything. He meant to sell the cattle and hand the money to Dunson, but what really matters is that Dunson feels his pride and authority have been taken from him, and that matters more than money.
He knows he is getting old. He knows that Matt is the closest thing he will ever have to a son. He knows that if he kills him, there will be nobody to carry on his vision once he has gone.
Sort of. But Wotan is the figure of moderation whereas Siegfried is the impetuous warrior who runs on passion and charges blindly into dangers. In RED RIVER, Matt seems more judicious and balanced(like Wotan) whereas Dunson has a tendency to allow emotions to get the better of him. Also, there is no great emotional bond between Wotan and Siegfried. More similar is the relation between Wotan and Brunnhilde. Wotan loves her dearly but must punish her for insubordination. Another comparison may be between Saul and David.
He’s a titan of industry, but at bottom he’s just a merchant. Now we see Tom willing to throw away everything he has built to avenge a very personal betrayal.
What does 'just a merchant' mean? And is it better to risk throwing everything away to fulfill a grudge(mistaken for honor)? At any rate, Dunson was never just a merchant. A merchant trades in existing goods and services. It's not the merchant who risks life and limb out in the frontier where something has to be built from ground up with his own hands. Merchant is a middleman, not a founder and builder.
Also, Dunson risked everything time and again to build the ranch. We notice he had to kill a bunch of men(who could also have killed him) to stake his claim and protect his land and cattle. And such bloodshed wasn't just for business for personal pride.
Pride is perhaps the biggest maker and unmaker of men. Pride is like a battle flag but also the shovel with which one digs his own grave. I'm always reminded of the line from THE WILD BUNCH where Pike Bishop and Dutch exchange these words:
Pike: "There was a man named Harrigan. Used to have a way of doin' things. I made him change his ways. A hell of a lot of people, Dutch, just can't stand to be wrong."
Pike: "And they can't forget it... that pride... being wrong. Or learn by it."
Dutch: "How 'bout us, Pike? You reckon we learned - bein' wrong, today?"
Pike: "I sure hope to God we did."
That says so much about humanity, especially Sam Peckinpah the director, who lived and died by excess of pride and failed to learn from it.
It is an amazing buildup to one of cinema’s most anticlimactic and farcical resolutions. The mythic and heroic thrust of Red River points toward a bloody end: the unstoppable force of Tom Duson versus the unmovable object of Matt Garth.
But that's not really true. RED RIVER is folkloric and unfolds on the human level. It's not like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(or even THE BIG COUNTRY) that works on the level of archetypes. Leone's cosmic western is about the clash of titans. THE BIG COUNTRY is about the twilight of giant men who built the West before the dawn of the new way. Even SHANE has elements of myth. Reformed gunslinger as Kid Galahad and christ-figure.
In contrast, RED RIVER is unabashedly about Western folks. Consider the rough humanity of the cowboys hollering and hooting as the drive commences. It's not grand or mythic but earthy in its humanness. There's an air of fecundity about the movie and shouldn't be overly mythologized. It's filled with Western formulas, but the characters are exactly symbolic like the ones in DAYS OF HEAVEN.
Characters in RED RIVER have individuality and their own idiosyncrasies. It's not about fate ordained by the stars. There is a place for free will and chance. The random roll of dice. It's that kind of topsy-turvy movie where anything is possible. So, there is room for comedy along with suspense and tragedy. Nothing is etched in stone or 'written', and the American Character is not about fate and predestination but about possibility of change and learning to forgive and forget. Dunson may be unstoppable but can be slowed down, which is what Tess does. And Matt isn't unmovable. If he were so, he would have stuck by Dunson all along. After all, Dunson is like a father figure, the boss. But Matt was capable of being 'moved', of doing something as drastic as defying Dunson. It was because he was moved by the plight of the men who were pushed to the limit. Matt's good with the gun but is not a natural born killer. Indeed, there are shades of the quality of the girl Dunson failed to save in the movie's opening.
In RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, tensions come to a boil, and it seems the rivalry and resentment between two old friends, now bitter enemies, is unresolvable. The 'good' partner, Steve Judd, takes the betrayal especially hard, personal, because they were friends and had been through much together. His self-respect is the only thing he has left, but the 'bad' partner tried to rob him of even that which gives his life meaning and for what? Stolen money. The 'good' guy in HIGH COUNTRY is an arch-moralist in the way Dunson is not, but what they have in common is the iron grit to see it through to the end. Still, it's utterly believable when Judd forgives his friend in the final scene. In the end, the Western is about character, not about caste. There is always room for change, for redemption. The 'bad' partner, Gil Westrum, has come to see the light, to regain his lost moral sense. Also, the last exchange between the men in their renewed friendship applies to Dunson and Matt as well.
Gil Westrum: "Don't worry about anything. I'll take care of it, just like you would have."
Steve Judd: "Hell, I know that. I always did. You just forgot it for a while, that's all."
Likewise, in his pride and rage, Dunson forgot what has always been true between him and Matt. He loved the kid like a son. Even as he pursues Matt for a bloody showdown, there's another side of Dunson that is struggling to recover what is really the holy grail between the two men.
Tom’s wrath is too great to be turned aside by words. One of them has to die. The only really happy ending possible is Matt killing Tom. It is terrible to have to kill one’s tyrant father, but it is the only way to secure a future. It would be a powerful coming of age story.
That's the way GANGS OF NEW YORK plays out. That is tragedy where the young man kills the father figure but to avenge his real father, which complicates things a great deal. The ending of RED RIVER is very much in keeping with Howard Hawks' universe. Apart from Kon Ichikawa, I can't think of another director so versatile, so adept at juggling tragedy and comedy, darkness and gaiety. And in that spirit, the ending is a thing of glory and beauty. Besides, all throughout the movie, there was quirky funny stuff along with the heavy moody stuff. It's like Ethan in THE SEARCHERS wasn't all dark brooding passion. He was also a joker, even a child at heart at times, especially when Old Mose is around. Also, there was more to Ethan psyche that he cared to understand. He was determined to kill Debbie but, when he holds her in his arms, he can't do it. He becomes her savior and carries her home. That softer side was always there despite the simmering hatred. Likewise, there's the wrathful side to Dunson but also the softer side, one he loathes to acknowledge in a tough world.
But deep down inside, something prevents him from killing Matt. It's like God told Abraham to kill the kid but then decided otherwise. Even in real life, things don't always go according to plan. In ELENI, based on a true story, a Greek American journalist is sworn to avenge his mother who was murdered by a communist. But when the moment arrives, something happens and he can't pull the trigger. In TERMINATOR 2, Sara Connors plans to kill the evil scientist who came up with the system that led to Armageddon. But when face-to-face with the scientific genius, she just can't pull the trigger. He's a nice guy with wife and kid. Perhaps, it was also because he's black, and she just couldn't believe that some Negro is the greatest scientist in the whole world, sort of like discovering the top running back in the NFL is some nerdy Jewish kid. It'd be like killing Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. (Michael Corleone did go all the way and had his brother killed, but that didn't turn out so well.)
That Matt initially doesn't fight back suggests, despite his worst fears, he senses this side of Dunson. That for all the rage and machismo, there is too much between them for Dunson to actually kill him. Matt takes that chance, and when he finally strikes back, it's with the fist, something like Jacob's wrestling match. Also, Dunson doesn't have to die to make the point about the New West coming into being. He was loathe to admit it but at the end acknowledges that Matt has finally become a real man and may have made the right decision after all. The Old need not die and be crushed to make way for the New. It can accept the new reality and gradually fade away, like General MacArthur said.
In a way, the father figure fears and resents the rise of the sonny-boy figure. After all, it means the loss of authority. But it's also a matter to anxiety, that the sonny-boy figure may not be cut out for the tough task ahead. Vito Corleone thought Sonny was too rash and rough. Fredo was too dumb. He worried about Michael too because, though intelligent, his youngest son was kept away from the family business. But it turns out Michael has the wit and will to take over.
Dunson didn't know it at the time, but he finally realizes that Matt, in defying him, actually proved his own mettle, his fully-realized manhood. What better way than to defy the old man and bring it to a better conclusion? Too blinded by fury to see at the time, Dunson realizes that Matt's 'mutiny' was actually the biggest assurance that he is indeed the man for the job. Just as Dunson defied the odds to gain territory and build his ranch, Matt defied the big boss to steer toward what he deemed the better option.
There's a movie called DESERT BLOOM with Jon Voight and Annabeth Gish. Voight plays the father and is sometimes drunk and abusive toward his daughter. But he does love her. Problem is he feels helpless in a post-WWII world where the atomic threat looms over everyone. It's a world of technocrats and organization men, not of cowboys and individuals. His frustrations are partly a reflection of his inadequacy to protect his family from the world. When the girl finally defies him and rebels, one might think he would be upset. But actually he is relieved and makes peace with himself. Seeing his daughter self-confident and standing on her own feet, he feels less responsible for everyone.
One part of the father figure fears the rebellion by the child-figure, but another part of the father figure welcomes the rebellion because only then the child can prove that he has grown into manhood to take over the role of the new authority figure. Though Vito Corleone was distraught that Michael killed Sollozzo and the cop, he also understood that Michael is the real deal because he acted on his own initiative, just like when he'd decided to fight in the war. In defiance of the old man, he tapped into a deep well of inner strength.
The ending is fabulous. John Wayne's characters throughout his career were quick to fight but also quick to laugh and let bygones be bygones. He was not a fixed-in-stone character. Cowboys were not like samurai. And it would have seemed weird to have Montgomery Clift of all people kill John Wayne. It'd be like watching a deer kill a horse.
Wayne's style was tough but also yielding. Thus, his character is often deceptive. He smolders in THE SEARCHERS as if his hatred for the North is eternal, as if he's going to carry a personal war against the Yankees to his dying day. But, later when he encounters a Yankee cavalry, he jokes with them and gets along. Upon eyeing the grownup Marty for the first time, there's only unease and hostility. One gets the impression that he will never warm up to Marty, but he later does and even signs the deed to his property to the young man.
The whole appeal of John Wayne's character in SANDS OF IWO JIMA is he does have a heart(and even a kind of sentimentality) after all beneath the tough exterior. It's what the young man(who resented him throughout the movie) realizes as he reads the letter pulled from the fallen sergeant's pocket.
Ultimately, Dunson has to be seen as a variation of John-Wayne-ism than a historical archetype or model of political philosophy. In QUIET MAN, Wayne engages in the most brutal fist fight in movie history, but they all make up and laugh at the end. The ending of RED RIVER is so much in keeping with John Wayne's aura. A man who fights hard, drinks hard, fumes with rage, and can kill anyone at the drop of a hat but also one capable of letting bygones be bygones, forgive or accept forgiveness, and laugh about it, like a Viking. As a tough guy who admires other tough guys, he not only engages in rivalry but seeks camaraderie. In the long history of myths and legends, bonds between men start with a fight. Thus, they measure each other, and if both emerge from the confrontation relatively unscathed, they regard each other as blood brothers, and their scars become badges of honor.
In a way, RED RIVER is about the rite of passage and the anxiety of succession. There are three ways succession can take place.
1. The young man is obedient to the older man, does as told, and waits for his time on the throne. It's a peaceful transition. It's the conservative way. It's about loyalty and patience. The young man need not demonstrate toughness and initiative. Just the willingness to follow order and stick to his duties. While the old man may appreciate the young man's loyalty, he worries that his successor is too much of a dog, a flunky who never dares to stick his neck out. No sign of agency.
2. The young man is rebellious against the older man. He uses force to take over, and in the process, the old man is either exiled or killed. It's a violent transformation, radical or revolutionary(or animal as nature is about younger males thumping older males, even to death). It's about defiance and boldness. Naturally, the older man feels threatened by the young upstart. Still, he is impressed by the young man's brash confidence and outstanding qualities as an individual with mind and will of his own. Ideally, the old man would like to bend this extraordinary young man to his will. The problem is superior talents have ideas of their own.
Example 1 was typical of Oriental Despotism. Example 2 has been the staple of Modern Radicalism. The ultra-conservative succession and the ultra-radical succession.
But the Anglo and especially Anglo-American kind arrived at something in between. The succession did require some degree of loyalty and patience among those waiting in the wings. However, it wasn't sufficient to merely follow orders but required demonstration of some degree of individuality and initiative, the superior qualities of manhood. Don't just show that you're a loyal dog but that you got some wolfish genes as well.
This way is also fraught with problems, but there is some room for rebellion from below and a chance for those above surviving the change in power arrangement. It need not be like the Olympians toppling the Titans. Rather, old gods make room for new gods who nevertheless honor the former than exiling or demolishing them. Indeed, the one reason why the Anglo World relatively avoided the problems of succession of other civilizations owed to this middle ground between conservatism and radicalism. Civilizations mired in ultra-conservative succession became ruled by unimaginative flunkies who couldn't think beyond doing as told and what was expected of them. But civilizations given to ultra-radical succession led to bloodbaths, beginning with the French Revolution. UK avoided most of that by allowing enough room for both continuance and change. And even though American colonialists eventually rebelled against Great Britain, the two sides more-or-less made up their differences and remained the closest partners in world affairs, that is until Jews took over and made Israel the #1 'ally' of the US.
In a way, the ending of RED RIVER is reflective of something profoundly Anglo-American. For all the tensions, Dunson and Matt arrive at a compromise. Matt is the new man for the job, but Dunson still has a place and shall gradually fade away than being toppled like the French King or Russian Tsar.
Instead, however, Matt allows Tom to shoot at him. Is he used to this kind of abuse? Is Matt acting the role of Jesus, letting his father expend his wrath on him? But Matt can’t stop bullets or rise from the dead, so it seems like madness.
He took a gamble. Matt knows Dunson is capable of killing him. But he also knows that there is a kinder side to Dunson. Matt bets on Dunson not shooting him. Besides, even if Dunson does kill Matt, Matt knows Dunson will end up the worse filled with remorse once the rage abates. Dunson will finally realize he murdered someone he cares about most. So, either way, Matt can't lose. In some ways, Matt knows Dunson better than Dunson knows himself. Matt is smarter, more insightful, more empathetic.
So our storyteller—with flawless anti-tragic instincts—contrived to have Tom wounded by one of Matt’s friends, so his aim is off.
No, he stands way too close to Matt to be missing due to the wound. It's obvious Dunson is missing on purpose. He was so sure he'd plug Matt full of holes, but face to face, he just can't do it. Matt gambled on this and proved right. Furthermore, Matt's cool frustrates Dunson even more, like Lancelot's composure drove Arthur batty in EXCALIBUR. Composure > Combustion. Just like Gore Vidal beat William F. Buckley by not losing it, Matt beats Dunson in mind games. It's like matador and the bull.
And then, funnily enough, the nature of Dunson's rage turns from vengefulness to a teachable moment. Dunson fumes that Matt isn't man enough, that he's a coward. All those years of working under Dunson, but Matt won't fight like a man and just stands there like a statue. But once this emotional shift has taken place in Dunson, who then tosses away the gun and uses his fists, Matt knows murder and revenge are no longer part of the equation. It's about Dunson teaching Matt to be a man and about Matt finally showing that he's man enough to sock it to Dunson.
The duel to the death over honor has been replaced by a scuffle in the dirt.
What honor? It was never about honor but about pride. Honor is more than about personal angst, grudge, pride, and vendetta. There's an element of humility in honor. A man may risk his life in the name of honor because he believes in ideals, values, or codes higher than himself. In contrast, Dunson's anger was purely about his personal ego and pride. He felt humiliated by Matt because he was accustomed to being boss and being the leader of men. So, even though it wasn't a real mutiny — Matt defied Dunson not to take anything from him but to finish the job faster — , Dunson's pride just couldn't take it. Pride puts one's ego before the code, whereas honor puts the code before the ego. So, it's not like some lofty pursuit of honor turned into a rowdy slug-fest. It's just that nasty pride, filled with rage and even pigheaded stupidity, finally burned out. So, nothing valuable was lost and something genuine was gained for both men.
Having averted tragedy, the movie then plunges headlong into farce. Tess Millay breaks up the fight by firing off a gun.
It's a great comic moment and one helluva way to a happy ending.
Tom and Matt are breathless, bloody, and sprawled on their asses amid a peddler’s pots and pans. But they seem most stunned by the fact that they are being scolded like naughty children by a woman waving a gun around. Tess’s ravings are a classic case of dismissing the masculine struggle for honor—which basically encompasses the whole field of human history—as just a childish game.
Now, that's a childish insight. In a way, men ARE like children, which was also the point of Anthony Mann's WINCHESTER 73, where two grown men act like two boys fighting over a toy gun. In a way, much of what we call heroic or noble behavior is rooted in animal instincts and child play. It's like government is really just another version of high school politics. Also, it's not necessarily a bad thing that adults remain childlike in some way. It's like what the old man says in THE WILD BUNCH: "We all dream of being a child again." The appeal of the Western was partly to return to childhood dreams of heroes and adventure. Lion cubs playfight and grown lions really fight. There is a connection between cub behavior and adult lion behavior. Also, it is children who are most moved by stories of heroes and villains, action and adventure. In THE ILIAD, even the gods often act like children, and so much happens on the level of 'boys will be boys'. Achilles is often egotistical and petulant. The god Ares is sometimes like Bam Bam of THE FLINSTONES. When thrashed by Athena, he goes whining to Zeus who laughs in his face. The humor in the sword-pulling scene in EXCALIBUR owes to ruffian knights acting like bullies in a playground. Merlin said of Uther(who stuck the sword in the stone), "It's easy to love folly in a child."
It is a naive childlike notion that masculine struggles through history were really about honor. More often than not, it was about power and advantage. It's like childlike mentalities in America believe US military men are about honor, duty, service, yadda yadda yadda. No, they are toy soldiers, grocery clerks, or dupes of the cynical men of power. Indeed, so many stupid wars and mayhem could have been avoided if people acted a bit more adult-like and less childlike, less manipulated by call to 'honor and duty'.
Also, Tess isn't dismissing masculinity. If anything, she's drawn to Matt because he's a tough strapping young man. If he were a wimp or wuss, would she even care for him? And she's also impressed by Dunson because he too is one tough hombre. She is impressed with both men. She loves Matt but would consider producing a son for Dunson.
She lashes out at them because she's come to appreciate and care for them both, just like Bella in TWILIGHT don't want Edward the vampire and Jacob the wolf kid to beat the crap out of each other.
And she's right about another thing. Despite or especially because their rolling in the dirt and slugging each other(after all, they dispensed with guns and bullets), they do love one another. And she especially knows it because she's seen the softer sides of both men. Men are often loathe to show this softer side to each other. It may come across as effete, wussy, wimpy, soft, and 'gay'. So, men often wear emotional armors among each other. All tough exterior that hides the softer self. Men tend to lower their guard with women. Tess has been with both men and has seen the soft side of Matt(which completes his hard side) and the soft side of Dunson(who in his quiet moment acknowledges he never forgot the girl he lost long ago). Dunson and Matt never showed this side to one another but they bared it to Tess. So, Tess puts 2 and 2 together and spells out that they are not all about toughness. They do have a soft side and have feelings for one another.
Another thing is Tess is something of a tomboy, so her rebuke isn't exactly the female principle putting down the male principle but about someone who can straddle both realms. Earlier, it was obvious she's not a typical woman. She's the type to hold her own among menfolk. Because she's between masculinity and femininity and because she's between Matt and Dunson, she can serve as the bridge. It's like the Toshiro Mifune character in SEVEN SAMURAI. Precisely because he's 1/3 peasant, 1/3 samurai, and 1/3 bandit, he can serve as conduit among the groups. Samurai are rigidly set in their ways of warrior code and the peasants are set in their mode of survival; they arrive at an impasse that seems unresolvable, but Mifune's character breaks the ice because he has experienced both sides.
To borrow a line from Camille Paglia, if Tess Millay had her way, we’d still be living in grass huts. Hilariously, Tom suggests that Matt ought to marry her. I find this sudden transformation from embittered, slow-burning murderer to great big softie completely implausible.
Tess isn't some feminist. She is a pioneer. She is right there alongside the men in the building of a new order. She admires men of courage and mettle. She worships Matt as her white knight. It's just that her X-ray eyes see through the obvious. Dunson is blinded by pride but really loves Matt. And Matt didn't take up the challenge of the gun duel because the last thing he wants to do is kill Dunson. They settled for a non-lethal slug-fest to knock each other and clear their heads. Even without Tess spelling it out, Dunson and Matt surely realize that the war is over between them. They exorcised the demons like boys do in school yard fashion. But her words do put a finishing touch.
Also, it's not like Dunson goes from total blood-thirsty murderer to a humanitarian. Even at his angriest, he was repressing genuine affection for Matt, just like Ethan, even in his darkest mood, had some feelings for Debbie as the daughter of the woman he loved in THE SEARCHERS. The love was always there in Dunson for Matt but it was clouded by rage, but once the gloom-and-doom has cleared, the light shines again between them. It's just human. Many of us have sworn to hate someone forever only to see the anger eventually pass. Even between white men and the Indians, many learned to bury the hatchet and respect each other's worth as fellow warriors. After the most grueling boxing matches, the fighters sometimes embrace and appreciate each other. Men are quick to slug but also quick to hug.
in the last few minutes, it whisks us straight from barbarism to decadence.
Two men blowing off steam by duking it out and then the older man giving sound advice to the younger man to marry a tough-minded gal with X-ray eyes is 'decadence'? If so, we need more such decadence, which makes more sense than some delusional fantasies about 'honor'.
Also, what does honor via violence prove? Suppose Richard Spencer or Matt Forney called Trevor Lynch a piece of shit. What should Lynch do? Call for a duel? If Spencer bloodies Lynch's nose or if Matt Forney sits his fat ass on Lynch's face, does that mean Spencer or Forney is the better man? A duel proves who has better skills in combat. It doesn't prove who is in the right. (Indeed, even the Greeks acknowledged Hector was the better man despite losing to Achilles who horribly abuses the body.) Honor via violence has become especially pointless in a Negro-fied West. At least when the West was all white, regardless of who won the duel, the man with honor/glory was a white guy. But if things are resolved by violence today, blacks will own the 'honor' as they can easily beat up white guys. What is white flight but fleeing from black attack? Worse, Negroes, due to their jungle nature, cannot even win with grace but must showboat and act like apes. So, it's doubly humiliating for whites. Not only do they get thumped by blacks but must watch black booties shaking over them.
In a way, the ending makes perfect sense because the dam bursts for all three characters. Each had been holding something back but it finally pours outs. Dunson, in his great rage, held back his even greater love for Matt. Matt, in his lifelong deference to Dunson, held back all the resentments and grudges, which finally explode in the sock to Dunson's jaw, something that Groot himself has been waiting for all these years. Tess, the frontier woman, held back her softer womanly qualities and acted tough like the men. She even acted cool and nonchalant despite being shot with a poison arrow. Still, she's a woman after all, and her feminine qualities finally overflow into tears. It's all so joyous. Human moods can sometimes change like the weather. What looks like storm clouds can break into sunshine. Hawks captured this tragicomic aspect of life in all its glory.
If one expects every character to be symbolic and mythic, esp laden with political philosophy, one may be frustrated by sudden shifts and turns in attitudes and emotions. But, if one sees the characters as human like the rest of us, then it's the case that our natures aren't set in stone. While we are driven by larger forces from the outside and deeper forces from within, we also do 'write' our own life stories. There is free will, the possibility that things blow over. Just like friends can suddenly become enemies, enemies can be friends. As Dunson and Matt's first encounter were as 'frenemies', there were bound to be tensions that would explode one way or another, with either both dying, one killing the other, or more happily, both surviving and coming to a fuller understanding of the other and of oneself.
By the way, Dunson's hubris on the drive is indicative of an aspect of political psychology. Dunson was always tough but pragmatic as well. Of course, when the West was less crowded and when the American economy was less saddled with crises(mainly due to aftereffects of the Civil War), he had greater leeway. Still, he couldn't have achieved so much by being rigid and overbearing all the time. He had to rely on the knowledge and expertise of others. This side of Dunson is much like the remarkable men of history on the rise to power. Napoleon gained power by being both strong-minded and malleable. He was keen to the nature of shifting alliances and changing circumstances. He had to know when to stick his neck out, when to step back. Likewise, Mao's rise to power owed to his adaptability. He had a mountain-sized will but also the maneuverability of a mouse through tight crevices. He knew when to attack, when to withdraw. When to move boldly, when to hide. And of course, Adolf Hitler had to shake many hands in his road to power. He had to compromise with various figures in institutions and industries. He had to push hard at times but also act moderate and charm the skeptics.
But once these man gained supreme power and became accustomed to mastery over their domains, megalomania came to dominate their self-image and worldview. Confidence turned into pride into hubris. Toughness turned into a kind of faith in their invincibility. Result: Invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, and the Great Leap Forward(and needless provocation of the Soviet Union).
Well, lucky for Dunson, he's pulled back from the brink, but that's very much in keeping with the American Character. Anglo-Americans were great fighters but also known for making up and burying the hatchet. Not a bad quality to have but fatal with Jews whose way is to never forget, never forgive, and always regard kindness as a weakness to exploit than good will to appreciate.
In a way, unbeknownst to both Dunson and Matt, the arc of their lives has been headed toward that moment. Sure, one could have ended up killing the other, or both could have died. But this is the West, and manhood has to be proven through a rite of passage. When Dunson picked up Matt in the middle of nowhere long ago, it was like a big dog took in a feisty cat. Matt is tough but feline, not canine. So, even though Dunson meant to hand over his ranch to the younger man, there was a lingering doubt in his mind as to whether Matt could really handle it.
Paradoxically, the only way Matt can truly assure Dunson is by defying him. He rose to the occasion, made the pivotal decision, and drove the cattle to the new(and preferable) destination. Dunson was too blinded with fury to see it at the time, but Matt was really proving that he could do it, that he could take over from Dunson. He may be a cat, but he can play top dog. It’s the crisis of succession. The older man doesn’t want to be bettered by the young man, but it is only then that the older man finally willing to relinquish the title.
And what better ending can one think of than Dunson, his rage flamed out, shows pride in Matt as a doer & fighter and at last fulfills the promise he made 15 years ago? He feels Matt has indeed earned it and devises a new brand that includes an ‘M’ along the ‘D’. The arc has finally been completed. A fabulous way to end the movie. Hawks made glorious entertainment, not deep tragic art.
Also, it sort of dawns on Dunson that Matt is the way he is because he learned under Dunson. In a way, Matt's bold action on the drive parallels what Dunson did at the beginning of the movie. Dunson was part of a wagon train but chose to go his own way. He deviated from the original idea because he saw something good in Texas.
Likewise, Matt shows initiative in opting for a new destination. His action mirrors what Dunson did in the beginning of the movie. He has a strong will of his own; and, even if it causes a rift with Dunson, Matt is becoming more like Dunson, someone who not only follows but can lead with his own decisions.
Even though Dunson becomes more unstable as the drive continues(not least due to lack of sleep and leg injury), he’s not being entirely irrational. When he left the wagon train in the opening of the movie, he hadn’t signed onto anything. He had merely joined a band of pioneers but made no pledge to stick with them to the end.
In contrast, right before the cattle drive, he spelled out in no uncertain terms to the men what the drive will entail. He said he'd understand why anyone may opt not to come along and said there won't be any hard feelings, and he meant it. If he were a true tyrant, he would have forced everyone to go with him, but he’s not like that. He spelled out the troubles ahead and made sure every man put the 'X' on the agreement. In other words, make a pledge.
Also, Dunson’s insistence on sticking to Missouri as destination is based on reason as well as pride. That the railroad runs across Abilene, Kansas is based on rumor and hearsay, not on verifiable fact. So, either way, it’s a gamble ahead. The way to Missouri is fraught with dangers from Indians and outlaws. But Abilene might not have trains running through it, in which the cattle will have been taken there for nothing. Thus, the choice is as much a case of gamble vs gamble as reason vs pride.