Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Jeremiah Johnson (5 Stars)

The way that you wander
Is the way that you choose.
The day that you tarry
Is the day that you lose.

"Jeremiah Johnson" is one of the most beautiful westerns ever made. What makes it so good is that it doesn't stick to the usual clich├ęs of the western genre. It's the story of a man who is trying to find himself by leaving everything else behind.

The film is loosely based on the life of Liver-Eating Johnson, who lived from 1824 to 1900. From what I've read, the real life character was a vicious man. He earned his name by single-handedly killing over 300 Crow Indians and eating their livers. This terrified the Crow, because they believed that nobody could enter the afterlife without his liver.

The hero of the film is placid and stoic. He's an ex-soldier who was disillusioned after fighting in the war against Mexico. He wanders into the mountains of Colorado to live a life of solitude. He intends to survive by catching and eating his own food. He's not very skilled as a hunter and almost starves. Luckily he meets an old mountain man, Chris Lapp, who teaches him the skills he needs to survive. After a few months together he moves on.

Over the next few years he meets very few white people. He doesn't go unnoticed though. Several Indian tribes are observing him. He wins respect as a great hunter. The Crow even build a monument in his honour.

The chief of the Flathead tribe gives Jeremiah his daughter Swan to become his wife. At first he wants to refuse, but he's warned that if the insults the chief's generosity he will be killed. Initially he feels awkward at no longer being alone, but he grows accustomed to female company and settles down with her.

Robert Redford stalks through the film, constantly aloof, rarely expressing his feelings. It would be wrong to say that the viewers like him, but we admire him. We admire his strength and his tenacity. I feel a certain jealousy, because I see in him a man that I could never be. He's everything that a man should be: strong and self-sufficient, but tender when it's required of him.

The film also impresses with its magnificent cinematography. The beauty of the mountains makes us want to walk at Jeremiah's side. Though set in Colorado, the film was actually made in Utah. I never knew that Utah had such beautiful scenery.

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