This is a powerful drama set in America in 1892. The lines between good and bad are unclear. There are many different ways the film can be studied, but the way I looked at it today while watching it in the cinema was the personal development of one man, the soldier Captain Joseph Blocker, played by Christian Bale. His development is all the more intense by being underplayed. He's a man who never shows his emotions, but the emotions are there, bubbling beneath the surface. I can't think of any other actor who could have played the role so effectively.
Captain Blocker is a highly efficient Indian hunter, as we see in the opening scenes where he captures an Apache family. He's very brutal in his actions, but he's just following orders. I know that expression has come to be despised after being used as the defence of the German officers at the Nuremberg trials, but let's look at it without prejudice. Anyone who becomes a soldier isn't expected to have a conscience. He signs up to serve his country, which means following the orders of his senior officer. Any soldier who questions the right and wrong of what he's told to do is a bad soldier.
This is never more apparent than in Captain Blocker's last mission before his retirement from the armed forces. The Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk has been in prison in New Mexico for seven years. Now he's dying of cancer, and the American president has decreed that he should be released to return to his tribal lands in Montana. That's a long distance, over 1000 miles, so an army team has to escort him and his family. Captain Blocker is ordered to lead the team, which is an unpleasant task for him because Yellow Hawk was responsible for the death of four of his friends.
The soldiers head slowly north, and the battle lines are obscured. They pick up a woman on the way whose entire family has been slaughtered by Comanche Indians. She finds it difficult to accept Yellow Hawk's family because all Indians look the same, but she grows to love and accept them.
Later on the team picks up an American sergeant, Charles Wills, who has been sentenced to death for slaughtering an Indian family in revenge. He's an old comrade of Joseph Blocker, and he appeals for mercy, arguing that Blocker has done worse things. That's true, but the difference is that Captain Blocker was following orders, Sergeant Wills wasn't.
Captain Blocker and his soldiers forge an uneasy alliance with Yellow Hawk and his family. Together they fight against attacks from both Indians and white settlers. It's only too obvious what the message is. Race and skin colour don't matter, it's a question of right and wrong.
The Indians had been living in America for thousands of years before the white men arrived from Europe. After a few hundred years of battles the white invaders defeated the Indians and forced them to live in reservations, stripped of their rights. Defenders of the rights of the native Americans say that the white men should never have been allowed into their country, but it's not that simple. In the 15th Century the north American continent was sparsely populated. There was more than enough land for the European settlers and the American Indians to live side by side. If everything had been done diplomatically agreements could have been reached on who could live where. Eventually a united government could have been formed with political equality for the old and the new inhabitants of the land.
That's not how it happened. The Indians began to attack the European settlers. The Europeans retaliated with counter-attacks. In the ensuing battles only one side could win: the more highly developed Europeans. If the Indians hadn't been so fast to attack the Europeans they wouldn't have to suffer the lack of liberties that they have today. The problem is that the Indians weren't a homogeneous unit, they were tribes scattered across the continent. That doesn't mean that the Indians were solely to blame. The Europeans had an overbearing arrogance, considering themselves superior to the Indians. The Europeans were Christians, which proved their moral superiority, didn't it?
This is a very good film. It's slow moving, which makes it all the more intense. Whenever action breaks out it's a shock. The musical score is subtle but effective in underlining the film. This might be a western, but it's a modern take on the western genre, different to anything made in the last 60 years.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the cinema.....
This evening I was waiting at the bus stop for my bus to take me to the cinema. There's an open area behind the bus stop. There was a girl, probably in her late teens, standing a short distance away. She was wearing a very short skirt, which attracted my attention. Normally I wouldn't stare, but she was very hot, and she was busy typing on her phone, so she didn't notice me looking. I casually leaned against the bus shelter so I wouldn't attract attention to myself.
Then a second girl arrived, just as attractive, wearing tight yoga pants. They hugged each other, pulling the first girl's skirt up even higher. It was an incredible sight.
The girls walked away, so I turned around, just in time to see my bus leaving. I was so entranced by the girls that I hadn't even heard it. I felt like such a fool. Fortunately for me I was able to catch a train 15 minutes later, so I arrived at the cinema barely in time. It could have been worse. On Saturday, when the trains don't travel as often, I would have had to call a taxi.
This is where it happened, with a photo courtesy of Google Maps. I've marked my position with XY and the girl's position with XX. As you can see, I was standing with my back to the road. I doubt that the other people waiting for the bus realised that I wanted to catch it. That would have been even more embarrassing.
Will I learn from my mistake? Probably not.
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