My wife and I watched one of my all-time favorite movies last night, “The Searchers,” and now I commend it to you! It is the type of film I believe that inspires manly character in the old Cavalier sense of the word. The main protagonists, Ethan Edwards and Martin Poly, are men propelled by familial loyalty, honor, and bravery. Their sacrificial determination and respect for the women around them are the kinds of things missing from modern cinematic male protagonists. Ethan is a complex character. Hints about his past- his time as a Confederate soldier, his suggested participation in the Mexican revolution, his possible former affection (held down by stoic self-control) in his now brother’s wife, and his seeming hatred for Indians all leaves the viewer trying to figure out the first part to a story we feel we only have the sequel to. The ending keeps our curiosity in place, which you will find I’m sure is actually a very good thing for a film!
Ethan is a man who has grown cold to the world through harsh experience. It’s a cruel and hurtful world that Ethan accepts, and conquers, though he can’t seem to satisfy himself. Director John Ford does an absolutely magnificent job relaying to us the cruelties of the world in such a way that they are appalling to our imaginations- but only our imaginations. The viewer is only left to speculate and surmise, not to overtly observe. This is part of the appeal Hollywood’s golden age of film making has to me personally. It’s the reason classic epics are more powerful and have a more lasting impact on my mind I believe, because by the time the credits are once again rolling I haven’t really “seen a movie.” I’ve thought a lot about the world in which I live. I can’t help but wondering, does harsh reality make me more like Ethan? Do I keep my sense of humor while everything I love has been taken from me? Do the experiences I’ve undergone cause me to lash out in small ways at things that remind me of them?
Martin is not like Ethan. Sure he’s cut from the same Cavalier cloth, but Martin is younger. The bigotries that Ethan’s developed don’t seem to exist in Martin. There is no revenge in his heart. This is no silent bigotry at those things that have hurt him. One wonders whether or not he’s too young to have developed such prejudices. Martin fights for those he loves, quite literally. His back-country lack of refinement often causes him to fumble, but make no mistake, Martin is a gentleman. And while Ethan seems to take pride in his honest word and his blood-line, Martin, who has no blood family to take pride in, demonstrates the character of a man who sacrifices all for a friend.
The story is told from Martin’s perspective, though the focus of most of the story is on Ethan. The characters in the story are anything but bland. They are real people, and the complexities of big and small personalities are quite convincing! Not to mention, the cinematography and landscapes are breathtaking and fit the story beautifully. There is man against man, man against nature, and the greatest conflict of the whole film, man against himself as seen in Ethan. We see possibly at least a partial redemption in Ethan toward the end of the film, but we are still left wondering as the musical theme of the movie states, “What makes a wonder?” Is Ethan really searching for his niece, or is he searching for something else? So get some popcorn and watch an old movie this weekend, a movie that’s inspired scenes in everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars. You won’t be disappointed.