When I heard that the Coen’s were doing this project, I got very excited. I believe they are the best at deconstructing American ideals and what is more American that the Western?
After seeing the film, the following question bothered me: was this a deconstruction of the western, an homage to older westerns, or is it both at the same time?
Deakin’s photography was breathtaking as always, but it seemed to carry this sentimentality and nostalgia for the old west.
Ebert noted on this in his review:
“What strikes me is that I’m describing the story and the film as if it were simply, if admirably, a good Western. That’s a surprise to me, because this is a film by the Coen Brothers, and this is the first straight genre exercise in their career. It’s a loving one. Their craftsmanship is a wonder. Their casting is always inspired and exact. The cinematography by Roger Deakins reminds us of the glory that was, and can still be, the Western.
But this isn’t a Coen Brothers film in the sense that we usually use those words. It’s not eccentric, quirky, wry or flaky. It’s as if these two men, who have devised some of the most original films of our time, reached a point where they decided to coast on the sheer pleasure of good old straightforward artistry. This is like Iggy Pop singing “My Funny Valentine,” which he does very well. So let me praise it for what it is, a splendid Western. The Coens having demonstrated their mastery of many notes, including many not heard before, now show they can play in tune. "
However, since it is a Coen film, I don’t believe that it is that simple.
I think through alot of the truly graphic, unblinking violence, they were able to show the dark side of that time period that is only remembered through a soft-focus lens.
Early on, they show the inherit racism, sexism and often disgusting nature of this area. Throughout the films, they illustrate this ugliness through the symbol of the snake (of course, the ultimate symbol of evil). As the film progresses, the snakes draw in closer and closer to Mattie, until she finally loses part of herself because of this evil she has been surrounded with.
This is all me just thinking out loud. Any thoughts?
I think most of the new westerns, including this one, are mainly concerned with realism and dealing with how to create an environment as realistically and truthfully as possible. The older westerns, Pre 1965 maybe, are mostly concerned with the nostalgia and the myhology of the old west. After that up until the mid 80’s it seemed that the westerns were more about the depiction of violence and the grittiness of the west. After that until 2000, westerns developed a philosophical feel which seemed to question the nature of man not only in that period but in general.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I watched the Cohen film earlier this week. I think it would be a lot clearer as to the nature of the modern western I’d there have been more made, but sadly there hasn’t been. I actually have no idea what I’m trying to say so sorry.
I haven’t seen it yet, but Portis published the story the films are based on in 1968, by which time the revisionist Western was already in full swing, and a lot of the elements you’re describing, including the dispassionate treatment of violence are in Portis’s story.