A westerner accompanied by a woman and a contract killer searches for his lost brother. The trip ends in senseless, absurd and fatal conflicts. An allegorical late western that consistently dismantles the genre’s traditional values.
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If the West had always been a subject for myth, here it comes closest to allegory: an expanse where Death, Guilt, Other, Self, etc. roam and find their resting place. It's open to myriad interpretations—nothing too tidy, since it's got all the tidiness of a Corman film shot in three weeks—but the point is that it encourages interpretation and makes it irresistible. For 1966, a Western closer to Bergman than Ford.
The raw inevitable. We will march there. We will bear witness to our own demise. Only Millie Perkins' excruciating voice does anything to get in the way of the perfection. The condensed magnified. This is the microapocalypse according to Monte Hellman, take one.
Western archetypes wither away in front of us picked apart by a desert chase without an end even the shooter we encounter our villain has the same face as our hero the entire movie is like a mirage. The western reduced to sweaty cowboy hats and tired horses.
I appreciate the application of Camus' theories to the western genre, and the general lack of exposition. However, other than Oates and Nicholson, the acting was just plain bad. The overacting present in the minimal dialog detracted heavily from the ideas that were meant to spring forward through the sparseness.
This Beckettian oater is a rambling, spare vision of doom, with the epic nothingness of the desert standing in for the flames of hell. Figures ride on horses that keep dying, trudging through a meaningless, barely coherent search for a town, or a person, or it's not entirely clear what. Chances are those tracks they left will be followed by another doomed caravan, it's trail of blood resembling an ouroboros.
This masterpiece of a western is such, not in a John Ford or Sam Peckinpah way, but in a way completely of it's own. That is one of the reasons it stands out to me in a sea of genre storytelling. It is minimal and cryptic, but no less immersive than the best of the straight narratives of it's type.