Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blog #1 - The Searchers

John Wayne's character, Ethan, in The Searcher is used to not only embody the physical characteristics of the desert but also its tendency to constantly change. While Ethan's appears to fit Tompkins' description of the western hero: "To be a man in the Western is to seem to grow out of the environment, which means to be hard, to be tough, to be unforgiving (73)," his temperament isn't as solid as the audience is led to believe. We, as an audience, perceive Ethan to personify "the desert's fierceness in his hard struggle to survive, its loneliness in his solitary existence, and its silence in his frugal way with language (Tompkins 84)." However, the true value in Wayne's character is hidden beneath his hardness and is only glimpsed in his characters' transformation in the climax of the film.
After the seemingly endless search for Debbie, Ethan and Martin discover that she is hardly the nine year old girl they once knew. She has adopted the Comanche way of life as her own. While Martin remains determined to bring her home, Ethan remains true to the characteristics of the desert and disregards any emotion in the pursuit of revenge. However, when Ethan has the opportunity to kill her, he turns against the hardness of the desert, revealing the real the value of The Searchers, for Ethan finally understands that the desert is not only a hard, dry, infinite plain, but as Tompkins explains "The hero's passage across the landscape has ultimately a domesticating effect. Though it begins in anxious movement and passes through terror and pain, it continually ends in repose. A welcoming grove of aspens, a spring, and a patch of grass probide shelter and sustenance... If nature's wildness and hardness test his strength and will and intelligence, they also give him solace and refreshment (81)." The Searchers uses this moment of vulnerability to convey the other side of the desert and the hero, Ethan.

1 comment:

  1. “The desert flatters the human figure by making it seem dominant and unique, dark against light, vertical against horizonatal, solid against plane, detail against blankness.”(74) In all western films the desert is blatently thrust upon the audience as the domineering landscape all characters succumb to, a place that can hold no secrets, and holds no refuge, a place where only the hard can survive. “Nature makes it obvious, even to the most benighted, who her chosen are:”(73) Ethan from the searchers, is a chosen one. What strikes most viewers, are the similarities between the land and the hero of a Western. The landscape is bleak, harsh, hard, hot, and mostly the landscape is alone, no water to lure animals, only rocks, and sand. Ethan is of that sort, a solitary man, who enjoys nothing more than being on his horse alone, his hardness and roughness makes it hard for any women to come near him, and his loner like stance makes it hard for any man to befriend him.Due to the significant connection between character and landscape, it seems only befitting, that only the landscape can open up the heart of the hero, giving him an emotional dimension. What I am referring to is when Ethan finds Debbie, he is set to kill her for revenge. Debbie slides down the hill, and he runs after her determination seared into his eyes. But then grabs her and hugs her, all his revenge gone, and all his emotions evident. This is due to the openess of the desert, the desert as I have mentioned earlier can hold no secrets, its vast oppeness makes a person open up fom the inside, understanding the fact that they are only a small part of the world, thus they accept what they are, and what they feel, which is why only in the desert can a man bethrottled in a murderous rampage change pace and become a loving uncle. That is only because the desert has enough space, to hold every human emotion possible.