Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Searchers and Jane Tompkins
Jane Tompkins opens the chapter discussing the role of the land and the landscape in western films, by introducing the fact that the land is a prominent factor in all westerns. She states, "All there is is space, pure and absolute, materialized in the desert landscape," (70). The film, The Searchers, is no different than any other western, in that it opens with a view of the landscape through an open door. This symbolizes the opportunities the settlers saw by moving out west. Tompkins also stresses that "The landscape challenges the body to endure hardship-that is its fundamental message at the physical level," (71). In the Searchers, the main character, Ethan, returns home to the settlement after being out in the plains for awhile, only to find that his niece, Debbie, was taken away by Indians. Ethan then sets off to track the Indian tribe and rescue Debbie. Throughout the film, one can easily pick out that Ethan is the epitome of the Alpha male character. He survives through horrible conditions out in the desert, but never gives in to the challenges he faces, which relates to Tompkins' statement regarding the land testing and challenging pioneers, also "a man whose hardness is one with the hardness of nature," (73). Ethan had been out in the desert for such a long time, even before he started his long journey to save Debbie. In the scenes where he returns to the settlement, it is easy to tell that he does not fit in with the society. Tomkins would describes this, "perhaps more than anything, nature gives the hero a sense of himself. For he is competent in this setting. He knows his horse will lead him to water, knows how to build a fire and where to camp. He can take care of himself," (81). Tomkins explaination for Ethan's feeling would be that he feels more comfortable living off the land in solitude, because the land can give him everything he needs. Tompkins also discusses the role of the town in a western movie. It serves as a safe haven, completely separate from the journey that is made in the desert. The two worlds almost never meet and are viewed in totally different aspects, as is demonstrated in The Searchers.