Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Outlaw Josey Wales

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Well this film definitely does not fit the typical John Wayne style western, pilgrim. (Did Wayne actually ever say “pilgrim”? Let me know if he did). It shows how war, especially the American Civil War, can subvert civilization. The title alone tells you something. We're dealing with someone outside the established system of government. He became this way when renegade Union soldiers killed his wife and child and burned down his house. He and his family are collateral damage in this universe. This movie shows a topsy-turvy world. There’s a lot of that going on in 1970’s films – this one came out in 1976. Here, the Union army is as bad as the Confederate. At first, Josey joins up with the Confederates for revenge. But, the man who recruited him, Fletcher, becomes a traitor and, for money, convinces everyone except Josey to surrender. After the Confederates are double-crossed and killed, Josey kills the Union soldiers. He is now an outlaw. Fletcher hunts Josey, probably to obliterate the person whose existence makes him feel guilty for his own betrayal.

The actions and words of the film show the inverse reality created by war. Josey, while placing a wood cross on his wife's grave, starts to angrily slam it into the ground, knocking it over, as much an act of defiance as of reverence for God. At one point, Josey says about being dragged "all over hell's creation" – instead of using the familiar phrase "God's creation."  In this film, Josey, a white man, joins forces with an Indian, played by Chief Dan George. When they first encounter each other, it is the white man who sneaks up and gets the drop on the Indian. George dressed not as a Native American but in white man's clothes, looks like, as George says, sarcastically, a "civilized man." The white man’s world is being satirized here.

There is a ferryman who transports Union and Confederate passengers alternately, for money, singing Dixie, for Josey's sake, when ferrying him. He almost seems like Brecht's Mother Courage, switching flags for practical purposes. In another scene, after his identity is discovered in a town, Josey confronts Union soldiers by saying "Are you going to pull out your pistols or whistle Dixie," – not what you would think Union men would sing. But, in this world, allegiances can fluctuate. When Josey and his new family of Native Americans, left behind townspeople, and displaced Kansans defend their new home, the house has crosses cut out of the windows, looking, ironically, religious, but actually useful for shooting side to side and up and down in the last battle with those pursuing Josey.

In the end, Josey makes peace with the local Native Americans, saying that governments took everything from both of them, and now peace can only be made between people – not governments. When Fletcher finally catches up with Josey, he lets him go, as the two make an unspoken agreement, outside the laws of governments.

This film upholds the traditional western value system which exalts strong individualism, but, in this case, as the way to heal society.

Any other Eastwood films you would like discussed?

Next week’s film is a more recent one: The Place Beyond the Pines.

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