The Homesman

Pioneer life is a neglected subject on twenty-first century movie screens – not being sufficiently hyper-violent or anus-oriented to guarantee rentals, one imagines. It may, however, also be because a movie like The Homesman blows to smithereens any goofy notions of “white privilege” or of American whites’ allegedly unearned prosperity having been built on the backs of slaves. Existence for the earliest Midwestern settlers was brutal, as is brought to vivid life in this impressive film from writer-director-star Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a scoundrel drafted by upstanding citizen Hilary Swank to transport three crazed women back east by wagon. This being ultra-Zionist Haim Saban’s production, however, it goes without saying that other, less savory currents are also at work in the film.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Homesman is:

6. Anti-Christian. One of the women, clearly deranged by the one-two punch of frontier life and old-time religion, imagines herself to be the Almighty and threatens, “God will strike you down!”

5. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn). Viewers who blink may miss a shot of black slaves in a wagon, reminding the audience that black people had it even harder. When Jones tells an anecdote about killing Indian horse thieves, Swank’s facial reaction gives the viewer to understand that his insensitivity has disturbed her. Jones, encountering another group of Indians, gives them a horse to make them leave him alone. The idea would seem to be that whites, if they want to live in peace with minority neighbors, ought to accustom themselves to such life-or-death generosity.

4. Pro-gun. Guns are a handy frontier equalizer, especially for a woman.

3. Bolshevik. When wealthy businessman James Spader refuses to give room or board to Jones and company because they are not “socially acceptable”, the protagonist, in one of The Homesman’s more colorful lines, tells Spader’s party, “Your mothers and your sisters and your wives and your daughters will cuss your broke-dick souls!” He later returns to the inn where Spader’s group is staying and sets it ablaze, burning them alive.

2. Anti-family. From the sickening moment the Saban Films logo comes up onscreen, the informed viewer knows that something evil is afoot; and the institutions of marriage and family really come in for a drubbing in this otherwise exceptional film, unfortunately. “You hate me! I hate you!” These words set the tone for married life on the prairie in The Homesman. “You will give me a son,” insists a husband as he fucks his wife as impersonally as some robotic movie Nazi. Further obsessing over his “seed”, he borderline-rapes her as her mother, lying beside her in the bed, pretends not even to notice. Conventional domesticity is equated with horror as a woman’s darning drudgery unexpectedly turns into an act of self-mutilation with a sewing needle. In The Homesman’s most shocking scene, one of the women throws her baby down the hole in an outhouse. She is at no point treated as a murderer, but regarded as a victim of circumstances.

1. Feminist. Swank is “as good a man as any man hereabouts”, her character furnishing a model of culture and propriety in contrast with loutish, dirty men. After twice (or more, one suspects) having her marriage proposals refused by men undeserving of her (who say she is “too bossy” and “plain”), she quietly hangs herself as a proto-feminist martyr of sorts, a woman ahead of her time for whom the Nebraska territory simply offered no opportunities equal to her personal merit and talents. Jones, by contrast, is prepared to meet his death only with copious begging and whimpering.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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