The Searchers

(1956, Dir. John Ford)


The Westward expansion of U.S. civilization gave rise to a distinctive view of how a man should relate to the world, as well as what he should be: a self-reliant outsider who defends himself and others with a gun, who prefers the wilderness to civilization, and who, if he must associate with others, prefers the company of men to that of women. The worldview of the Western genre was strongly influenced by the sparse population of the early West, the fact that there were very few women, the harsh environment, and the near absence of social institutions, such as the family, churches, and the law. Existing myths and values of European/American culture, such as the love of nature, the child savior, and the American dream also had a strong influence on the worldview of the Western genre.

In order to save his despoiled and brainwashed niece, Ethan — or rather John Wayne — believes he must destroy her. I see this as a spiritual war, too, where an individual would rather self-destroy rather than let the unwanted result to take place -“better dead than red.” The same thinking process was put into American minds to fight against the growth of communism, for example. “There ain’t no more time for praying,” as Ethan said in the funeral. The time has come to fight the enemy by whatever means the American people possess. We can suppose that this is what led nations to take the decisions they are making when they are totally lost in their faith. When God goes second, no decision is at its potential. At some point in the movie, Laurie`s father says: “This country killed my boy. Someday, this country`s gonna be a fine good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” Especially since it has become very difficult to trust governments, the people must rule their own surroundings and grow larger on the neighboring fields. This was seen as the real definition of democracy and, eventually,  justice. People kept doing what they had to do because there was still hope for a better America. The American dream was still possible. Today, we depend greatly on our governments more than ourselves. I just cannot see myself live in a world where all decisions are based on my instinct. This kind of world is really restricted and does not fully represent the population, especially when it comes to minorities.

Only a few Hollywood movies are so thematically rich and so historically resonant that they may be considered part of American literature. “The Searchers” is one of them. The Character played by John Wayne, Ethan, is in fact intimidating. He shows an unlimited obsessiveness and absolute hatred for the Comanches and all Native Americans. Also, one of his character`s most appealing strengths, his loneliness, sets him apart from most characters Wayne played in previous movies. Humans can only survive on their own to a certain extent, especially in the modern world. We have become very dependent on each other in different areas. I do not believe that this is a bad thing, because it forces us to make and to take decisions together and to leave a greater chance for most to participate. True democracy does create dependency. Diplomatic decisions can only fortify this theory.

This following scene is one of the most obvious proofs of the man’s personality. Ethan always loved taking everything on himself and trying to avoid his loved one to share the same horrific experience(s). He is similar to a father. He knows a certain duty in himself that cannot be denied; he is portrayed as a “real American” man who serves and asks nothing in exchange but freedom and justice. Ethan is a loyal citizen, everything a nation would want. Yet, Ethan is also be close-minded man who fears change and influence from other communities other than his own. Today, we have become closer to a mind set which accepts difference, but we are not quite there yet. My generation will have to fight for the chance to gain more knowledge concerning differences, and how to use it efficiently. Not all differences need to be accepted, yet, it is very useful to know that they exist.

When Ethan and his searchers find a Comanche buried under a rock, Ethan asks Martin Pawley to not look inside (to protect his soul against the cruelty) while he shoots out the dead man’s eyes all by himself. His face directly showed a mischievous smile, there was a certain kind of relief connected to this act. Revenge is within our nature, especially if we do not know the Lord. Governments believe in revenge, and use it quite often. Ethan knew that in order to restrict the ghost from entering the spirit lands and remain destined to “wander forever between the winds,” he had to destroy the eyes. No one in his posse understands the meaning of the gesture: He hates Comanches so much that he actually has bothered to learn their beliefs in order to violate them. I believe that one of the reasons the United States was not so successful in the invasion of Iraq is that they denied the cultural differences for too long.

Also, when he finally sees his “niece” after so many years, he realizes that she might never be one of theirs anymore; she`s became a Comanche. He soon understands that she would be better off dead than alive. That is the craziness of Ethan Edwards and the craziness of race hatred — murderous fixation and disgust are side by side with fascination and attraction. At the mental “hospital”, the message was understood when foreigners enter the land, they even take pride and honor with them. The white kidnapped women had nothing left but their physical body. They were all mentally disturbed. Ethan believes that this is what happens when Indians, or any other foreigners,  take over places with its people in. Nothing is more important than one’s own blood, until that blood is not recognizable anymore. This is what happened to all these white people whom were abandoned in the hands of the enemy (-ies). Well, I don’t agree with this statement because I believe that difference enrich a nation in a more positive than negative way when it is moderated.

Ethan Edwards seemed to be in love with his brother’s wife, Martha. There was something special about her waiting for him. This leads to a possible conclusion: that Debbie, who is a mere eight years old when the film begins, may be Ethan’s daughter. In one exchange with Ethan, Martin says he has to keep looking for Debbie because she is family. Irritated, Ethan says Debbie is not Martin’s kin. Ethan left at the dawn of the Civil War, eight years before, and his obsessive quest to find Debbie and his refusal to let her live as an Indian, along with the medal he gifted to her, might imply more than revenge and his desire to save a niece. This is a little disturbing. I do not believe that Ethan would have fought less if Debbie was not his daughter. The same theory can be applied to a nation. I believe that immigrants can love a country as much as the native people, simply because this place has become their safe, new home. Also, on love can weaken a man, no matter where he is from and what his destination is.

The ideal male must have the brainpower and background knowledge to solve any problem that presents itself. His intelligence largely consists of street smarts rather than formal education; book learning is seen as a handicap in that it is removed from experience, which I totally disagree with. In the Western environment, this means that he has the fastest horse, fine armaments, and all the equipment necessary to make his life a success, according to his own standards. Rather than being white-skinned, the ideal male must be a member of the mainstream culture, capable of being a part of the establishment while at the same time rejecting the role. Minority males in most films and novels are a part of the mainstream of the subculture in which they reside and ordinarily are accepted by the dominant culture. In addition, the ideal man loses his status when he commits to a relationship. The married man is domesticated; he is not a Western hero.