I’ve said before on this blog that I like Westerns. I mostly like Spaghetti Westerns, but the occasional American Western will do.
This film presented an interesting concept: outlaws mixing with regular guys mixing with railroad and law men. Ultimately, what stands out for me are the interactions between Wade (Crowe) and Evans (Bale). What was striking in this film was the depiction of Wade as the ultimate outlaw “boss” with a string of devoted henchmen who go to great lengths to protect him. What develops throughout the course of the movie is a similar type of respect developing between Wade and Evans. And the ending of the film tells the viewer that respect goes a long way with these men-of-the-West. The lengths to which Wade goes in order to maintain Evans’ honor is equal to the lengths to which Wade’s own men go in order to rescue him from the train to Yuma prison.
Something else that struck me throughout this film was how often people were told not to talk to Wade while they were all sitting around with each other, on the perilous journey to the train. “Don’t talk to him.” This draws attention to the fact that Wade was well known for his sly tongue, much like that cunning cat Odysseus who could talk his way out of anything. Wade is equally dangerous because behind his quick wit are a quick draw and a posse of outlaws (hey, that rhymes). But over and over again, despite being thrust into the middle of a family dinner table, or a campfire, people were consistently being encouraged to not talk to Wade.
What is it about insisting upon not talking to the enemy-in-your-midst? What I figured out by watching the rest of the film was that when “reasonable” people talk to Wade, it becomes obvious that he’s actually almost like a regular guy, with a twist of course. He’s a cold-blooded killer with a deep-seated pathology (which the viewer and a few of the characters find out is ultimately a result of being abandoned by his mother when he was a very young boy). He learned to separate survival from emotions–reasonably expected under the given circumstances.
Young William Evans (the oldest son of Bale’s character) is the character who points out, towards the end of the film when they’re all holed up in the hotel, that Wade seems like a nice guy. After all, he helped them (his captors) escape from the Native Americans who had attacked them, and he didn’t try to escape when they were all fleeing the railroad thugs. Wade’s response was that if he had a gun, he would have shot them and escaped.
The viewer may have doubts about this–whether Wade would have done that–especially once the final scene has brought things to a close. Wade’s absolute adherence to his unspoken “word” to Evans–who in an earlier scene had looked Wade in the eyes and said that no one ever thought of him as a hero–proved itself to be a stronger bond than he had with his own henchmen. In fact, it was his 2nd in command who ended up shooting Evans in the back, not knowing he and Wade had a “deal” to get Wade onto the prisoner’s car.
But Wade kept his word–he got on the train, and Evans goes down in this film’s diegetic history as the hero who did what no others could do.
But it’s not so much the bond-of-honor that strikes me as profound as much as the allegory I see throughout with Wade–the one no one’s supposed to speak to, who is so abominable and atrocious that merely talking to him will cause your demise, and yet he is the MOST noble, and most honorable of them all (aside from Evans, perhaps, though Evans sought something resembling “glory” where Wade merely followed his code til the end, no “glory” as a goal, just holding tight to one’s word).
Could it be that Wade represents the ultimate “other” whom we fear for his seeming a-moral otherness? Where the misconception about “morality” or codes of conduct is at the very heart of the problem?. Can the problem be in our definition of morality and in our assumption that what appears to be a-moral very well might be the exhibition of the highly moral? In fact, Wade, despite his outlaw ways, was the individual who exhibited the most “character” and the most venerable qualities based on an inherent system of conduct. Granted, one can’t brush aside all the murders he was responsible for. But, can we attempt to respect Wade’s Honor Code for what it is: his own morality?
This, to me, is also a central concept in No Country for Old Men. Despite my feelings about the overall quality of the film, as I’ve said in an earlier blog post, Chigurh has a particular Code (or set of morals) that he sticks to: agree with his code or not, he follows it to a “T.”
This idea about morals or codes of conduct appears to be a central theme to quite a few films lately. Even the Joker in The Dark Knight follows his own prescribed set of rules, which I talk a little about on this blog.
Are we moving toward trying to better understand others’ morals and behaviors in an attempt to de-otherize, and put into perspective our different definitions of morality? It makes me wonder what the ‘absent cause’ is here? An interesting thought to ponder at least.
All of this talk of morality and codes of conduct reminds me of the TV series, Dexter. While I haven’t written about it on this blog, I do watch the show. And Dexter’s set of morals, while perverse on “normal” standards, is still a highly “honorable” set of rules.