Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The western as allegory

The opportunity to sit down together with Elissa and watch a movie in the evening is an infrequent pleasure in chez Connor. So when we do get the chance we tend to watch a movie we've bought in advance for just just such a moment. Sometimes I will choose the movie and sometime Elissa will. It so happened that last nights viewing choice was selected by Elissa: Seraphim Falls.

Essentially it's a pursuit thriller with Liam Neeson's Carver pursuing Pierce Brosnan's Gideon across a breathtaking Oregon landscape which excellent cinematography really brings to life. Carver is accompanied by a posse of men intent on killing Gideon for a reason that is only revealed much later in the film. The dialog is sparse and the action frenetic as Gideon endures one close encounter after another as he attempts to outrun his hunters. This is Western on a grand scale but what makes this film especially compelling is its alternative context - this is Western as allegory.

It is a story of a descent into Hell. The pursuit is relentlessly downwards: from the high mountain fastnesses where it begins, it proceeds first to the plains, then the scrublands and then ultimately to the desert - to Hell. The further downwards Gideon runs, the baser the people he encounters: the people in the mountain cabin are essentially good; the railway engineers, the hypocritical mormons he meets on the plains are worse; the bandits he meets in the scrublands worse still. Ultimately in the desert, where the film has its conclusion, he encounters the Devil in the guise of Angelica Huston's snake oil salesperson. Unfortunately this is also the weakest part of the film. Huston's role clumsily and unnecessarily signposts the allegory and mars what is otherwise a very fine film. I am assured too that once she was able to look beyond Pierce's handsome countenance, Elissa also appreciated this Icon films production. I recommend it.

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