The trailer for the film “Those Who Wish Me Dead” depicts Angelina Jolie, a former wild-fire relief operator who tragically miscalculates a fire resulting in the loss of lives. Stationed at a fire watchtower, she encounters a boy who is being hunted by mercenaries. Pitched as an action film, with shady pasts and an abstract sense of violence, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is an example of a Neo Western.
Westerns have been a part of Cinema from the earliest films. Such as “Ned Kelly” and the “Great Train Robbery.” Characterized by white outlaws and gunmen, Cowboy films have a staple of Cinema buffs’ watch-lists. This is in large part to the director John Ford, who made several westerns that defined the genre, such as “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.”
“The Searchers” follows John Wayne, a former soldier of the American Civil war who comes home. John Wayne’s Ethan is an outlaw, on the run from the law and in search of his abducted niece. Following Ethan across deserts and snowy mountains, he attempts to find his missing family in the lawless frontier.
The Western film is characterized by the dichotomy between the law and lawless, civilized society and the frontier. This is seen in the film “Once Upon a time in the West” with the introduction of the train changing a small town. This is similar to what is seen in the main narrative of video game “Red Dead Redemption II”: a gang of outlaws on the run from an ever-civilizing world.
While Clint Eastwood's “Unforgiven” subverts the initial Ford concept by having the Lawless frontier being absorbed into Civilization. Violence continues beyond the settlement of the frontier. Reflecting a commentary on the inner self being the source of the outward lawless nature.
A further subversion of the form is Jim Jarmusch’s film “Dead Man.” William Blake (Johnny Depp) is an accountant who travels west for work, where he is shot and chased into the frontier by a gunslinger in Black. Accompanied by Nobody, William Blake is taken on an emotional and psychological journey into the apocalyptic frontier of America. Scored by Neil Young, the soundtrack echoes a certain modern lens on a classic western.
Westerns are often about the “first men,” the people who tame the frontier and are rejected by civilization. This can be found throughout. Western Films, as heroes' triumph and become ostracized again by civilization. However, the constant challenging and changing of Western genre gave way to the post-modern Neo Western.
Cormac McCarthy’s novel “No Country for Old Men” is the perfect Neo Western. Set in the twilight years after Vietnam, Llewellyn Moss finds case money. From here he is chased across Texas and Mexico by the man in black, Anton Chigurh. Characteristically bleak, violent and Texan, the novel defines tropes of popular westerns then subverts them.
Neo Westerns are characterized by classic western tropes, set in a modern or urban setting. From “No Country for Old Men” we have films co-created by Taylor Sheridan like “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River.” While “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood,” “Logan” and the comic “Pulp” are ruminations on the tropes of westerns.
In the Neo Western, crime and thriller blend with the west. The west becomes a concept of human violence. An untamed and uncontrollable aspect to reinforce and perpetuate law through physical actions. Westerns become an arena to challenge injustice with bloody revenge. Through, abstraction of violence and strong characters, Neo Westerns challenge classic westerns like “The Searchers,” through a postmodern lens.
Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him firstname.lastname@example.org.