Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jeremiah Johnson- movie review

In this classic movie, Robert Redford plays an ex-soldier turned mountain man. He gets stuck with a boy whose family has been killed by Indians and receives an Indian wife as a gift. It takes him awhile, but he becomes connected to this conglomeration of a family, and when they are killed in an Indian attack he takes vengeance on the party that did it. As a result, the Indians keep sending assassins after him, all of whom he manages to kill. In the end, the narrator leaves us with an image of mountain man Johnson, wondering if he's still roaming the mountains somewhere.

First of all, who doesn't want to watch Robert Redford in the prime of youth? Add to that the sweeping panoramas of the Wasatach Mountains in Utah and the beautiful red rock canyons and you have a feast for the eyes, with or without a story.

Which raises the question, is there a story? We watch J.J. go from basically greenhorn, nearly starving in the beginning, to seasoned mountain man, able to meet whatever comes along head on. We never get too much of an inside track on how he or anyone else really feels about anything. Is that the intention? Are we to believe that the mountain man is a recluse who doesn't really care much for people and can take them (in small doses) or do without companionship entirely?

J.J. gets a rifle that he wanted off the dead body of an old mountain man who got his legs broken by a bear and froze to death after shooting the bear. In the note that the old guy writes, he expresses no regret at his death; his biggest concern seems to be that a white man and not an Indian gets his rifle. That sounds like detachment to me.

Another mountain man that J.J. meets, a grizzly hunter who has run out of grizzlies, doesn't even want to bother with a "night woman", he basically shies away from people altogether.

So is the message of the movie that mountain men were the social misfits of the time?

Or is it a roundabout way of telling us how beautiful the wilderness is and how the native inhabitants, human and animal were killed off and opressed by encroaching civilization?

It could be interpreted as a noble savage story, with J.J. making a journey from civilized soldier to savage.

Or, since it is supposed to be based on the life of a real man, it could be just telling a story.


1 comment:

Mike said...

After watching reruns of this movie for about the 20th time, and being 50 now, it finally hit me the theme of this movie might be about. Irony.

Jeremiah Johnson tried to leave civilization by heading for the hills. But wherever he turned, civilization found him. He still experienced life with mankind. If he was trying to flee evil, he found it in spades. Not only in other men, but in himself.

He got a rude awaking finding a dead man killed by the elements. Then he made a friend (father figure) who taught him the ways of the wild; they were robbed (extorted) by the Indians; he was a Good Samaritan (helping the crazy woman bury her dead and repair the house); out in the middle of nowhere, he is singing a classic church hymn! He mets a con man. He ends up with a family of sorts – the last thing he ever expected as a hermit mountain man. He was conscripted into the Army – another last thing he ever expected up there, and may have been fleeing in the first place. His family was murdered. And the rest of his life was a struggle, the evil of man against man.

So the man who fled to the mountains to escape man found man in spades. He lived a fuller, albeit, sadder life up there than most of us do down here. But he could not escape the evils of this world, which is presumably what he was trying to do.