Research Paper: American Cultural Values in Western Films

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¶ … Western films provide information that would make most people nostalgic concerning the idea of the old U.S. And the values it promoted. Even with the fact that most people today did not have the chance to see the old West; it is nonetheless intriguing to observe how many motion pictures provide scenes that emphasize typical American values. James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven both go at discussing ideas characteristic to the old West, but, at the same time, attempt to focus on American values in general, taking into account that they follow the typical 'gun-slinger gone honest' story.

to Yuma "is, at its core, a story about what it means to be a man: about redemption, shared understanding, and the choice to act -- or not -- on the darkest urgings of one's soul" (Prasch 127). Both Russel Crowe and Christian Bale manage to do exemplary work in playing central characters. The film follows Bale being determined to do everything in his power with the purpose of providing for his family, practically coming to be a stereotypical American individual who goes through great lengths in order to achieve his goals (Karnik).

The idea of the typical Western is rarely encountered in the contemporary society, but Mangold managed to prove otherwise by directing 3:10 to Yuma. There is actually a strong connection between Unforgiven (a film that was previously believed to be the last good Western) and 3:10 to Yuma, as this is also a notable motion picture belonging to the Western genre (Yippie ki-yay! The western's not ridden off into the sunset yet).

Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma are both meant to discuss American values by relating to justice as being one of the most important concepts that people can possibly think of. Unforgiven, for example, "does not conclude with its hero riding off into the sunset" (Cornell). It appears that both films are meant to emphasize the fact that Western stereotypes are not necessary meant to depict accurate historic facts concerning American cultural values. Instead, Eastwood and Mangold focus on displaying more realistic accounts involving unfortunate incidents and heroes that are never going to receive appreciation for their works.

In order to be able to truly enjoy these films from a perspective involving American cultural values, viewers need to understand that they do not need to consider storylines characteristic to Westerns in the 1950s. These motion pictures are not meant to present emotional endings showing the lonely cowboy disappearing in the horizon consequent to having saved the day (Cornell). The Western is a dominant concept in American history and this makes it possible for some to understand why it is only natural to associate it with American values. "It appeals to the heart of American values, which in great part stem from the gritty lawlessness on which this country was settled" (3:10 to Yuma).

Westerns in recent years were, however, different from stereotypical Westerns and they involved either antiheroes or topics that are uncharacteristic to Westerns in the first part of the twentieth century. They contain more complex characters and are generally meant to provide viewers with stronger feelings. Viewers are no longer simply meant to appreciate a character's toughness, as they can currently appreciate its determination, its interest in ideas like honor, and its change of mind when presented with stressful situations.

Both Eastwood and Mangold focused on displaying their protagonists in an antiheroic light. In spite of their determination, Evans, the central character in 3:10 to Yuma and Munny, the protagonist in Unforgiven, possess little to no features characteristic to a hero, but they compensate through their strength of will (Campbell 78). It appears that they are American idealists -- people who know that their plans involve a lot of risk, but are fueled by a greater cause and focus on this respective cause in spite of the fact that they have limited chances to succeed. These characters are actually responsible for putting across feelings related to American values in general, as they practically relate to concepts like honesty and determination as being some of the most valuable that an individual can possibly think of.

To a certain degree, 3:10 to Yuma is also important from an American point-of-view because it introduces the idea of a western railroad. It puts across the concept of expansion and progress as being essential parts of the American culture. By looking at the 1957 version of the film, one is likely to observe how matters changed over the years and how American values have been preserved by some aspects of the motion picture. The American West was practically the body that experienced progress, both in 3:10 to Yuma and in Unforgiven (McMahon 90).

One of the most common ideas in American culture is the one involving honor. This is virtually an honor culture and its overall goal is to contain individuals that are particularly interested in the concept, regardless of the risks it involves. Both Evans and Munny want to emphasize their need for honor and go through great lengths with the purpose of feeling that they are actually principled individuals. This idea of honor "does not adhere to human dignity the way other modern societies (mostly Western European) do, preferring the rhetoric and logic of alternative, more traditionally American values, such as liberty and equality" (Kamir 2).

In addition to wanting to emphasize the antiheroic character of their protagonists, the two motion pictures are also meant to relate to matters involving sympathy for the criminal. By relating to the idea of providing an individual with the chance to redeem himself, the films apparently want to provide viewers with information regarding how anyone can put across hero-like acts as long as he or she comes across exceptional circumstances. The antagonist in 3:10 to Yuma, Wade, is a ruthless criminal, but is nonetheless unhesitant about supporting Evans when he becomes acquainted with the condition that the lawman is in. Similarly, Munny realizes that it is up to him to deliver justice and he turns from being a criminal to being a person who is only interested in punishing individuals responsible for having committed immoral acts (Men and masculinities. 1. A -- J 245).

Western is not necessarily the equivalent of American and it is important for viewers to acknowledge this in order for them to be able to understand what Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma are all about. The two motion pictures are meant to present viewers with the opportunity to get actively involved in studying characters and in trying to understand what they are all about. Russel Crowe's character, for example, is nothing like the typical Western gunslinger, as he is intelligent and capable to put across moral thinking when the situation arises. In contrast to typical Western antagonists this is an individual who holds great respect for his enemies and who is unhesitant about helping them when he realizes that they are in a critical condition (3:10 to Yuma).

Conclusion

One of the most impressive aspects of the protagonists in the two films relates to how they are extremely sincere. They are well-acquainted with their power and their limitations and they are hesitant about putting across dishonorable behavior in order to achieve their goals. It appears that the directors intended their characters to be loved by an American public instead of being loved by viewers who are solely interested in Western stereotypes. By displaying their characters as being capable to put across complex thinking and as being determined to help people in need when they are provided with the chance to do so, both Eastwood and Mangold probably wanted to prove that it was actually possible for a film from the Western genre to put across concepts that viewers would be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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