Term Paper: Searchers John Ford

Pages: 7 (2449 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Psychology  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] When the group first encounters the Comanches and succeeds in getting the better of them in a gun-fighting skirmish, Ethan mindlessly persists in firing at the retreating Indians, virtually savage in his thirst for revenge. Clayton tries to drive sense and restraint into Ethan by telling him to "leave them carry off their hurt and dead," only to have a crazed Ethan snarl back at him: "From now on, you stay out of this. All of ya. I don't want you with me. I don't need you for what I gotta do."

The setting up of this particular scene reveals more than just the fact that Ethan too can succumb to the weakness dictated by unreasoning emotional impulse. It also shows him to possess a great deal of sheer hubris in his assertion that he can succeed in his quest without any help, tempered only by the fact that ultimately he does allow Brad and Marty to continue on with him.

Ethan's quest to avenge the murder of his family seems to dominate over his desire to find his nieces, casting serious doubt over the moral make-up of his character, till the scene where he is shown discovering Lucy's raped and mutilated body. Here, the many conflicting emotions about his nieces and his moral dilemma about the steps that needed to be taken, should he find them alive, are brought to the fore. This is the point in the film's narrative where the searchers find that the Comanches have broken their trail with four horses diverting off. Ethan follows the branched off trail, leaving Brad and Marty behind, and in a filmed scene that shows the passage of time through a transition from day-to-night, returns sans his 'Johnny Reb' coat. He dismounts in an agitated and disturbed manner, digging the earth with his knife. His agitation is palpable enough to prompt Marty into asking, "You all right, Ethan?" After a long interval, this scene once again shows the softer, caring side to Ethan. Not only is he upset over the rape and savaging of Lucy's body, he is clearly mindful of protecting the younger Brad and Marty from the gruesome fact. This is evident by the fact that he keeps the discovery to himself till he is forced to tell Brad that Lucy is dead when he insists that he had spotted her at a Indian campsite. On hearing the news, Brad rides off, crazed with grief, into the Indian campsite and is killed off screen.

Ethan is now even more determined to accomplish his mission to seek revenge and find Debbie. Though logically, one might surmise that Ethan's grief over Lucy would renew his hope and determination to rescue Debbie, on the contrary, Ethan's racist attitude and sexism lead him to resolve to kill his niece if he finds her alive. In fact, he almost succeeds in doing so when he finally succeeds in discovering and entering Scar's camp to find a Debbie who has grown into a teenager. Ethan's first attempt is, however, thwarted by an alert Marty who shields Debbie and by the fortuitous intervention of a Comanche arrow striking Ethan. Despite this defeat and Debbie's urging Marty to leave her with the Comanches who were now 'her people,' Ethan's determination to accomplish his mission does not waiver. The deciding point finally arrives with the news that Scar was camped at the Seven Fingers of Brazos in Texas. An ambush is planned by Captain Clayton's Texas Rangers and the Cavalry troops who permit Marty to try and get Debbie out before they attack. Ironically, it is Marty who ends up rescuing Debbie and killing Scar, leaving Ethan with only the satisfaction of scalping him. In the scene that follows, Ethan rides out looking for Debbie, who aware of his hatred and plans to kill her, tries to run and hide on spotting him. Ethan chases her down to a cave entrance and the scene culminates in a dramatic shot of Ethan standing over a fallen Debbie, framed by the mouth of a cave entrance with sand swirling over them. Ethan lifts a terrified Debbie up into the air and then sweeps her into his embrace with the words, "Let's go home, Debbie." Once again, we see the visual metaphor of a doorway, this time perhaps implying that both Ethan and Debbie could enter another alternative to life together. This scene, above all, demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses that co-exist in Ethan. He is ultimately defeated in his quest but gains victory over his own moral struggle to conquer his racist hatred that conflicts with his love for his niece: "...in tragedy his goodness is intermingled with the power and the inclination to do evil...tempered in the suffering that...brings about new knowledge." (Heilman, 90)

There is no neatly tied-up resolution to Ethan being able to transform his personality in The Searchers. The film is far too realistic for that and if anything, closes with a shot of Ethan's silhouette, framed in the open doorway of the Jorgenson homestead, walking away into the wilderness. The door swings shut on him, turning the screen into black. Ethan, then, stays in the viewer's mind as a tragic loner whose is perhaps condemned to being an outsider by the conflicting good and the evil within himself: the family person vs. The wanderer; the controlled, rational man vs. The emotionally crazed, obsessive psychotic; and the gentle, caring human being vs. The prejudice driven bigot.

Works Cited

Heilman, R. "Tragedy and Melodrama." 1968. [END OF PREVIEW]

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