Saturday, July 23, 2011
The Philosophy of "3:10 to Yuma" (Warning: Spoilers!)
One of my favorite Westerns, as well as one of my favorite movies in general, is 3:10 to Yuma, i.e., the remake with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe (the original was made in 1957 which itself was adapted from a short story of the same name). It's a rather straightforward moral tale in which Dan Evans ( Bale), a one-legged Civil War veteran turned rancher agrees to help escort the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to the town of Contention in order to put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison all while trying to stay one step ahead of Wade's trailing gang. Along the way the group encounters many obstacles including their prisoner Ben Wade killing off some of their members but in the end Wade actually turns face and helps Evans put himself on the train as well as killing off his own gang after Charlie Prince (played brilliantly by Ben Foster) guns down Evans.
And any time that I hear that one of my friends hasn't seen the movie I'll promptly, unilaterally, clear their schedule so that the situation can be remedied as quickly as possible. I recently had to do this with a fellow co-worker. In fact, I've done this so many times now that it has effectively become an informal social experiment. The result? Well, it's strikingly right down the middle: half really like it, half really don't. For those who don't like the movie it comes down to one thing: Ben Wade's turn from the dark side; "Why would he do that; he's the villain, it doesn't make any sense for him to help Dan, kill his entire gang, and willingly get on the train!" are their typically exasperated replies. Furthermore, this revolt is usually ironclad for when I try to point out that Wade's volte face is actually consistent with the rest of the story (throughout the movie hints are dropped that Ben Wade isn't all bad even at one point having Dan's son, William, explicity suggest such) they refuse to budge from their entrenched position of incredulity at the film's turn of events.
But what is more fascinating to me is what most tend to say next, namely, that in "real life" Ben Wade would not have acted in such a righteous fashion, never mind the fact that most film is inherently otherworldly and so not intended as an authentic representation of reality. This is intriguing to me because of what these remonstrations and outcries suggest about the philosophical worldview of these viewers, namely, that they believe our natures are immutably fixed, that people don't really have the capacity to change. This is of course a strongly fatalistic notion and if you were to mention this to these viewers they might argue otherwise, maybe even vehemently so. I'm just surprised at the number of people predisposed towards a predestinarian/fatalistic view of reality who are not aware of such.
Because I've become progressively more cynical over the years I would have thought that by now I would have found such a strict fatalistic worldview appealing. And I suppose I do to some degree but the truth is, whether due to an atavistic trait leftover from my former pious Christian days or some other intangible reason, I still cling to the hope that people do have the ability to change their natures, though extremely difficult it may be. Moreover, I've always been fond of the redemption motif in film and literature which is essentially what changing from "bad" to "good" is all about. Indeed, most of my favorite movies contain a redemption theme to one degree or another, especially probably my all time favorite movie, Star Wars, which isn't really about Luke Skywalker as some mistakenly think but is rather about the ultimate redemption of his father, Anakin Skywalker.
I guess the bottom line is that no matter how cynical I become I'll probably never give up on the, perhaps futile, hope that people can change, that they can be redeemed. And for this reason I am moved every time by Ben Wade's actions at the end of the film. Thus, I'm happy to continue to claim 3:10 to Yuma as one of my all time favorite movies.