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.


  1. i agreed with you bro :) love this movie , got a good morale in this movie.
    its just like ben wade said in some part of the movie " even the baddest criminal wont like it if his mom insulted" which mean even criminal still have some heart

    and for me in this movie 'even the baddest criminal still have some dignity, pride, and respect for a good people like dan

  2. I disagree. What happened in the end would be the last thing that would ever happen. Ben would have died before getting on that train and he would have killed Dan when he had the chance. Getting on that train meant the end for Ben. Nobody in their right mind would have gotten on that train.

    1. Not true. Didn't you pick up on him saying he'd been in Yuma Prison twice before and escaped both times. At at the end, he whistles to his horse who dutifully follows the train. Obviously, he mrerly plans to escape again. What confused me was why the author would have him kill off his gang, and then board the train. I'm guessing it was the only way he'd get back on the train, and thereby demonstrate to Dan's son that Dan really was the only one who could have accomplished that. As for those who say the ending was just too incredulous, did you miss the rest of the movie? It was all incredulous! Just lighten up and enjoy it for what it was meant to be. A feel-good ending to a fantasy dreamed up by someone with a lot of time on their hands.

  3. My problem with the movie isn't that Ben does what he does at the end, I actually quite enjoy that part, but how he turns "good guy" in an instant from trying to kill Dan. If the change was more gradual throughout the movie it would have made a much better watching experience for me.

  4. Dear Unknown (from April 7th) Actually, getting on the train was not the end for Ben. At one point a little earlier in the movie, Ben Wade tells Dan that he had already been incarcerated at Yuma Prison...twice and that he'd escaped both times. Does that sound like a man who's worried? Further, the fact that he whistled for his horse as the train pulled out of the station is an indication that another escape plan was impending.

  5. Ben Wade IS bad news. He is also William's biological father. There could only have been 2 reasons why Alice looked back at Wade from the dinner table. Did you consider that they knew each other before Dan married her? With this in mind please rewatch :)

    Completely agree with the latest comment, all bets are off once Wade is on that train. Ben made good on Dan's promise to get Wade on the 3:10. Wade saves the boy and gets on the train to make good on Dan's promise to his son. Since William never knew his real father it makes perfect sense. Wade's whistle to the horse lets us know he will escape again, which is why he never hesitates to get on the 3:10.

    For any doubts on this theory there is confirmation yet again during a private convo between Wade and Dan in Apache territory. Dan cuts Wade short as soon as he mentions that William reminds him of himself at a younger age.

  6. Also, note that Ben took Charlie Prince's Schofield pistol and shot him in the heart with it. It was in his hand when Charlie fell and William pointed the gun at him before going back to try to help his father. Ben then gives his belt, holster and "the Hand of God" to the jailer on the train (who pretty much let Ben and Evans do what they wanted because he was in awe of them earlier). He still has Charlie Prince's gun (probably tucked into his belt at the small of his back) and will likely pull it when the horse catches up to the train.

  7. Since you think Ben changed, you probably won't like my take on the ending, even though I loved the movie. I don't think Ben has changed. Ben is bad, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of liking and respecting another person. What happened at the end is that he had grown to respect Dan. And because of that respect, and because he could help Dan WITHOUT IT COSTING HIM ANYTHING, he decided to help him complete his mission. The reason he turned on his gang is that they, who he did not respect, killed someone he respected. But he hasn't changed, and it's obvious he will escape on his horse soon after the film ends, and he will go back to his evil ways with a new gang.

    P.S. The theory that Ben is Will's father is ludicrous. When Dan cuts off Ben when Ben says that Will reminds him of himself, it's simply because he's unwilling to listen to this vile person suggest that his son is the least bit similar. Just because an idea tickles your fancy doesn't mean that it's true. There needs to be support for it, and there is no support for that theory in this movie.

  8. My immediate reaction was why would Ben do that? So I googled it and ended up here and as reading I agree that Ben obviously respects Dan but I couldn't understand why he killed his own men, especially after Charlie's earlier comment "You forget what he's done for us." in reference of Ben Wade to a fellow gang member. So that got me thinking perhaps also, out of Ben Wade's respect for Dan, he knew his gang would go back and kill Dan's family since Charlie had seen where the changeover in the carriage had taken place and he didn't want that to happen and the only way to ensure that was to make sure his gang was dead. Also If you believe the 'ludicrous' theory above (which i could see as plausible) this could be because Ben doesn't want his biological Son to be killed. But also just out of respect to Dan...

    Also I believe men of Bens' nature act first and think of consequences later, Charlie annoyed Ben by killing Dan a man he respected so Ben out of anger killed Charlie, and as he had no real reason to do so (not like the first incident early on in the film where the young new gang member had risked all of their lives) in the eyes of his other men he had to kill them to or maybe he would be killed by them.

    Another interesting thing I'm not sure how to interpret is Charlies' infatuation for Ben, It's very intense and almost brotherly but obviously not a reciprocal.

    Perhaps Ben wanted to get caught all along, thats why he stayed in Brimsby long enough to get caught once the marshals had returned after saying to his gang more or less it was every man for himself and it was Charlie out of this assumed bond with Ben that rounded up the gang to free him.

    Just some random thoughts rolling through my mind after freshly departing the train in Yuma...

  9. There seems to be a strange dynamic between Wade and Dan. Dan is not stupid. He knew he was no match for Ben, and if he needed proof, he was easily overpowered by Ben in one of the last action sequences, with Ben still handcuffed. And furthermore, he knew he was alone after he sent away his son and Butterfield, and Wade's gang was still there. He knew the whole thing was just a charade, and he needed Ben to play his part in it. So, he extracts the promise from Butterfield for the ranch, water, debt forgiveness and a thousand dollars to get Wade on the train, and asks Wade "you heard him?" to which Wade says "I heard him". So, there is this strange dance between these two characters, and both know Wade could escape in a moment.

    How does Dan know Wade is with his charade? We don't know for sure, but perhaps he read the body language. He keeps telling one sob story after another, until the last scene where he tells him about his son's TB and Wade asks "why are you telling me this"?

    More intriguing is why Wade goes along with this. The notion that he became good is foolish. In any case, from the beginning Wade is presented as a complex character, and not as evil as Charlie Prince (to me, he was the best actor in the movie).

  10. Continued.

    For example, Wade talks about how one of his captors mowed down Women and children and Apache. He quotes bible. He is courteous and flirtatious with Alice. He is presented as neither purely evil nor good, and his character is complex but there is no change. It stays largely consistent.

    However, he seems to have sympathy for Dan's situation and intent, but is not completely prepared to sacrifice himself. After Butterfield and William leave, he tells Dan in an exasperated fashion "I ain't doing this anymore". Till the end, he tries to entice Dan to let him go. However, his attempts to tempt Dan seem more of a game to him, to test Dan's character, and not necessarily to buy his own freedom. He seems like a man supremely at ease and fully confident that he can escape any time he wants. And he does inform Dan that he already escaped twice from Yuma. So, the train is not the en of his life.

    Why he shoots his entire gang is a mystery. He likes Dan for sure, but he seems like a loyal man and why would he shoot down all of them, especially Charlie who puts his own life on line to save his boss? He has seen Charlie kill even more innocent people before, but that did not bother him. And he doesn't seem to be man who does stupid things in haste. If he is so full of rage at the killing of Dan, his face doesn't show it.

    My guess is, he intends to escape (his horse is following the train) and he will rob the stake of his gang members (the money is still

  11. On them) and he intends to further rob Butterfield (he has ten grand on him) and retire to San Fran or some other place. I would not be surprised if he picks up Alice on the way. There does seem to be some amount of attraction between them anyway.

  12. Okay, I saw the end of the movie last night on AMC, and have seen most all parts of it at one time or another. I haven't made the extensive conclusions that you guys seems to have reached. I do agree that Ben's character had shown stealthy signs of goodness throughout the movie. However, I think there was something said in the dialogue ( which I think I cannot pinpoint) somewhere between the scene upstairs in the hotel room to the point where they are on the run that strikes a nerve in Ben and makes him fully respect Dan. Maybe the part where he says he wasn't a hero and Ben releases his grip on him when he could have easily killed him? I don't know. The affection in which he tells Dan that he did it, only to see him gunned down, turns to a rage (and repentance) from which there is no turning back. Even Prince recognizes it, in my opinion, because it looked like he drew (by a split second) first on Dan.

  13. I think Ben saw Charlie as just another weapon in his arsenal. Charlie worshipped Ben, but the feeling was not mutual...there was no bond there. That was made clear by the way Ben looked Charlie in the eye as he held him close and shot him, then dropped him in the dirt like so much dirty laundry. I feel Ben had to take out his gang after his first shot into Charlie, as he figured they would not stand for him killing Charlie. In their eyes, Charlie had done nothing wrong, nothing to warrant being gunned down by Wade. So Wade had to take them out...and maybe he was tired of it all. I don't think he expected to like Dan, but he kept testing Dan, and Dan never came up short. Even at their first meeting, it seemed Ben had a friendly attitude towards Dan, as Dan showed no fear. I think he grew to respect a man, and as a father. Ben wanted Dan to be able to return to his family...If Dan had lived...if Ben had been able to call Charlie off at the last minute....I could see Ben escaping, getting on his horse, maybe sending his gang back to Mexico, and Ben stopping by to check on the Evans ranch...maybe even leaving them some money. Making sure Hollander was doing right...I think Evans brought out a protective side in could see Ben dragging Dan into the station after Dan had been shot in the leg by Charlie. He saw Dan as an equal by then....he never did see Charlie or any of his gang that way. Since Dan died, I can also see Ben escaping and going to the Evans ranch...would have made a good sequel. But without Charlie Prince...maybe not. Charlie stole the show, and Ben Foster should have received awards for that performance.

  14. I don’t want to try and spoil it or take away from the story but I feel like at the very end Ben Wade called his to so he would have a get away from when he breaks free from prison or the train lol

  15. I think ben shot charlie, because he told him no and not only did,charlie disobey him, he kept firing on dan. Thus he died for notnrespecting bens wishes.

  16. There are no good or bad people, only good or bad actions. And those ‘good or bad’ actions are only relative to you. Stop trying to label people as such.

    I enjoyed the comments and wanted elaborate. Ben is a very complex character a psychopath for sure. Chances are you’ve met a psychopath before and had no clue. They’re not serial killers however could easily kill without the remorse felt by most human beings. They do feel emotions, just not the same everyone else.

    Ben is right where he wants to be the whole time, always in control of his environment . The only times he was not in control, people died shortly thereafter. With exception of when Ben was first intrigued by Dan when he distracted him when he was arrested. People serve as entertainment to him, even Dan with his idea of temporary redemption. He was bored and just annoyed after being shot. The hero comment was him playing a part the same way he had the whole time. Even this wasn’t selfless as he enjoyed it. He wasn’t in control when Charlie killed him and then people died. Dan could have died a couple of weeks after from the first gunshot wound and wouldn’t have bothered Ben, but he was emotionally invested in his project. Watch the end scene closely, it wasn’t until Charlie saw Ben staring at dying Dan that he commented ‘that one-legged rancher was one tough son of a bitch”, and then realized walking away something was wrong. 10 minutes earlier Ben says to William ‘Kid, I wouldn’t last 5 minutes leading an outfit like that if I wasn’t as rotten as hell.” Either way they would have saw him getting soft and both Ben and Charlie know someone is going to die.

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  18. Also I don’t believe Ben Wade was Williams father. I thought about and rewatched the scene when he flirts with Alice. When he picks up the salt shaker and sees the bottom I’m hypothcizing it reads “Made in San Francisco”. He shortly thereafter pauses and smirks and I believe uses that information to share a commonality with Alice. Hoping she was in San Francisco when she purchased it.
    I can think of no other reason for his reaction.

  19. 3:10 to yuma is one of my favorite modern westerns. I love the complexity in Ben Wades character, and the relationship he forms with Dan. As far as the reason for Ben helping Dan at the end, I agree with many of the reasons mentioned above but also noticed something not mentioned. I think Ben sees hiself in young william. Dan sees this too and even tells Ben the he will never be like you. I think Ben knows the reason he went the wrong way in life is because his parents abandoned him. He respects Dan for fighting for his family and knows deep inside that if he would have had a father like Dan then his life may have been different. I think he sees Dans family and williams future as a type of redemption for him. He knows and even says that william admires him but ultimately sees Dan's goodness and love for his family and wants william to admire his father Dan. When Dan tells ben about him not being a hero and the story behind his leg he adds try telling your boy that. Ben understands that William needs to admire his father if he is going to be a good man himself

  20. Continued.

    This is confirmed in the end when William points a Gun at Ben. This is Williams crossroad in the movie, murder Ben out of rage or let him walk as his father would have wanted. He chose to follow in the footseps of his father who he also came to admire, therefore completing Ben's redemption arc!

  21. It's simple, Ben finally met a man's man. A real man that would die to save his honor most of all and his family and Ben wade respected that and decided to support him. Him killing his gang was simply after witnessing his little bitch Charly prince gun down a real man's man wich is hard to find he took revenge for Dan,one and probably wanted to rid the world of his honorless bitch ass gang. Bad or not you know a good honorable man when you see one.