Renee Silvus

The Trouble with Justice, an Exploration of the Western Film

The tradition of the Western in literature and film continues to fascinate~ consider the excellence of recent television shows and films.

In the early days, the role of the hero is clear.  Right is John Wayne looking competent in a saddle. Wrong is the dark, sullen guy who isn’t nice to anyone, especially women.

The Western becomes humorous and a little stale in the latter part of the 20th century, until 1992’s Unforgiven.  What shift in culture or consciousness created this film and prompted the renewal of a genre?  Consider the shifting in morality and likeability in the versions of 3:10 to Yuma from 1957 to 2007, which has a radically different ending.  Consider how the sheriff in No Country for Old Men relinquishes his role as the hero, also 2007.

The Western mirrors our ideas about justice, the hero, villains, and the function of authority.  Who decides what is just and by what criteria?  Who gets to dispense it in the absence of authority?  What if the authority or hero figure is morally compromised?

Using film clips and discussion, this presentation traces the evolution of the Western through a cultural and ethical lens, perhaps revealing a little more about what we value.