Mohicans, Movies, and Melancholy 

Last night I watched the Last of the Mohicans. Today I thought I would do something I haven’t done before so…let’s do a movie review and a societal opinion piece!

First, a synopsis: the 1992 film is based off of the 1826 novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper and takes place during the height of the French and Indian War. The movie specifically covers the days surrounding the historical massacre near Fort William Henry, where Huron troops fell upon the surrendered British troops killing and carrying away somewhere between 150 and 1500 effectively unarmed British soldiers and citizens alike (records vary as to the exact number).

Let’s talk about the obvious: yes, Mom, I know it’s rated ‘R,’ I won’t make excuses for myself, but I will point out that, made today, I doubt it would be. While having some blood, it has next to no gore (excepting 1 singular part involving a human heart which is implied to have been eaten,) it has no sex, though some passionate kissing. It has no vulgar language to speak of (quite a feat considering this is the same generation of film as ‘Goonies,’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping,’ which, dispute being family shows, are filled to the brim with vulgarity – seriously, I didn’t even notice it growing up). The reason for the rating is the realistic, though bloodless depiction of war – a siege, a massacre and a half dozen battles being integral to the film. Because of its rating, I won’t recommend that just anyone watch the film, but we’ll continue.

First the bad:

The film doesn’t spend enough time developing the characters. Consequently, despite being an overall tragedy, I didn’t become emotionally invested in the majority of the characters.

The film relies heavily on 1 or 2 camera shots (not exclusively, just reuses them) Since we’re 3 decades out, I won’t feel bad about spoilers here: much of the film happens on cliff sides, and the under-camera-angle-as-someone-falls/jumps/is pushed-off-the-cliff-and-flies-through-the-air is used almost to the extent of being comedic.

The Mohican tribe was neither extinct by the end of the 7 year war, nor are they extinct today. The tribal spokesmen have said of the book, it’s subsequent films, shows, radio dramas, graphic novels, and graphic novellas that the implication of extinction of the tribe has been harmful.

The main character once reloads his flintlock rifle while running up a steep hill (plausible) and completes said reload in a matter of less than 20 seconds (difficult at best while standing, nearly impossible while moving).

Now the controversial:

The theme music is amazing. No, seriously, just absolutely stunning. As in, the theme of the music plays through all of the title’s score, being simultaneously varied enough to bear frequent repetition and powerful enough to hold its own.

The controversy? In my never-so-humble opinion, the theme music is the best epic film score of the generation, beating out anything ever written by the masterful John Williams. Let the hate mail commence.

Finally the good:

This story is stellar. Despite the lack of character development, which isn’t really fair, as the characters do develop, but it’s a lack of character buy in, the story is compelling and powerful.

The historicity of the film is powerful and well balanced with the fictional main characters.

The filmography is stunning: it beautifully depicts New York State before the Revolution (in truth, it was largely shot in the Carolinas, as New York is no longer luscious and green so much as gray and concrete).

I’ve already talked about he music, but it is so good, its merits bear repeating.

The costuming and weaponry are both historically accurate: a big deal when we consider Roman soldiers at Troy… Not that any film has ever stupidly done something like that!

The main character’s flintlock rifle is sexy. I may write more about the weapons of American Liberty later…because that topic interests me.

The fight scenes don’t look fake, nor do they look overly choreographed; one of the major faults of most historical fiction films is over or under choreographing the fights.

I’m so intrigued by the story, that I’ve downloaded the book, and began reading it last night. It’s that good.

In Summary:

The story is sad, as is implied by the title. It is powerfully acted. I caught very little campiness, which is saying a lot. The romance is condensed but not forced.

But today I feel a bit melancholy. In reality, I was right after the movie, but I want to attempt to express why:

The late 80’s and early 90’s had a bunch of great films depicting the colonizing of the West; the fight for freedom; and the founding of our Nation. I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen many films in the last couple decades doing the same. It’s not like we’ve exhausted the repertoire of good period stories, and even if we had, don’t some of them certainly bear retelling?

The sadness enters here: that the market has not demanded stories of American exceptionalism. As a society, we’ve bought, lock-stock-and-barrel (a term from the days of the flint lock rifle, incidentally), the lie that America is no better, and likely worse, than any other nation before. We’ve bought into the re-written history that the pilgrims were genocidal maniacs. I’m sad that we have sat back and watched… No… Paid for… The complete re-writing of our history, our culture, and our very way of life. We’ve written out God. We’ve written out personal accountability and common sense. We’ve condemned rugged individualism. We sold out our pilgrim, pioneer, and explorer history. Like some of our fore-bearers, we’ve looked upon the decadence, laziness, and communal living of European aristocracy and lusted for it.

When I was a boy, some of my favorite stories included My Side of the Mountain and Robinson Crusoe, both adventure stories about people or persons who left society and made their own way (deliberately or not). Not only have we turned that fantasy into a taboo, we’ve regulated the possibility out of existence: we’ve had the government overstep the bound of our founding, crippling the “Dreams” of America.

That makes me sad.

Thus the movie made me a bit sad.

I look forward to teaching my boys about the Iroquois and Wabanaki confederations. I look forward to teaching my boys about the pilgrims and pioneers. I hope to give them even a taste of the wilderness and wanderlust I’ve held my whole life. I fear that Liberty will be lost by and to my generation, but I hope to give the desire for it to my boys, that my grandchildren may know it again.