John, it was an absolute pleasure meeting you. Let’s definitely do something like that more often. Film club roundtable was real fun.
Ben, sorry you couldn’t make it. Hope to see you next time around.
Major Spoilers for Meek’s Cutoff ahead:
Seriously, what a great film we saw. John, I appreciate your comments on it and look forward to reading some more of them. Brandon, can’t wait for your thoughts too.
John, a very intriguing interpretation. It’s really got me thinking. I’m completely with you on the importance of the film’s first words. Not only have they “lost” their way literally, but have lost paradise as well. The connection between the inscription on the tree and the reading of Genesis 3 is unmistakable. I’m also with you on Meek being serpent-like. He’s proud and seemingly knowing but ultimately deleterious and misleading. At the end of the film, he is humbled and crushed and admits defeat. But, what do you mean by regaining the tree of life at the end? Do you think they have actually found something or do you suppose that by merely humbling Meek a fortuitous outcome will arise? I don’t think I can follow you on them regaining anything at the end of the film just because I’m going to stick with the film’s ending. I want to keep them in abeyance, forever lost and wandering across endless hills. I can’t see them reaching water (not the tree of spiritual life but the building block of actual life) but I can’t also see them being wiped out by some tribe Blood Meridian style. I like keeping them lost, but dude if you see some redemption in there then stick with it.
Keeping with your Genesis 3 reading, what do you make of Emily being a leader against the serpent Meek? I agree that she defends her husband Solomon as a good companion, but I think she is more than just a loyal attendant–she has agency. She’s the one pointing the gun at Meek’s face not Solomon. She has the most to do with crushing Meek (apart from nature). I only bring this up because in Genesis 3 we have Eve famously being hoodwinked by the serpent and bringing Adam down with her. In this, we have Emily refusing to be deceived or mislead by actively standing up against her deceiver. She is as wise as Solomon.
Straying from the biblical reading, Brandon and I briefly talked about this film’s relation to The New World. He and I have just been writing back and forth about that film’s portrayal of the myth of progress and its critique of Western civilization. Meek’s Cutoff certainly critiques these characters as products of Western civilization. At times they come across as downright ignorant, helpless, and ineffectual. And they do this to themselves. Unlike in The New World, we aren’t exposed to Native culture or civilization as a challenge to Western ways of living. We meet a Native but we hardly see the way he lives. He performs ambiguous actions and cannot be communicated with. He is mostly an observer to the Westerners who reveal their own failings. At the end of the film when Meek admits that it was all written long before they got there, we are left to interpret what “it” is. One way of looking at this is that he is admitting that Western history is not valid as universal history. The land itself and this Native’s civilization had been there long before Europeans arrived and they have their own history. The history of these two things will now determine the fate of these Westerners. The limits of Western agency and history have been exposed.
I’m still thinking about this film and much can be said about it. It’s ripe for interpretation. I would like to also mention how well composed the film is. It’s a slow, methodical film filled with beautiful and meaningful framing. Much is communicated to you just in the way it is shot. The next time you give me shit for liking Cache for these reasons, I’m going to remind him how much you liked this Brandon haha. Seriously though, this a visually very well crafted film (John, Ebert’s review of the film mentioned the aspect ratio and a note on how it should be projected. This technical shit is beyond me but you brought it up after the film so if our version was projected wrong then good eye dude).
There’s a wonderful dissolve shot early in the film that says everything about the landscape and the characters in it. One shot effortlessly flows into another as if they were the same image just as one arid landscape flows into another and one arduous day flows into another as if they were all the same. The characters are lost in this repeating wilderness.
Also, on a side note, there are some beautiful animals in this. I was rooting for them to find water too.