I don’t know where to begin. I really liked LONELY ARE THE BRAVE and would defend its right to exist any day of the week. 1962 seems to have given us two wonderful westerns with this and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. I think that in many ways, both films are trying to contend with the onrushing modernity that is striking film (particularly westerns) at the time and will continue to strike it in the years to come. LIBERTY VALANCE handles it with a sort of mournful cynicism; it is aware of its own myths being debunked and almost satirizes this growing shift away from the Western mythology many of its cast and crew helped create. LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, on the other hand, just seems genuinely mournful about it. It’s not so much a revisionist western as requiem; a film that pines for the purity of the genre and quietly laments its passing.
Anyway, I’ll start with Jason:
I think you have completely misread the film. It is not trying to “knock the western on its ass” or mock genre films; its a western genre film mourning the passing of western genre films. It deliberately juxtaposes “classic western tropes” within a modern setting to comment on the modernity that is overtaking the western. This is established in the first shot of the film, as planes flying overhead completely disrupt this classic western image of a man, a horse, and a bedroll. The planes are literally ruining this shot. We then see Kirk Douglas and his horse trapped on a road with cars flying past. Is he a man out of place or are the cars out of place within his setting? The film is not trying to say that Douglas and his horse are outmoded, out of touch, and out of date, but that the way of life he represents is no longer accepted within this modern industrialized setting. The film, like Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, comments on the shift away from a pastoral connection to nature that comes with "progress."
I don’t know why the ending has struck you as being so antithetical to the rest of the film. You admit that the film is about the death of the western, yet you are shocked when it is symbolically destroyed by something modern at the end? If the horse is a symbol for the purity the western represents (i.e. a connection with nature and the land that is lost through industrialization) and this horse is killed by a modern vehicle (a symbol for industrialization, modernity, etc.), then what is being communicated to us? Are we merely trying to be manipulated emotionally or are we being asked to reflect on what is happening to the western and to characters like Douglas’s lonesome cowboy? I would side with the latter interpretation entirely.
Jason my man, you love context. Think about this film in context of 1962. People don’t want to see westerns anymore. This film is about how people don’t want to see westerns anymore. If you are watching it in 1962, you are being asked to think about this shift and why it’s happening.
It’s not going to let him ride off into the sunset because it is trying to comment on what is being done to the western. To let him ride away would be to ignore the overwhelming fact he is no longer allowed to ride away and that the western hero is no longer thriving.
I don’t get the HIGH NOON reference. I think both films are trying to comment on completely different ideas. HIGH NOON is thinking about the Red Scare and McCarthyism that is sweeping America and Hollywood at the time; LONELY ARE THE BRAVE is thinking about how films like HIGH NOON, SHANE, WINCHESTER ’73, etc. won’t exist anymore.
I understand that you don’t like bleakness, but this film is responding to the bleakness that is swarming the western genre. Sometimes you need things to end badly to get your point across. Have you ever seen a war film that is trying to express how awful war is? If that shit ends happily then you are being lied to. And if this film ends happily then you are being lied to about what is happening to the western. We all want Douglas and his horse to ride away into the sunset, but it is no longer 1950 and he cannot.
Now onto Jerzy:
I think that good classic films usually have remarkable clarity in expressing their themes. There is almost an innocence to the way they express themselves. They can get their point across without reverting to obfuscation, preachy intellectualism, or arrogance. It’s one of the refreshing things about them. I think LONELY ARE THE BRAVE expresses itself clearly, and if you don’t like the message or think it is too clear then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s clear because it knows exactly what it’s trying to say. And as for the message itself, as a lover of westerns and the relationship to nature they represent, I can only relate and sympathize.
I think Kirk Douglas’s character kisses his friends wife because he is in love with her. But he’s also a loner who knows he can never be with her, but still wants her to be happy and would do anything for her.
Also, why SPARTACUS on a horse meets GRUMPY OLD MEN with guns? Why not THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL meets A FACE IN THE CROWD meets A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE?
Anyway, to wrap this up, all I want to say is that I love the HIGH SIERRA chase ending to the film, love the shtick between Matthau and his subordinate officer, love Kirk Douglas, and lament the passing of classic westerns as well.