Director Monte Hellman has named Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus as two of his biggest philosophical influences, so it’s no surprise that the characters from his seminal The Shooting follow relentlessly existential paths. The Shooting pays obvious homage to the classic westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks. Like Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the film isn’t so much an anti-western as much as it is an alternate representation of what was already there. Hellman’s masterpiece asserts that individual choice is often subverted by the moral objectivity of others. The film’s ending is a favorite among cinephilles and serves as a paradigm of Camus’s thinking—both stoic and humane, it champions the power of nature over violence. Rather than exaggerate the likeability of his characters, Hellman is more concerned with their very human flaws. We mourn their deaths because of this realism. Hellman fabulously fools around with western archetypes—here we have a faithful sidekick with a penchant for comedy, a scruffy yet likeable hero, an obnoxious yet empowered female, and a mysterious man in black. Hellman’s spatial dynamics are disorienting and his compositions remarkably political. In one shot, Hellman uses a tree trunk to split his frame in two: on one side stands the character played by Perkins, on the other stands Oates and Hutchins. Most startling, though, is Hellman’s refusal to give evil a definitive face. For Hellman, it’s not as easy as distinguishing good from evil by the color of hats. The Shooting, not unlike the film’s equally brilliant companion piece Ride in the Whirlwind, doesn’t ask to be taken as an existentialist mechanism per say, though it certainly functions as one. Hellman has said that The Shooting is about the JFK assassination and that the ending is really about the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald though one would be hard-pressed to figure that out without such an explanation. It does make sense though. The final showdown between the film’s characters might as well have taken place on that infamous grassy knoll in Dallas. If the film’s ending is to be taken as such then Ride in the Whirlwind could very well be about the politics of trust and the public’s fear after the JFK assassination.
- Jack H. Harris Enterprises Inc.
- 82 min
- Monte Hellman
- Carole Eastman
- Jack Nicholson, Will Hutchins, Millie Perkins, Warren Oates, Guy El Tsosie, Charles Eastman
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