Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Throughts on Meek's Cutoff

Last night we saw Meek's Cutoff. We are big fans of the other work of the team involved, Kelly Reichardt and Jon Raymond. They also did Old Joy, and Wendy & Lucy, and J. Raymond is one of my favorite book writers. We had been anticipating seeing this movie for a couple months. It finally played at The Grand Cinema in Tacoma this week, and will be playing at The Olympia Film Society July 15-21.

I surprised myself, a lot, by what I expected from a movie. I expected the pioneers to have sex, even if it was just as a fact-of-life kind of point. And I expected the female lead's helpfullness towards an Indian to be revealed as an attraction. I consider myself a smart, skeptical viewer! Yet I expected these things, simply because that is what we are conditioned to expect from a movie, any movie. Spoiler: Meek's Cutoff is not a sexy movie.

I also found myself having to reel my thoughts in with regards to the Indian character. There is a scene where he is carrying a discarded sewing basket. I noticed myself thinking he was childlike and feminized because he was a grown man carrying a woman's sewing basket. OF COURSE he wanted to carry the sewing basket; the woman had earlier fixed his moccasin with tools from the sewing basket. It was valuable to him. I was so shocked by how I immediately made these gendered, racist judgments. And I'm glad I was able to reel it in and realize how absurd I was being.

But it brought me to the question of responsibility: If I, as a smart and skeptical viewer, had these stupid thoughts, imagine what less smart and less skeptical viewers could experience. What was the significance of the sewing basket to the filmmakers? Without being an expert on the subject, I think the Indian's role was portrayed pretty OK. I wonder if they thought of that reaction, that some of the audience would find the Indian childlike and feminized when he is carrying a sewing basket, and if they could have done anything to prevent that reaction.

Beyond these questions and concepts, the movie also brought up the futility of the Oregon Trail! WHY did anyone undertake that? I mean, as a Pacific Northwesterner, I am glad that they did - but still. Kaden said that they probably did it for the same reason people buy new, cruddy cookie-cutter homes in subdivisions today. I was floored. That makes so much sense! It's all for an idealistic dream that isn't thought through.

This obviously is not a movie review, but I will say that Meek's Cutoff is a movie unlike any other. It is likely the most "realistic" portrayal of the Oregon Trail on film. It is plodding; the characters are literally walking the entire movie. When it ended, the group of senior citizens sitting in front of us were joking, "OK, now when does the movie begin?" and they walked out telling other patrons coming in, "Don't waste your time on this one."

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