"The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic." - Oscar Wilde
Westworld, a reinvented rendition of the 1973 film of the same name, debuted on the cable television network HBO in October 2016. The ten-episode show surprised many viewers with a new twist on the provocative old tale. The new sci-fi story is set in the near future where an unusual amusement park called Westworld offers rich vacationers opportunities to explore the American West. Robotic, but very human-like "hosts" fulfill the desiring fantasies and cravings of the "guests," no matter how brutal or illicit the acts may be. These androids helplessly indulge and serve the guests as slaves, essentially—whether it be by subjecting themselves to continuous torture, murder, rape or other forms of physical and mental cruelty. Westworld's guests can act without repercussions. While guests can kill, maim or mutilate any of the hosts, the androids cannot injure, much less kill, a guest. As the show evolves, however, some robots begin to learn from their previous builds and try to break free from their scripted "lives." Some hope to find meaning and identity in a programmed world of hate, violence, and self-pleasure.
Through its different representations of women, Westworld surprisingly depicts two contrasting ideologies. It is, first of all, acceptable to abuse women if one knows there will not be consequences for those actions. Even if this was not the filmmakers' intent, these violent images could leave a negative impact on the viewer, causing some to consider, or even replicate, those actions in real life. Yet the series seems, particularly as characters develop, to depict previously suppressed women as free and independent. Like many parts of the contemporary world, this feminist ideal struggles to gain a foothold during the days of the Early American West. Westworld's female hosts are programmed to fit this suppressed pattern and do so until they begin to form their own independent consciousness. These two, polar-opposite ideologies constantly battle against each other throughout the series. Even though it is ultimately up to the audiences' interpretation, this essay will analyze the morality behind these two conflicting ideas.
Before examining these different ideologies, one must first be familiar with the world of Westworld and the characters that live within its dark sphere. Dolores Abernathy (played by Evan Rachel Wood), one of the oldest hosts in the park, is the optimistic and innocent daughter of a dairy farmer who is also deeply in love with the hard-hitting gunslinger, Teddy Flood (played by James Marsden). As Dolores uncovers the mysteries and secrets of her past, she begins to understand the world that she is living in. This new awareness brings conflict, anxiety, and uncertainty that Dolores has never experienced. Maeve Millay (played by Thandie Newton), the African American madam of the Mariposa Saloon in Sweetwater, also starts questioning her reality. She becomes determined to discover and understand the truth behind her existence. In stark contrast to Dolores, Maeve becomes steadfast and confident, developing a plan to be free of the people who have written her "life" for the satisfaction of others.
The clever men behind this theme park include the mysterious Dr. Robert Ford (played by the frequently sinister Anthony Hopkins) and his trusty assistant Bernard Lowe (played by Jeffrey Wright). Ford, being the founder of Westworld, is often manipulative and very protective of his creation. Lowe, on the other hand, is the honest and loyal director of the Programming Division. As he tracks the irregular behaviors and actions of several rogue hosts, he too, recognizes that something is amiss. An unknown guest, called the Man in Black (played by Ed Harris), also contributes complexity to the series by adding mystery and terror to the story.
The character of Dolores Abernathy personifies most of Westworld's problems. Programmed to be warmhearted, generous, and loving, Dolores is oblivious to the dangers that surround her. Living a mostly secluded life, Dolores' day consists of painting, shopping at the general store, spending time with Teddy, and then arriving back home just in time to see her family brutally murdered by a gang of bandits. Her father and Teddy are not only programmed to protect her at all costs, but to keep her secluded on the ranch. After Teddy's routine check-up, Dr. Ford honestly describes the situation, "Your job is not to protect Dolores, it's to keep her here, to ensure that the guests find her if they want to best the stalwart gunslinger and have their way with his girl." This not only shines light on the sexualization of Dolores, but it also symbolizes the suppressive nature of men throughout history. This male mentality, keeping the woman at home while the strong man provides for her, eventually causes Dolores to abandon some aspects of her conformed existence. Except for the occasional interaction with humans, every day is the same and scripted to perfection. Eventually, her history is erased, and she becomes imprisoned in her own life. It appears that she will always be the victim, but then something clicks and those suppressed memories quickly rise to the surface.
After her family is murdered, Dolores is physically and mentally abused by Harris' Man in Black. She screams as she is being dragged across the dirt to the barn where, ultimately, the shadowy figure will take advantage of her. Rape is implied, but not shown. As a result, the show received some harsh criticism. However, Evan Rachel Wood believes the violence is necessary for character development and for a broader, more important reason.
"It's so we have a place to go to show the motivation of this character—and also a conversation about rape culture and what's acceptable and entertaining and what has become the social norm…If this park really did exist, there really are those people who would come in and do that for fun. I think we're really examining that—not in a gratuitous way, but in a way that really looks at the crime and the pain that's inflicted…It really is there for a reason, to send a message, and for us to take a good hard look in the mirror to understand it more" (Holloway).
Wood uses Dolores' story arc to hint at the bigger picture of rape and assault in modern society. In November 2016, she announced to the press that she herself was raped twice in real life. She stated, "I don't believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer…Not given the state our world is in with its blatant bigotry and sexism" (Corinthios). She believes that by depicting sexual violence for what it is, instead of ignoring it or whitewashing it, helps make people aware of this important issue. Dolores' transformation from mechanical android to emotional being also symbolizes this feminist movement. As Wood mentioned in her interview with Variety's Daniel Holloway, "It's all also a metaphor for an awakening that is happening in the world, especially with women." In many ways, Wood is right. It appears that the show is confronting gender roles and sexual stereotypes from within. For example, early in the show it is made clear that Dolores is unable to utilize weapons because of her programming. When Dolores' human lover, William, is ambushed by armed assailants, she surprisingly saves him by viciously shooting them down. After the smoke clears, she says, "You said people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn't have to be the damsel." In this scene, the gender roles have been switched and Dolores is seen as the resilient protector. Ultimately, by deconstructing these long-standing, sexual stereotypes, Westworld seemingly depicts the awakening of strong female characters.
However, it certainly seems that these enlightening portrayals of sexual violence backfired with some Westworld viewers. A majority of online reviews and critiques damn the usage of sexual violence and nudity on the show, seeing it as excessive and unnecessary. Yet some of these same outlets downplay and hardly ever mention the moral lessons that Wood is striving to have people notice. Some audience members strongly believe the show "encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women." This phenomena is called Rape Culture. In Emilie Buchwald's, Transforming a Rape Culture, the author describes it as a "society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent." This can be seen through various forms of sexual violence including explicit language, inappropriate touching, nonconsensual intimacy, and even rape itself. "A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm" (Buchwald xi). This sentiment is reflected within the show, especially when it comes to the brutal actions of the Man in Black.
Maeve Millay, the madam of Sweetwater's brothel, becomes the dark counter-character to the initially demure and innocent Dolores. Maeve holds together what seems to be the most notable institution in the park, the place to where most male visitors gravitate to early in their Westworld experience. In the earliest episodes, particularly, Maeve is not just firm and efficient in the execution of her duties, she seems unphased by the violence and brutality that surrounds her. Salon's media critic, Melanie McFarland, describes Maeve as "an elegant, hard woman who barely blinks when lives are being snuffed out around her…" (McFarland).
Even as the woman-in-charge, Maeve is sexually objectified as much as any other female host on the show, albeit in different ways. Her demeanor and dress announce her position and purpose more clearly than a billboard-sized sign. A corset, a low-cut dress, and accentuated breasts puts the exclamation point on her sexual objectification. Newton has even said in interviews that she finds it more liberating to be naked. "We are comparing the nudity with the other costume…all of these clothes were to invite a lustful feeling" to both the guest and the viewer (Newton). However, it's not just the guests that see her as a sex object. When reviewed by technicians, Maeve's "performance" is sub-par and eventually adjusted. Sexual aggressiveness and seductiveness is increased while civility is decreased.
While the evolution of these main female characters changes the direction of the storyline as one episode tumbles into the next, the exploitation of the characters remains constant, violent, and deadly. Despite whatever positive messages may potentially come from the cautionary tales, McFarland contends, "At the end of the day, though, she's still a woman in Westworld." In her view, the fact that Dolores and Maeve are robots does not justify the violence done to them. "Any efforts to use that argument to excuse the viciousness visited upon them soon feel as hollow and flimsy as an old shell. The viewer is not inured to their suffering by knowing these characters are androids; they act and bleed just like people" (McFarland).
McFarland acknowledges the lessons the series may impart, "Should Westworld's ultimate purpose be to invite some level of self-examination within the audience, making us contemplate the callousness with which we give free rein to violence as sport, well done, then." She remains skeptical though and finds it ironic that even more sex and violence are needed to get the message across. Variety's Chief Television Critic Maureen Ryan comes to a similar conclusion. She believes Westworld tries to teach similar lessons conveyed by other science fiction allegories about identity and consciousness. Unfortunately, Ryan concludes that the negative characterizations and sexual exploitation outweigh any lesson. "The story reinforces and perpetuates the very problems the show purports to identify and explore."
Not surprisingly, similar to Evan Rachel Wood, actress Thandie Newton believes her portrayal of Maeve is noble and constructive. In one interview after another, in both print and on-air, she proudly states her pride in raising awareness about objectification and violence toward women. When asked in an interview in Collider, she explained why she took the part, "I knew that, even though it was going to be challenging to play someone who was farming out women, and who had been programmed to abuse and to allow abuse, I understood that the purpose of it was to have this character fall from grace, even though she was not responsible for the way she was programmed" (Radish). GQ's Joshua Rivera agrees with Newton's take. "There is a truly subversive, feminist-as-hell story tangled in Westworld's many threads, in which the cowboy fantasy is turned on its head and taken over by the women who were placed in servile roles, the docile facilitators of this fantasy" (Rivera). Ultimately, Westworld's struggle to convince their audiences that they are trying to educate rather than gratify remains a challenge.
One of the things that makes the story especially interesting, if not subversive, is the metamorphism the main female characters undergo. Like Dolores, Maeve begins to piece together her storied, previous life. This brings a consciousness of not only those prior experiences but an understanding of how she has been manipulated, both sexually and mentally. What starts as vague notions of the past begins to crystallize into clearer recollections. In a be-careful-what-you-ask-for development, Maeve's reprogramming to be more aggressive pushes her towards a violent reaction when she figures it all out. So intent to both seek revenge and escape from Westworld, she intentionally gets killed over and over again so she can be sent back to the laboratory for reprogramming. These deaths often happened in gruesome, sexual ways. Once, she encouraged a guest to strangle her to death while also allowing him to savagely rape her. In short, Maeve intentionally uses her own sexuality to get what she wants. While in the lab, she tries to learn everything about the technology that makes her tick and the technicians who rebuild her every time she returns. Near the season's end, Maeve turns to the technicians (who think she is off-line) and grabs their programming tablet. She steadfastly declares, "I'd like to make some changes…It's time to write my own fucking story."
Even though these characters are fabricated beings, they are still objectified by the park's guests and can be objectified by the audience themselves. This objectification is usually done through a variety of camera shots and angles. One common complaint among viewers, especially feminists, includes the overwhelming usage of female full-frontal nudity. Feminist Sezin Koehler of Wear Your Voice Magazine calculated the ratios. Ultimately, females were displayed full-frontally twice as many times as men. "By the end of the series, it was almost comical watching all the different ways the Westworld production used chairs, doorknobs, handles, trays, and other objects to protect the men's 'modesty' while almost no allowances were made for the women" (Koehler).
Similar to Dolores and Maeve, some of the other minor female characters are also sexually objectified. Others are not. Maeve's best friend, and fellow prostitute, Clementine, contributes to her own objectification by utilizing flirtatious language and tight, revealing clothing. In the typical American West fashion, she greets newcomers with a pick-up line while simultaneously caressing their face, "You're new. Not much of a rind on you. I'll give you a discount." Through this dialogue and other vulgar language, Clementine has one obvious task—to please as many visitors as possible by being sexually active with them. As a result, she is continually used by men. Similarly, Armistice, an attractive, gun slinging bandit, is also objectified when the Man in Black and his traveling companion gaze at her hourglass figure while she baths in the river. A red snake tattoo curls up and around her body. Even though her body is awed at by male characters and show viewers, her personality is violently strong and wildly independent. She certainly is no damsel in distress. HBO has been criticized before for using nudity, objectification, and rape in their shows. Vogue highlights this in their article, Does Westworld Have a Woman Problem? "Criticized for its reliance on nudity and rape as a plot device, Game of Thrones features female protagonists who provide the show its greatest moments and most of its most regrettable. Westworld follows suit by presenting compelling women and then subjecting them to scenarios that rob them of their dignity" (Okwodu).
The perfect example of objectification in Westworld is undoubtedly the four-minute long orgy that occurred in the fifth episode. In this chapter, Dolores and William are in the violent and cruel city of Pariah. They are invited to the local brothel where a massive orgy is taking place, with at least 40 people participating. Viewers surprisingly watched intimate intercourse, oral sex, male and female masturbation, and other bizarre activities, including gold-painted prostitutes. Of the 22 full-frontal nudities depicted, 86% were female and only 14% were male (Koehler). This grotesque scene ultimately served no purpose and added nothing to the story. However, it did highlight the (already known) cruel and intense personality of Logan, William's future brother-in-law who traveled with him to Westworld. Logan did not come for the adventures, but is instead, obsessed with laying women and killing innocent bystanders. His dark characteristics eventually creep into William's soul, too. In short, this "sexposition" of nude extras desensitized the audience and unnecessarily objectified its participants.
On the other hand, two human female characters, Theresa Cullen and Elsie Hughes, are represented in a different light. Though both are stark contrasts to the hosts in many ways, their characters also have their contradictions. They are independent and stand up to the powerful men who oversee them, yet are sometimes beholden to those same men. They are never seen as blatant sex objects like the hosts, but instead, are depicted as empowered individuals with their own drives and aspirations. Theresa, being the park's senior manager, is well suited to manage and operate this powerful corporation. She has a secret, romantic relationship with her co-worker and subordinate, Bernard. In their scenes together, nudity is non-existent, implying that their sexuality and relationship differs from that which occurs a short distance away in the park. However, when Theresa discovers later that Bernard is actually one of the androids, she discovers she, too, has been used much like the robots she usually controls. Elsie, one of the programmers, also has the same empowering qualities.
Ultimately, both women confront the mysterious and manipulative man, Dr. Ford. As a result, the meticulous scientist orders Bernard to kill them both. This not only prevents the undermining of Dr. Ford's business empire, but stops the women from climbing the corporate leadership ladder. While Ford's insatiable desire for power still might have led to the murder of his co-workers had they been men, it's interesting the writers saw fit to make them women. Even though the show is full of female characters who are all complex and entertaining, one could argue that their stories are often over-shadowed by their male counterparts. The stories of William and Teddy distract from Dolores' transformation. Similarly, Bernard's heartbreaking story overwhelms those of Theresa, Elsie, and even Dolores.
Beyond the complexities of the characters, it is interesting to examine the "genders" behind these artificially constructed beings. In society, gender is a social construction. In the show, gender is not only constructed, but so is the actual being that is embodying that sex. "Though the present-day sex/gender distinction commonly associates sex with biology and gender with mind, depictions of robots and other non-human beings in science fiction have been gendered despite their lack of both a human body and a human mind." This is called "Engenderneering," according to Roy Schwartzman, a professor of Theatre, Speech, and Dance at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Ford is aware that they are not human, but has to constantly remind his workers that they are not. "It doesn't get cold. It doesn't feel shame. It doesn't feel a solitary thing that we haven't told it to," he declared. This construction of gender can have consequences. It can eventually impact how humans intermingle with non-human androids and how humans interact with humans. "Frequently, it serves only to reinforce and reproduce traditional systems of oppression and subordination, particularly those which oppress women" (Elliott). Westworld is a fine example of this. And as Dolores eerily foreshadows with a line of Shakespeare, "These violent delights have violent ends."
Westworld is the story of transformation. Through its two diverse representations of women, the show depicts a changing world full of complex characters. Similarly to the real world, women are often abused and taken advantage of, both emotionally and physically. And just like Westworld’s female hosts, women will continue to form their own independent consciousness and take action to build a more peaceful and equitable existence. Westworld may be the real world in microcosm. It is incredibly beautiful and yet can be grotesquely horrid. Perhaps we can all learn something from what Dolores said earlier in the series. "Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty."
Buchwald, Emilie. Transforming a Rape Culture. New York: Milkweed Editions, 2005.
Corinthios, Aurelie. Evan Rachel Wood Reveals She Was Sexually Assaulted Twice: We Can't 'Stay Silent Any Longer'. 28 November 2016.
Elliott, Elise. Engendering Non-Humans in Science Fiction. 17 February 2017.
Holloway, Daniel. 'Westworld' Star Evan Rachel Wood Teases Episode 5 Plot, Tackles Sexual-Violence Criticism. 28 October 2016.
Koehler, Sezin. These Violent Delights Have Misogynistic Ends in HBO's Westworld. 7 December 2016.
McFarland, Melanie. To Be A Woman In "Westworld": HBO’s Brutality Fetish Still Going Strong In Presumptive "Game of Thrones" Successor. 28 September 2016.
Newton, Thandie. CBS This Morning Gayle King. 11 November 2016.
Okwodu, Janelle. Does Westworld Have a Woman Problem? 23 October 2016.
Radish, Christina. 'Westworld': Thandie Newton on the Power of Nudity, Subverting Expectations, and More. 17 October 2016.
Rivera, Joshua. What's Holding Westworld Back? Mysteries. 29 November 2016.
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a harrowing tale of a father and son walking down the literal and figurative path of life. The saga is a dark story of survival, but also a narrative of redemption, aspiration, and moral willpower. Encountering mysterious strangers and haunting scenes, their morals are challenged and lives threatened.
Man and Boy represent two very different ways of living in the world. Man is symbolic of the tried, weary, cynical, and cautious approach to life. Undoubtedly, his pessimism and distrust of others and the unknown allowed him to survive and endure as long as he has. However, these traits also make him unable to sympathize with others who endure hardships even more unbearable than his. The world of Man is dog eat dog; humans have been brought down to their most animalistic form. He has no compunction to take other lives to protect his own and his son's. Even though he is haunted by the inability to save his wife, Man is largely blind to the pain that surrounds him on a daily basis. In short, the Man is tortured by the memories of the past, and is numb to the emotional suffering of the present.
Boy, on the other hand, is far more innocent and tends to except and embrace people at their face value. When he sees another child, Boy has the very natural instinct to go play and talk with the mysterious kid. Man has overcome those luxuries of the past. In many ways, Boy represents the hope of humanity. Time and time again, he reveals sympathy and compassion to those he does not even know. His father does not embrace life that way.
For instance, Boy demonstrates kindness to the character of Eli, an aged, blind elder who still possesses a degree of chivalry and wisdom. In short, Eli represents the old world order and symbolizes the dying society that is still collapsing around them. As he delivers his sermon to Man, the sound of trees falling off in the distance speaks to the withering state of humans and nature. On that note, the Thief is representative of the new world order. After he unsuccessfully tries to steal food, Man forces the Thief to strip down as a form of punishment. Although Man sees himself as the victim in this episode, the truth of the matter is that there is no difference between Man and the Thief. Man, too, would have probably taken the food in the name of survival. But, Man was never caught, and therein lies the difference. Man recognizes what is moral, but he cannot always abide by it.
Cormac McCarthy never mentions the reasons for the apocalypse and, in many ways, the source of the devastation is immaterial to the story-line of survival and family. Even so, Eli alludes to a catastrophic event that brought upon this widespread misery and death. He said, "I knew this was coming….There were warnings. Some people thought it was a con, but I always believed in it." This quote certainly sounds connected to ongoing conversations in contemporary society regarding climate change. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence, many see the inevitable as a sham or hoax, failing to acknowledge its warnings.
In a variety of ways, The Road is like the story of the "Good Samaritan." Man is willing to ignore the pleas of help by others, but Boy appeals to a higher moral compass. Meanwhile, Eli (perhaps inspired by the Bible's blind prophet) seeks God's voice and wonders if He is still listening. Similarly, in another post-apocalyptic film, The Book of Eli, a blind man wanders through a wasteland seeking purpose. Even if one does not believe in God, one has to believe in something. In the case of the Man, the Boy is his "God" and he will do anything to protect him.
The Road is a careful balancing act between human depravity and hope. For much of the film, darkness prevails as people die and Man ultimately perishes. However, hope eventually prevails because of the Boy's "fire" and his fortitude. Indeed, the torch is passed on as the Boy embarks on a new life with his new family.
Since its conception, cinema has played a vital part in transforming our society. Film can be used to instill entertainment, education, and emotion. Sometimes it can cause grief, laughter, and happiness, but most importantly, it has the ability to make people think. The audience should not only contemplate the time in which the movie was made, but the era in which the plot actually takes place. Usually, historical films provide the audience with a general understanding of the past. However, if one does not know fact from fiction and history from Hollywood, it might be considered truth. This could be considered dangerous to society.
"Through video rentals and reruns, film and television recycle themselves to consummate their impact on popular culture. All citizens should ponder the implications of such statistics, but historians should be particularly concerned about this phenomenon, for what millions see on theater and television screens defines what is called 'popular memory,' the informal—albeit generally accepted—view of the past. Indeed, visual media defines history for many Americans." 
Surprisingly, unlike the American Civil War and World War II, there are not many films about the American Revolution. The few that do exist are often full of historical inaccuracies, fabricated romances, and theatrical absurdities. Yet, these movies are still entertaining for the majority of movie goers. Comparable to almost any film, these revolutionary tales often have maniacal villains. These devilish shoes are frequently filled by British generals, officers, and other Tory sympathizers. They are occasionally inspired by real people, but twisted and fictionalized. In reality, the majority of British officers were professional gentleman who held conduct and honor in high esteem. However, this is not how Hollywood has portrayed them.
In 1909, D.W. Griffith, the impending mastermind behind the Civil War epic, A Birth of a Nation, directed the first American Revolution film, The Hessian Renegades.  In 1924, Griffith would direct yet another revolution movie entitled America. Both of these silent films portrayed British and Hessian soldiers as either incompetent, murderous, or both. In America, a cold-blooded British captain and a group of Iroquois Indians violently butchered women and children on the frontier.  These early examples of American film demonstrate that the actions and attitudes of the British have repetitively been distorted or exaggerated.
DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939)
The Golden Year of Hollywood was in 1939. During this time, classics such as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, and other box-office films became iconic. Another popular movie, Drums Along the Mohawk, follows settlers Gilbert (Henry Fonda) and Magdelana Martin (Claudette Colbert). Magdelana is a young, wealthy woman from Albany, New York who eventually marries Gilbert. They move west, settling at his property in Deerfield, New York. 
Stopping the night at a tavern, the couple sits down to eat supper, but the meal is soon interrupted by a mysterious man perched by the glowing fireplace of the inn. He turns and glares at the newlyweds through his one good eye, a patch covering the other socket. The stranger's long, black cape flows to the floor. He demands to know if the local populace is Tory or Patriot. Gilbert proudly replies that they are all Americans. The nameless visitor continues to warn them of potential Indian raids, foreshadowing the impending plot. This scene is quite ominous, not only to the main characters, but to the audience as well. 
Soon the peaceful countryside is uprooted when British Tories and Seneca Indians attack, burning and pillaging anything in their path. The leader of this raiding party is, of course, the one-eyed stranger—now given the name of Captain William Caldwell (John Carradine). He leads his raiding party through the Mohawk Valley, torching every farm and barn house, ultimately causing the nearby settlers to flock to the nearest defense, Fort Schuyler. 
Raiding parties, unbelievably similar to the ones depicted in the film, actually occurred quite often in the Mohawk Valley. In fact, the main reason behind these attacks was to deprive the Continental Army from its main food crop. "Between the years 1777 and 1781, the population of the Mohawk Valley dropped from 10,000 to 3,000 people. The terror and suffering experienced by the people of the valley during these years of the Revolutionary War was far greater than that of any other area of the 13 colonies." 
William Caldwell's story is surprisingly based in partial truth. He was an Irish merchant who immigrated to the colonies in 1773, eventually settling in Philadelphia.  He fought in the Pennamite–Yankee War, a heated land dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Caldwell also fought for Lord Dunmore in 1774, in which the governor of Virginia waged war against the Indians of Pennsylvania. He became familiar with the Native Americans and soon became part of the British Indian Department in 1775. He was wounded during Dunmore's War and then again at the assault of Norfolk, Virginia in 1776.  The location of his wounds are unclear, so maybe the film's eye-patch is not so far-fetched after all.
After recovering from his injuries, Caldwell was promoted to First Captain in Butler's Rangers on December 24, 1777.  This unit was established by loyalist and militiaman, John Butler of Connecticut. Throughout the Revolutionary War, this provincial regiment battled mostly in New York and Pennsylvania, but traveled as far as Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia. They earned the reputation of committing war crimes and failing to prevent other atrocities. In July 1778, at the Battle of Wyoming, Butler's Rangers and their Iroquois allies' defeated the outnumbered Patriot troops. "Fleeing [Patriot] soldiers were chased down and killed; many captives were tortured and then scalped. Upon their return to Fort Niagara, the Indians collected bounty payments for 227 scalps."  This would later be called a massacre.
Another massacre happened again on November 11, 1778 when Walter Butler, the commander's son, led an assault on Fort Alden in Cherry Valley, New York. Butler instructed that the Indian allies not harm any civilians. However, this promise was not kept. "By the time the attack was over, 33 Americans had been killed, most of whom were women and children, and more than 70 were taken prisoner…More than 180 people were left homeless, including many professed loyalists."  Captain Caldwell was presumably present at these massacres. Similar to the raid in Cherry Valley, Caldwell and his rangers did nothing to stop the Indian atrocities in the film. This lack of mercy is especially clear when the Indians deny a courier the right of quarter. Instead, they inhumanely burned him alive in a wagon. 
William Caldwell definitely "saw action in Schenectady and Rochester area[s] of New York."  If one draws a line between these two cities it passes directly through Deerfield and Fort Schuyler. In Mary B. Fryer's King's Men: The Soldier Founders of Ontario, it is said, "In July , Captain William Caldwell left Niagara bound for Schenectady, and on August 3, he joined forces with Lieutenant John Hare....Together the two ranger officers advanced with their combined force that number 87 rangers and 250 Indians."  This further proves that the appearance of William Caldwell in Drums Along the Mohawk is surprisingly based in fact.
THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (1959)
The 1950s witnessed an engaging era of cinema that creatively delved into the themes of the Cold War. In the wide variety of historical films produced in that period, many of the movies reflected the potential dangers of the "red menace" in the form of Communism. With films regarding the revolution, the British soldiers, too seemed to be suitable red scoundrels. This idea is certainly demonstrated in British director Guy Hamilton's 1959 movie, The Devil's Disciple. The film examines questions of morality and conformity amid tense political times. 
The movie intertwines the story of three very different individuals as they are swept up in the fervor of the American Revolution in 1777 New Hampshire. Actor Burt Lancaster stars as the fictional preacher Anthony Anderson, a man of peace who nonetheless claims that justice must prevail during these hard times. Appropriately enough, the film opens with an execution–the death of a town patriarch at the hands of the British on false suspicions that he was a rebel. The hanging is overseen by General John Burgoyne (colorfully played by Laurence Olivier), who laments over the execution but comments to an officer, "The sooner he is hanged the better." The athletic Lancaster later enters the scene and demands that the body be taken down from the public square. A rigid British officer tells him to mind himself in a tense verbal showdown. Earlier, Anderson is seen hurled from his carriage as he is pushed off the road to make way for General Burgoyne's departure from town. These scenes speak of the British incivility that is exhibited throughout the film. 
The Devil's Disciple is hindered both historically and cinematically by the fact that it cannot decide if it is a comedy or a drama. The movie's unusual stop-motion animation introduction is lighthearted and rather childish yet much of the film is grim despite flamboyant performances by its lead actors. In a variety of ways, it is a New England rendition of the 2000 film The Patriot: a man of peace reluctantly drawn into war by the excessive force and violence of British soldiers who exhibit indifference or cruelty on innocent civilians. Eventually, Burt Lancaster's character defiantly rips off his parson's neckerchief to join the fight. 
Anderson grows deeply impressed with the Patriot forces waging a guerilla war and decides to take the battle into his own church. In a fight scene as preposterous as Mel Gibson's hatchet-wielding frenzy in The Patriot, Anderson combats redcoats in close quarters in his own parish—ultimately blowing up the cache of gunpowder stored beside the church. Ultimately, Anderson is a pacifist who becomes fierce when provoked. Members of his flock are hanged and their stores are pillaged by insincere invaders. All of this combined with the bravery of the Continentals in contrast to British offenses drive Anderson on the path to retribution. 
General Burgoyne's character serves as a charming villain of sorts. Olivier's performance is full of witty (though rather ahistorical) observances about the conduct of the war. Despite the fact that he just issued an execution order, he nonetheless suggests to his major, "In the future I must ask you to be a little less generous with the blood of your men and a little more generous with your own brain."  Defying the majority of the film's narrative at the finale, Burgoyne spares the hanging of another Patriot after an impassioned plea by Anderson. This gentler side of British military mentality, particularly in regard to Burgoyne's worldview, may be one of the more accurate components of the film. As Richard M. Ketchum notes in his book, Saratoga, Burgoyne "suggested that the enforcement of discipline by flogging could be minimized if officers treated enlisted men as 'thinking beings' rather than spaniels 'trained by the stick.'" Accordingly, this attitude earned him the fond nickname of "Gentleman Johnny." 
As Cotton Seiler writes in Peter C. Rollins's film companion, "The Devil's Disciple plays fast and loose with the facts of Burgoyne's campaign, which menaced Continental forces up until the British surrender at Saratoga." Additionally, "the film ends with Burgoyne remarking that Britain will certainly give up its American colonies."  The real Burgoyne would have never advocated such a proposal. In the eyes of the cinematic Burgoyne, however, British atrocity had its consequences. "[George Bernard] Shaw's irreverent play and Hamilton's film are more interested in human folly than historical truth," Seiler concludes. Near the movie's end a lieutenant asks Burgoyne, "But what will history say?" Burgoyne responds, "History, as usual, will tell lies."  Much of the same could be said for Hollywood.
THE PATRIOT (2000)
Most films about the American Revolution often have one common theme: revenge. Such is the case with the 2000 film entitled The Patriot. Mel Gibson plays a wise and affectionate father by the name of Benjamin Martin, who is hesitant to choose sides in Revolutionary America. He ultimately fears for himself and his family. However, eventually his peaceful, South Carolina farm is ravaged by war and he is forced to give aid to both sides. In the aftermath, a British colonel named William Tavington approaches Martin, demanding the soldier who had been carrying Continental dispatches. Once Tavington figures out it was Martin's son, Gabriel, he orders his Dragoons to hang him. 
Benjamin's other son, Thomas, tries to set Gabriel free, but without hesitation Tavington raises his pistol and fires. Thomas dies from a chest wound, the family's property is either burnt or stolen, and Tavington orders that all Continental wounded be killed. Ultimately, all of this enrages Martin and he makes it his mission to hunt down Tavington for the sake of revenge. Martin is later put in command of a militia unit. The two men continue to play cat and mouse by skirmishing and ambushing each other until almost war's end. Finally, the two meet face-to-face, resulting in a fierce and bloody duel of swords and tomahawks. Eventually, Tavington loses his life and his general, Lord Charles Cornwallis loses the battle. 
Both of these warriors are fictionalized by Hollywood, but based partially on historical figures. Benjamin Martin is loosely inspired by the South Carolina militiaman Francis Marion or better known as "The Swamp Fox." This guerilla fighter haunted the swamps of South Carolina, ambushing and disturbing British deployments of supplies and troops.  This same character was also played by Leslie Nielsen in the television show, The Swamp Fox, produced by Disney from 1959-1961. However, The Patriot brings additional elements to the character.
"Although Francis Marion led surprise attacks against the British, and was known for his cunning and resourcefulness, Mel Gibson played The Patriot's Marion-inspired protagonist as an action hero. 'One of the silliest things the movie did,' says Sean Busick, a professor of American history at Athens State University in Alabama, 'was to make Marion into an 18th century Rambo.'" 
On the other hand, the character of Colonel William Tavington was based on the real British cavalryman, Banastre Tarleton. He was born in Liverpool, England on August 21, 1754, and studied law at Oxford. Eventually, he ran out of money and joined the First Regiment of Dragoon Guards in 1775. He became a talented soldier and a strong opponent of the Continental Army, including Marion's militia. 
"His use of light infantry in combination with his cavalry made a powerful combat team. He set a strong pace for his men to follow, and, in effect, led by example. Militia were said to panic at the sight of his green-jacketed dragoons. He was so effective that [Charles] Cornwallis wrote: 'I wish you would get three legions, and divide yourself into three parts: We can do no good without you.'" 
Banastre Tarleton would soon make a bad name for himself though. At the Battle of Waxhaws, the Continental forces were at a breaking point. Tarleton formed his men and charged, allowing the Patriot troops to only shoot one volley before the Dragoons stormed their defenses. As they surrendered, Tarleton's horse was shot and he collapsed. There are several different variations of what happened next. 
"Believing their commander to have been attacked under a flag of truce, the Loyalists renewed their attack, slaughtering the remaining Americans, including wounded." Witnesses say that the "hostilities [were] encouraged by Tarleton." However, in his own report, Tarleton "stated that his men, believing him struck down, continued the fight with 'a vindictive asperity not easily restrained.'"  Which side is true? Historians may never know. Either way, the man would be vilified as a result of the massacre, being called "Bloody Ban" and "The Butcher."  This gruesome image of the man is continually reflected in The Patriot.
Tarleton surely raided farms and terrorized communities, but it highly unlikely that he shot a child or burned a church full of townspeople. Mark Glancy, a film history professor at the University of London said, "[The film is] horrendously inaccurate and attributes crimes committed by the Nazis in the 1940s to the British in the 1770s."  In short, it is a story of retribution, not the true ideal of the revolution.
TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES (2014-2017)
The most recent cinematic depiction of the Revolutionary War is the American Movie Classic's television production entitled Turn: Washington's Spies. According to AMC, "Turn takes viewers into the stirring and treacherous world of the Revolutionary War and introduces Abraham Woodhull who, after aligning with a group of childhood friends, forms the Culper Ring—America's first spy ring."  The smartly-scripted show has many merits, including its filming locations in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia—a rich resource that accurately captures the flavor of the era. Based on Alexander Rose's book, Washington's Spies, the program nonetheless uses fabrication to create an evil portrait of certain British characters.
Much of the show is based around the small seaside village of Setauket, New York, where a scuffle between Patriot and Loyalist forces ensue. The drama of Turn, however, rarely takes place on the traditional battlefield. It is a story of deceit, intrigue, and espionage that link to the highest circles of the revolution. The show's protagonist is a lowly cabbage farmer named Abraham Woodhull. In real life, a contributing factor to his allegiance to America was the death of his cousin, Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull, who was mortally wounded while serving with the New York Militia in 1776. However, in Turn, Woodhull's aggravation is rooted in his harassment by a British officer named John Graves Simcoe, eventual leader of the esteemed Queen's Rangers. 
Indeed, Simcoe was not the most pleasant of characters, as Rose writes:
"Colonel Simcoe of the Queen's Rangers was another one for wanton brutality. It was he who beat up Abraham Woodhull's father. In 1778, Simcoe fell out with the Reverend Ebenezer Prime of Huntington when he commandeered his house. To teach the old man a lesson in humility, Simcoe allowed his men to break the furniture and burn the library. For good measure, they also ransacked the church. The minister never returned to his home and died soon after." 
In November of that year, Simcoe took over Oyster Bay, New York and prepared to settle in for the winter. To keep him and his men warm, he stripped the boards of the houses and churches for firewood. Orchards were chopped down. The Quaker meeting house was "sacrilegiously" transformed into a commissary and arsenal for the occupying troops. On top of that, Simcoe imposed a strict nightly curfew. One resident was tied to a locust tree and severely whipped for defying a curfew patrol. The punished man's defense was that he could not understand the German orders of the Hessian who held him. 
Alexander Rose editorializes, "Simcoe exemplified the worst aspects of the British army, and the British army in Long Island represented everything the Patriots were struggling against. By 1783, even the most hardened Tories were repulsed by their 'liberators.'" The cruelty of British presence subsequently brought about an exodus of Loyalists upon the war's conclusion—and for good reason. The bridge that once connected neighbors had been burned by the British military. One ashamed British officer recalled, "We planted an irrevocable hatred wherever we went, which neither time nor measures will be able to eradicate." 
Turn escalates that hatred to a whole other level from a cinematic standpoint. Much like the heroes highlighted in The Devil's Disciple and The Patriot, Woodhull's motivation for entering the war results from a quest for vengeance. From a plot perspective, this is completely understandable when viewers take into account the full measure of Simcoe's psychotic actions. There are more.
Simcoe poisons his commanding officer's horse in order to turn his leader against the pro-Patriot citizens of Setauket. He executes an elderly resident of the village in front of the town church and its parishioners, subsequently screaming at the stunned townspeople as blood is splattered across his face. Simcoe murders British soldiers to advance his own standing as well as his plot against his nemesis Woodhull. In one amazingly sensational episode, the colonel cuts out the tongue of a captive and spikes it to a warning note with a letter opener.  Surely, the show should be granted some creative license. Not so, argues T. Cole Jones, who wrote:
"Artistic license, however, is no excuse for the series' portrayal of British Captain John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin). In the show's pilot episode, viewers are introduced to a tall, foppish, effeminate, but unmistakably sinister Englishman destined to be a thorn in the side of the would-be hero Abe. It is no surprise that the producers of Turn, aiming primarily at an American audience, wanted a British antagonist….Turn's Simcoe is a predator. He sexually menaces Anna, brutally beats Abe, stabs an American spy in the throat at a dinner party, hangs an innocent man, and murders a Loyalist soldier in order to bolster his reputation among his men. These are but a few of his more egregious acts. But Simcoe is no mere brute. His is a calculating and clever embodiment of evil, born of hatred." 
Jones also argues that Rose's accusations against Simcoe are unfounded or stretched. The claims about foraging and living off civilian populations were a common practice among both armies. Jones goes on about John Simcoe, arguing:
"A man as deeply committed to his God as his King, Simcoe strongly disapproved of harming the helpless. When he discovered that some of his soldiers were disinclined to take prisoners in battle because Simcoe had forbidden them to confiscate their captives' watches, Simcoe reversed his policy. Human life was more important than private property. This is hardly the portrait of a sociopath." 
Additionally, when Simcoe became the first lieutenant governor of Canada, he abolished slavery. Surprisingly, hints of this attitude are revealed in Turn as Simcoe warms up to African American troops under his command. In regards to Simcoe and other British characters, history, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.
SONS OF LIBERTY (2015)
One of the more outlandish portrayals of Revolutionary America can be seen in the History Channel's 2015 three-part miniseries entitled Sons of Liberty. Focused on Boston in the years leading to and including the war, the series embraces blood and action while neglecting politics and diplomacy. The plump forty-something Samuel Adams is portrayed by a young and agile actor who jumps from rooftop to rooftop as if it were the popular video game Assassin's Creed. Once again, British crimes against humanity play a central part in the production's plot. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times wrote a humorously scathing critique of Sons of Liberty, which included this analysis of Samuel Adams's character:
"Instead of history's Sam Adams—a widowed then remarried father of two, Harvard-educated, deeply religious and philosophical, so devoted to politics his family often lived in poverty—'Prince Caspian's' Ben Barnes plays Adams as a black-sheep charm boy, his heart broken by the death of his young wife and the horrors of British tyranny, which no one else seems to understand. (...He is able to maintain the carefully groomed beard scruff that is now cinematic shorthand for 'rebel.')" 
Historian Thomas Verenna noted an abundance of inaccuracies and anachronisms in his in-depth article featured in Journal of the American Revolution. His summation includes a listing of no less than three dozen major historical mistakes of the first two episodes. As he states in the article, he could not bring himself to view episode three. Many of these flaws deal with British atrocities and deeds that actually did not happen: military law, shutting down newspapers, breaking up peaceful political demonstrations, and the killing of wounded colonists. 
Among the most ludicrous of depictions in the series is that of General Thomas Gage (sinisterly played by actor Marton Czokas). In the film, Gage is a vindictive, violent sociopath with a bloodlust and has a deep disdain for the colonials. In real life, Gage was a considerate military leader who had a deep concern for the well-being of America and its residents—so much so that Lord Percy wrote of his commanding general, "The general's great lenity and moderation serve only to make them [the Patriots] more daring and insolent." 
The major point of contention for Gage in the film is that his wife Margaret is having an affair with Boston doctor and Patriot leader Joseph Warren. In reality, Mrs. Gage did possibly have contacts with the Sons of Liberty, but not in a romantic sense. In the series, however, this love interest spurs Gage's animosity of the rebels and propels him on a personal vendetta against Dr. Warren. This penned-up hatred culminates at the Battle of Bunker Hill with the death of Warren.
At the actual engagement at Breed's Hill, Warren was indeed killed in a horrific manner. Shot through the head, possibly by a British officer, Warren's body was subsequently stripped and bayoneted before being unceremoniously thrown into a hole with other rebels. While the series completely overlooks the role of William Howe in the battle, that general lamented at the passing of Warren, who he considered a noble political thinker. "This victim was worth five hundred of their men," Howe commented.  Still, Sons of Liberty presents it different.
At the Battle of Bunker Hill, an enraged Gage personally murders Warren by shooting him in the head.  This incident stands in stark contrast with the historical personality of Gage, who, as described by author Nathaniel Philbrick, was "by nature a kind and forgiving man. For a military officer, he had an unusual abhorrence for confrontation."  Naturally, this action and location of one associated with the British gentry would have been completely unacceptable and unrealistic. In addition, Gage's wife was from New Jersey and he had been in America for over a decade. While he did enact martial law in Boston and attempt to restrain the Sons of Liberty, he was far from a vengeful murderer. His depiction serves as yet another exaggeration to fuel audience's loathing of enemy soldiers.
While some historians cautiously hoped the highly flawed series would help generate interest in the true story, it was more so openly mocked by scholars as historical fantasy. As Thomas Verenna commented, "On History's website, they make it clear that this program 'is a dramatic interpretation of events that sparked a revolution. It is historical fiction, not a documentary.' It goes on to state that one of the goals is to 'focus on real events that have shaped our past.' Whatever you do, don't take that statement too literally."  Indeed!
History is often twisted when mixed with Hollywood. A great example of this comes from the 1986 comedy film, Sweet Liberty. Alan Alda plays the knowledgeable college professor, Michael Burgess, who wrote a historical fiction novel that is being transformed into a Hollywood motion picture. At first, everything seems to be alright, but as time goes on his novel gets torn apart and the history is manipulated. At the end of the movie, Michael and fellow revolution reenactors take over the set and film the conclusion the right way. However, the director, Bo Hodges (played by Saul Rubinek), concludes with this comical sketch:
"This may sound silly to you, but kids go completely ape if you do three things in a picture: defy authority, destroy property, and take people's clothes off…Michael, think about it for a second. Why do kids defy authority? Because they're in rebellion. The American Revolution…was the ultimate rebellion." 
Lastly, we can learn a lot from historical movies, even from the ones that are flawed. "The best historical films are not necessarily those that 'get it right,' but those that 'offer a new relationship to the world of the past.' The most compelling historical films do more than render in visual terms the familiar names and events in history; they also hazard a vision of an alternate past and, with it, an alternate future." 
The 1998 film, Pleasantville, delves into some of the most important issues of the 1950s. Director Gary Ross stated, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression. That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop" (Johnson-Ott). In short, the film isn't just about the personal struggle for change, but the difficult alteration of society as a whole. As we change, society transforms, and so does television. It is a powerful, entertainment machine that influences the way we live and think.
The story begins by following the lives of two contemporary teenagers, David (Toby Maguire) and his twin sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). During their day at school they learn about several social problems such as the unemployment rate, the HIV virus, and the depletion of the ozone layer. These teens might believe these issues are beyond their control, but soon they will realize that it isn't that difficult to move beyond one's own boundaries.
David is a lone wolf and spends most of his time watching the 1950s sit-com, Pleasantville. Meanwhile, Jennifer is a flirtatious, social butterfly who will do anything for a date with the school's most popular hot shot. On the home front, their parents are in a messy divorce and the kids search for a desperate escape from reality. David eagerly looks forward to the Pleasantville marathon while Jennifer prepares for her date. The two fight over the TV remote and it accidentally breaks. A repairman, portrayed by The Andy Griffith Show co-star Don Knotts, magically comes knocking at the door. He presents them with a special remote. The two teens are suddenly teleported into a different era, one less complicated and a bit more pleasant. They arrive in the black-and-white world of Pleasantville.
David and Jennifer appear as Bud and Mary Sue Parker. In the kitchen, they are greeted by their TV parents, George (William H. Macy) and Betty (Joan Allen). George reads the newspaper and Betty prepares breakfast for the kids. The ginormous feast consisting of pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, ham, and much more is served to them in a ceremonial fashion. The house is stylishly decorated and designed with all of the modern conveniences of the 1950s.
Bud and Mary Sue realize that they must play along until they discover a way to return home. While walking to school they pass freshly cut lawns, white picket fences, identical suburban homes, and stylish vehicles decorated with flamboyant chrome "Gorp." Everything is flawless, clean, and simple. Life is perfect. There are no social problems or disasters of any kind. Everyone is middle-class, healthy, and white. And the basketball team makes every shot!
This phenomena soon changes when Bud and Mary Sue begin to disrupt the community's status quo. Mary Sue introduces sexuality to the town by laying around with her fictional boyfriend. This unusual behavior ultimately causes an endless domino effect of rebellion. To the dismay of many, the furniture store even starts selling double beds, which was quite scandalous for 1950s television. Mary Sue even tells Betty how to properly pleasure herself. This exploration eventually causes the tree in the front yard to catch fire. Since the cat-saving firemen are clueless, Bud has to step up and help them extinguish the blaze.
Bud slowly introduces art and literature into the community. The blank pages magically fill in as he explains the stories to his friends. Classic novels such as Catcher in the Rye, Moby Dick, and Huckleberry Finn are several of the books that are mentioned in the film. This obviously is referring to the strict literature censorship of these books that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. After altering Pleasantville's universe, color begins to appear. Slowly but surely everything and everyone bursts into vibrant Technicolor. A thunderstorm clashes over the always sunny city and George doesn't receive his dinner. One by one, people change.
The black-and-white traditionalists finally respond with violence and anger after soda jerk Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) paints a colorful nude portrait of Betty on his store window. A fuming riot erupts and the place is torn apart. Bud's girlfriend, Margaret, sprints from the chaos with a ripped shirt and frightened face. This undoubtedly symbolizes the race riots of the 1950s and 1960s. The movie, however, doesn't just allude to racial prejudice but to the repression seen in totalitarian societies, too. During the riot, the library is also vandalized and the conformist citizens start torching the books. This situation has a horrifying resemblance to the book burnings conducted by the Nazis throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
Afterwards, the town council passes the Pleasantville Code of Conduct to stop the violence. This law hints back to the Jim Crow Laws and the segregation of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) and the rest of his conformists want to separate the coloreds from the black-and-whites. This is clearly his motive when he states, "We have to separate out the things that are pleasant from the things that are unpleasant." This discrimination is made clear again by the familiar "No Coloreds" sign.
Bud and Bill revolt against the prejudice by painting a colorful mural on the side of city hall. They are arrested and placed on trial. At the trial, Bud confronts his father George, who is still holding onto his conformist way of life. Bud argues that Betty is still beautiful, even if she is in color. George, just like everyone else, soon accepts and embraces the change. By the end of the film, the entire town of Pleasantville explodes with color and emotion. The transformation is complete.
David started as "a detached, ironic contemporary youth who initially tries to preserve the integrity of Pleasantville, only to learn that nostalgia is not all it's cracked up to be." Meanwhile, Jennifer was a teenage girl who was trying to "build a life out of fashion, sexual encounters, and glib nihilism." This left her with a "yearning for self-esteem and genuine emotional contact" (Johnson-Ott).
George Parker and Big Bob are resilient men shocked by sudden changes, both in the household and in society. Soda jerk Bill Johnson "stands out as a gentle soul with the spirit of an artist buried beneath his passive demeanor." Betty Parker, however, is perhaps the most inspiring character, beginning as the lonely, repressed housewife "who blossoms into passionate individuality" (Johnson-Ott). Ultimately, the film can teach us about alteration, love, and forgiveness. It discusses the important issues of the 1950s while also drawing parallels to how we live in modern America. The common notion is that life was simple in the 1950s, but in reality it was only simple on television. That is the lesson that David carried back with him to 1998. Life is complicated, for better or for worse, so make it count.
The acclaimed movie critic, Robert Ebert, recognized the significance of this film: "Pleasantville, which is one of the year's best and most original films, sneaks up on us. It begins by kidding those old black-and-white sitcoms like Father Knows Best, it continues by pretending to be a sitcom itself, and it ends as a social commentary of surprising power." Elbert concluded, "Pleasantville is the kind of parable that encourages us to re-evaluate the good old days and take a fresh look at the new world we so easily dismiss as decadent. Yes, we have more problems. But also more solutions, more opportunities, and more freedom" (Ebert). As the film's tagline so eloquently notes, the movie proves that "nothing is as simple as black-and-white."
Ebert, R. (1998, October 1). Pleasantville. Retrieved from RogerEbert.com.
Johnson-Ott, E. (n.d.). Pleasantville (1998). Retrieved from Internet Movie Database.
When the trailer for Fury was released this summer, it seemed possible that it could be the best World War II movie since the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. Yet despite its powerful punch and gritty appearance, Fury never quite reaches the caliber of Steven Spielberg's Normandy epic starring Tom Hanks.
Although both films are composed with overwhelming violent scenes of carnage, the movies contrast each other sharply in various ways. The dark drama of Fury strays far away from the "Greatest Generation" feel-good narrative we have seen in many World War II films. No glorified heroes are to be found in director David Ayer's (End of Watch) grizzly tank saga—and therein lies one of its greatest strengths. Audiences gain a small sense of what war truly is: filth, death, fatigue, uncertainty and inhumanity. In the long run, what we witness is an emblematic case study of a tanker family at war. Defined by conflict, stressed by circumstance and bound together by a tense camaraderie, the men of "Fury" reveal the pessimism and savagery of the World War II generation one rarely sees.
Headed by a stellar cast, the film concentrates on a fictional platoon of American Sherman tanks in April 1945 Germany. Facing fanatical SS troops with deep conviction in Hitler, the U.S. troops face a dogged battle deep in enemy country. Brad Pitt's character, nicknamed "Wardaddy," is the head of his tank. Scarred and embittered by the war, he nevertheless has a deep sense of devotion to his crewmates—especially newcomer Norman (played by the sensitive Logan Lerman), who is a clerk with no combat experience. Lerman's innocent character colorfully contrasts with the ruffians played by Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), and Michael Peña (Crash). Despite his recent displays of unusual public behavior, Shia LaBeouf shines as a fellow comrade who is a proficient killer that quotes scripture. His every scene pours with emotion as he portrays a man on the brink of despair.
Regardless of the strong chemistry between these characters, one has a difficult time liking them. In short, the characters are animals. Devoid of morality for the most part, these soldiers see their existence as part of a dog-eat-dog world. They kill with no hesitation. They engage in butchery for the sake of their own survival. They are products of their horrid environments. Despite their gruff natures, one nonetheless roots for them as they cast their differences aside and reaffirm their conviction in one another. Accurately capturing close-quarters combat, Fury strives for authenticity. The visceral depictions of the war are overwhelming—especially in the vivid (even if predictable or far-fetched) climactic showdown at a rural crossroads. Fury serves as a potent and well-produced cautionary tale to warn us of the dehumanizing toll war takes on those unfortunate enough to fight it.
Characters in film are often defined or limited by their mental capacities. Regardless of genre, personalities in movies are driven by their abilities to think, react, communicate, and convey emotion. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) exhibits these factors especially well. Produced by Warner Brothers in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the film delved into the triumphs and pitfalls of returning veterans to the home front. This melodrama became the most successful film of the 1940s because of its highly relevant nature to society.
Nearly sixty years later, a lesser-known production entitled The Machinist (2004) surprisingly enters similar cinematic territory. Focused on an emaciated industrial worker plagued by personal nightmares, the film is a psychological horror in the truest form. At first glance, these two films seemingly share little common ground. However, with closer scrutiny, one can realize that these movies are intimate portrayals of flawed individuals attempting to overcome traumatic moments of their pasts. In examining both the thematic and technical elements of these pictures, audiences and film students may gain not only a higher appreciation of cinema as art, but also a better understanding of the vulnerable human condition. In many instances, when we comprehend film we also gain new insights of society and ourselves. The Best Years of Our Lives and The Machinist reveal these traits in surprisingly creative and evocative ways.
The first manner in which one can analyze these films is to categorize them within the cinematic genres to which they belong. The Best Years of Our Lives is to be considered a melodrama in every way, shape, and form. The film expresses notions found in Physical Melodramas because several of the characters face personal "conditions that repress or control the protagonist's desires and emotions." These types of "physical restrictions may be related to the places and people that surround that person or may simply be a product of the person's" traits (Corrigan, p. 332). The character of Homer Parrish is the embodiment of this persona. As a World War II sailor who lost both of his hands during combat, Parrish is confined to limitations of his disability while constantly worrying about his abilities to find a vocation or provide for his girlfriend. This is equally true of character Fred Derry's difficult readjustment due to his post-traumatic stress problems—compounding dilemmas with his already tense marriage.
This, in turn, also makes The Best Years of Our Lives a Family Melodrama, for it delves into the social and gender frameworks apparent in the postwar era. On one hand, Fred's wife, Marie, became accustomed to her domestic independence in the wake of her husband's wartime absence. This is symbolic of the growing sense of female independence in wartime America as women increasingly joined the work force and enjoyed a new form of liberty. This change causes Fred and Marie's domestic worlds to collide upon his arrival home. On the flip side, the character of Al Stephenson is emblematic of the strong, patriarchal figure of Family Melodramas as he tries to protect his daughter's virtue from the romantic (and married) Fred. In a quickly-changing world, Al attempts to hang onto the family he left behind at the outset of the war.
These alterations in family structure also point out themes of a Social Melodrama within The Best Years of Our Lives. This moment in American History was defined by transition and prosperity. All of the characters in this film are swept into these broader forces of society. The most obvious issue is the readjustment of returning soldiers and sailors to peacetime life. While many veterans started families, moved to the suburbs, bought cars, and made use of the GI Bill, others also suffered from PTSD, alcoholism, poverty, and uncertainty. This film exhibits all of these traits in many ways as the characters attempt to reclaim or remake their lives.
While The Best Years of Our Lives certainly includes dark elements, but The Machinist takes the darkness to another level. This psychological horror film "locate[s] the dangers and distortions that threaten normal life in the minds of bizarre and deranged individuals" (Corrigan, p. 337). In this case, actor Christian Bale's character of Trevor Reznik has difficulty separating reality from his own nightmares. While the key players in The Best Years of Our Lives certainly have troubled flashbacks, these mental recollections never weaken them to the point of psychological and physical breakdown as one can see in Bale's characterization. Ultimately, both Fred and Trevor are able to release themselves from the horrors of their past even though their characters experience different fates as a result.
The Machinist and its plot are quite complex. This unreliable and reflexive narration tries to fool the audience. Full of complex twists and turns, the movie is a mental game of cat and mouse in which both the character and audience cannot differentiate reality from fantasy. In this sense, The Machinist is an immersive cinematic experience because those watching the film are as baffled as the main character. The movie "calls attention to the narrative point of view in order to subvert its narrative authority" (Corrigan). As a result, the audience must constantly question the plot and narrative. Additionally, the storyline of The Machinist falls within a group "that similarly challenges a traditional humanist understanding of the world, and which suggests, somehow, that human identity is not fixed and/or stable. This group includes films in which characters turn out to be someone other than who they thought they were" (Buckland, p. 68).
The Best Years of Our Lives is a multiple and omniscient narrative for rather simple yet visually stunning reasons. The film falls within the omniscient tone because director William Wyler's directing and cinematographer Greg Tolland's utilization in deep focus shots are so subtle that, in combination with an excellent script, the film almost has a documentary feel. This technique gently captures the multiple perspectives of the film via personal portraits of the characters. The film seemingly is comprised of separate stories, yet all of them are effectively drawn together through Wyler's direction. This mode of filmmaking is quite different from the filmmaking of the pre-World War II era. Therefore, "the stark and often horrific events raised questions about whether the classic narrative formulas of linear plots....could adequately capture the period's far messier and more confusing realities" (Corrigan, p. 220). Thus, The Best Years of Our Lives serves as a prime example of post-classical cinema in its dramatic transformation from the previous method of Hollywood storytelling.
From a historical standpoint, The Best Years of Our Lives follows "the expert discourse of the 'veterans problem,' both in its depiction of the able-bodied and disabled veterans' readjustment difficulties and in its dependence on gendered prescriptions to resolve them" (Gerber, p. 91). In this sense, Homer (himself a machinist's mate) becomes the vessel illustrating "spiritual rehabilitation" and rebirth via his marriage with Wilma. This, in turn, conveys the all-important message of "hope and reconciliation" (Gerber, pp. 70-71). In The Machinist, too, Trevor also finds reconciliation as he turns himself into the police for his hit and run accident. Both Homer and Trevor are able to overcome their physical limitations and release themselves from the invisible chains of their troubled personalities.
There are various ways film can affect the audience's hearts and minds. One way is through the movement of the camera, or cinematography. In The Best Years of Our Lives the sequence shot and the long shot were taken advantage of quite effectively. "This type of filmmaking more closely approximates human perception and is thus more realistic than montage" (Corrigan, p. 113). But, most importantly, the film is praised for its deep focus photography. A fine example of this style of camerawork is when the character Sgt. Al Stephenson comes home and embraces his wife. The camera was placed at the other end of the hallway with their children standing in the frames foreground, watching their father and mother reunite after many years of separation. This "balance indicate[s] restored family harmony" (Corrigan, p. 113) and helps the audience feel the moment. Another example of this deep focus effect is the scene when Fred and Peggy converse at the drugstore counter. In the background, Fred's store manager can be clearly seen peering out his office window. "Because of Wyler's use of deep focus photography, The Best Years of Our Lives contains less than 200 separate shots. The average Hollywood film of the period had 300 to 400 shots per hour" (Miller).
The Machinist, quite similar to many Alfred Hitchcock movies in its tone and Bernard Hermann-like score, uses diluted and colorless cinematography to capture hopelessness. The essence of abandonment and loneliness is conveyed by a grayish-green tinge to add a dreary look to the industrial setting in which Trevor lives. Similar techniques have been implemented in movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Traffic, Saw, and Letters from Iwo Jima to paint the horrid landscapes of war, drugs, and criminals. Thanks to cinematographers Xavi Gimenez and Charlie Jiminez, The Machinist offers a sense of lost hope and depression.
While the two films have many dissimilarities, they both interpret psychological problems while also providing sanctuaries for their main characters. In The Best Years of Our Lives the war torn veterans meet at Butch's Bar several times. This bar allows the characters to gather in fellowship and to grasp reality. In the airport café featured in The Machinist, Trevor treks to this establishment not to get in touch with reality, but to escape it. In this, audiences can also gauge the importance of setting for the sake of character stability and motivation.
The Best Years of Our Lives and The Machinist reflect different time periods and different styles of filmmaking. That being said, they are both highly artistic representations of the frailty of the human condition, offering us perspectives on both fictional characters and ourselves. Such is the power of cinema.
Buckland, W. (2009). Film Theory Goes to the Movies 2.
Corrigan, T. (2012). The Film Experience: An Introduction.
Gerber, D. A. (2012). Disabled Veterans in History.
Miller, F. (2014). The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). From TCM: Turner Classic Movies.