John Ford's The Searchers

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John Ford's The Searchers

A critical theory by Robin Wood posits that the filmic genres popularized by the Hollywood system are not "discrete", but represent "different strategies for dealing with the same ideological tensions." (478) Wood claims that conventional theories fail to address this ideological phenomenon, and proposes a search for the myths and contradictions, produced by American capitalism, which fuel disparate filmic genres. Wood's attempt to discuss this ideology lists the "components" of a definition of "American capitalist ideology." (476) One component is the character of "the ideal male", the potent hero of the American way. (477) As the films produced out of capitalism tend to uphold the system's ideology, the hero produced by the film tends to represent the values of this ideology. Thus, through its hero, the classic Western naturalizes and justifies the "taming" of the land and the consequent subjugation of its "libidinous" native people in order to build "civilization." (476)

However, genre films are only potent because of the potentially subversive "intervention of a clearly defined artistic personality in an ideological-generic structure." (479) In The Searchers, John Ford manipulates the traditional relationship between hero, text, and ideology to challenge the dominant values of American society. The viewer initially identifies with the conventional character of Ethan Edwards, but is gradually forced to reject this "hero" and his values, and to regard Martin Pawley, a representative of more liberal beliefs, as the new-order "ideal male." Martin is both an indicator of how the audience should react to Ethan's extremist tendencies, and an alternative to them. Through the rejection of Ethan, in fav...

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..., even as a victim of the psychological reach of the expansionist credo. Clearly, revealing the damage done by the capitalist ideology, whether individual or social, in the frontier society of 1868, or in the "separate but equal" context of 1956, was important to the director. Fortunately, Wood's theory, examining the new meaning created by the juxtaposition of the thesis of a preexistent text with the antithetical views of the auteur, reaffirms Ford's success, and the potence of the genre film.

Works Cited

Warshow, Robert. "Movie Chronicle: The Westerner." Film Theory and Criticism.

Ed. Braudy, Leo, Marshall Cohen and Gerald Mast. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. (453-466)

Wood, Robin. "Ideology, Genre, Auteur." Film Theory and Criticism.

Ed. Braudy, Leo, Marshall Cohen and Gerald Mast. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. (453-466)
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