Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Democracy and Community

In the 1951 film “Westward the Women,” one can see the influence of Frank Capra, who wrote the original story. The idea of bringing everyone into the community exists, though it’s an incomplete idea. The movie contains layers of outsiders, with Ito seemingly the ultimate outsider, until the Indians who attack the wagon train are considered. Of course, the Indians have no intention of joining this particular community, which turns out to be, guns and all, a domesticated community. It will be a community centered, in California, on land, stability and family. At the beginning of the movie, the trail boss, Buck leads an Indian-like nomadic existence, not tied to a spot of land but free to roam anywhere on his horse. Fifi likewise isn’t tied down to the idea of family or domesticity. She’s a very different kind of nomad.

Capra-style inclusive populism is shown by three of the characters frequently speaking their native languages: Fifi (French); Ito (Japanese); and Mrs. Moroni (Italian). Yet all want to be American, to become part of the American idea of community.

The Lacanian-style irony in the film is that community within the wagon train doesn’t occur until after the train has left civilization. It occurs as a natural process, absent any government. By the end of the journey, the women themselves—the community—is in charge of the train. The patriarch is dead. Circumstances, as well as an encounter with Fifi, have demoted Buck from dictatorial leader—though he still serves as a loud voice, a prod, and a guide.

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