Recently, we talked about another aspect of the conquest of the West in class : the way it is represented in movies. And that is particularly interesting.
I'm not familiar with Western movies. They never really caught my attention although it doesn't mean I don't find the historical aspect behind them interesting. I may be wrong but it seems
a lot of most of the movies dealing with the American conquest of the West are precisely more worried about the sensationnal aspect instead of the historical one.
Yes, the conquest was about about settlers, pionners determined to reach the Pacific Coast, strike it rich and seek a better life with better opportunies. It was a new beginning. Yes, it was also about struggling against harsh conditions in a waterless and dry landscape where the water is rare and therefore immensely valuable, which was a great source of inspiration in the world of cinema. Brave men wearing pretty cool hats put in the spotlight, facing dangerous situations, willing to take risks in order to bring life to the great and majestic American civilization. Add an epic music and there you go, you have your typical Western movie. What about all of the Indians who were killed and exploited ? ... Yes well, that was a rethorical question.
Dances with Wolves is a movie I love though. Directed by Kevin Costner, it perfectly illustrates the horror of the war that opposed the settlers and the Indians and focuses on how a communication is established between an American lieutenant, John Dunbar, and the Sioux, an Indian tribe (Dunbar even marries one of them). It's a beautiful and heartbreaking story at the same time but what I enjoyed the most is the fact that each group that made history has its importance in it.
I still think you can find a form of legacy of these Wester movies in stereotypes we have about Americans : all Americans carry guns, only care about money, enjoy a good fight... In a recent tv show I've watched, Westworld, it is a bit different, nevertheless very ineteresting so I wanted to mention it. The plot is very complex and particular and I'm not going to go into details but this is a kind of satirical version of Americans that is represented. Basically, a lot of people can go to a park with hosts to entertain themselves by living a lot of adventures and become who they've always dreamed to be... in an 19th century Western landscape ! It doesn't *really* deal with the conquest of the West but I thought it was interesting cause it perfectly portrays people's dark, sometimes twisted, ambitions and desires, willing to do anything (and I said anything) to get what they want, being violent and perverted by ther pursuit of money, recognition, and even their quest of identity. It's a great tv show with amazing actors anyway so you should definitely watch it.
Thanks for reading !