Sunday, May 28, 2017

they fought for the ones who couldn't fight for themselves

How The Magnificent Sevenis quintessentially American (even when it shares so much with stories from around the world and deliberately apes Japan's Seven Samurai) is kind of simple. Think politically, socially, and consider these words from Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) in the church at the beginning of the film:

This is what you love, what you'd die for. And what your children and your children's children will work on, suffer for, be consumed by. ... Now, I come here for gold. Gold. This country has long equated democracy with capitalism, capitalism with God. So, you're standing not only in the way of progress and capital. You're standing in the way of God! And for what? ... Land. This is no longer land. The moment I put a pin in the map, the day I descended into this godforsaken valley and cast my gaze upon it, it ceased to be land and became... Dust. ... This is your God?

And, he pours the dirt onto the floor.


First, some history. While Bogue is not entirely wrong--we did, of course, give the right to vote initially to just property-owning males--the specificity of tying "capitalism" to "democracy" is not totally accurate. Hell, the explicit link between God (specifically, Protestantism) and capitalism was argued by Max Weber in his 1930 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The Magnificent Seven is set in 1879. While economics was a big driving force leading into the Civil War (which put Chisolm here in the Union Army, Robicheaux into the Confederate), the phrasing, "democracy with capitalism" feels anachronistic.

But, more important than that anachronism, it's interesting that this remake--and the timing of its production is relevant here--puts the capitalist so far into the territory of being, well, evil. The side of good is a bunch of outlaws and misfits, including a Mexican, a Comanche, an African and an Asian. Considering the timing, the non-Caucasian members of the titular seven are worth a far lengthier conversation than would fit here. America fought a war against the Mexicans and took their territory (and Vasquez is a wanted man). Fought a war over the enslavement of the African. America was currently warring against natives like the Comanche. And the Chinese Exclusion Act (though Billy is played by a Korean, the film does not specify his national origin) would be just a few years ahead. These are the dregs of society. Even Emma Cullen, who hires them, is now a young widow left to fend for herself. Outcasts, disenfranchised folks. Versus professionals. Over who has the money and the power. And, this film came out in 2016, an election year. I don't know what specific motivation Fuqua may have had for taking on this film, but separate from personal intent, there is the intent of time. The original came out in 1960, and involved bandits raiding a Mexican village, not a robber baron strong arming a town out of its land for his profit. This change matters. Coming out of the 1950s, putting the villain on the side of capitalism wouldn't have made as much sense as it might in 2016. Post Citizens United. With Bernie Sanders running for president (though he was out of the running by the time the film was actually in theaters).

This is an American story because it is about the common man rising up, lifting himself up by his bootstraps as it were. Capitalism be damned, on the smaller level, with these townsfolk and farmers. It's just about hard work. Bogue hires his guns. Technically, Cullen hires hers as well, but not really; there's no real money in it for them, the ones who survive anyway. And, they train the townsfolk, use them to make the fight bigger. This is a movie about the people rising up agains the moneyed elites who hold them down. In 2016, what was more American than that?

 

 

 

 

 

Except for, given the results of our election last year, siding instead with Bogue because the townsfolk of Rose Creek don't know what's good for them.

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