Jeremiah Johnson

Closing down our cinematographic extravaganza of a holiday week, this evening we watched Jeremiah Johnson. I first saw this (strangely) obscure film in 1976, four years after its release, at the Ultimate Picture Palace, and then only thanks to my contemporary, Gerald W., who raved about it (and to whom I am eternally grateful). He was quite right to insist. You have to look hard on the internet for detailed reviews of this film but it surely deserves to be better known. It is a beautiful allegory of the American dream: advance, stand up for yourself, survive, and people will respect you. Robert Redford clearly warms to his role as Johnson, and the backdrop – the savage beauty of the Rockies – is brilliantly captured. The film is also objective in terms of clashing moralities and cultures. The Crow Indians never kill gratuitously. Even as Johnson loses his adoptive family, in a mist of grief, he understands that a price had necessarily to be paid for trespass on a Crow burial ground. Redford, as Johnson, is at the forefront of a human tide that will inexorably wash ever further westwards. The indigeneous Indians, faced by a mutual enemy in the form of the mountains and the elements, understand respectfully the fact that Johnson would prefer to deal with them on their terms in their world, rather than the world that he has fled. But a cameo appearance of the US Army signifies the beginning of the end of the world in which Johnson and the Crow would prefer to struggle. The film ends with Johnson and the Crow making peace – but the audience knows that they will be over-run and will disappear. Brilliant, poignant.

4 Comments

  1. Richard Adams

    08/11/2010 at 11:25

    Blade Runner continues to be highly rated (both versions) and I see it is currently available free, at least until 12th November, on the BBC website. I was hooked by PKD about forty years ago and (sadly) have most of what he wrote – or rather what was published. Whilst I am a great admirer of Ridley Scott’s take on Electric Sheep you’ve highlighted a darknes and dystopia that were just one of the themes in the original story. Equally prominent were questions about the nature of reality and the perspective on a decaying society from a number of viewpoints. Scott misses out Deckard’s obsession with having a ‘real’ animal of his own as a pet (as opposed to a synthetic one) and also the strong storyline about the empathetic ‘religion’ of Mercerism. The darkness is somewhat relieved by Dick’s usual ironic and counter-cultural attitudes which somehow manage to lift the spirit.

    Of course there are parallels to be drawn with the nature of reality within the EU and the Committee and I suspect that our new President, fortunately, often has a not dissimilar take to PKD on our world.

  2. Hugo Kijne

    08/11/2010 at 16:09

    That movie may be relatively unknown in Europe but it is a cult film in the US and frequently shown on TV.

  3. Martin

    09/11/2010 at 11:28

    I glutted on him a bit last year, Richard (see links). What would you recommend I should read next? Ubik? Flow my tears? He is a fascinating character.

    All the best,

    Martin

    http://www.martinwestlake.eu/do-androids-dream/
    http://www.martinwestlake.eu/the-man-in-the-high-castle/

  4. Alex Vella Gera

    21/12/2010 at 10:55

    I too am a big PKD fan. Ubik is superb, but so is his late trilogy (Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), in which he seems to be dissecting his own insanity with a lucidity that belies that very same insanity.

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