Well, happy half-way through 2018 everyone!!! Just as my film list started in January with a lonely man in the desert, I mark this mid-point in June with a lonely man on the frontier—Shane. I know there are plenty of classic Westerns I could have tackled before Shane, but I was particularly drawn to this one because of how frequently it was quoted, nodded at, and paid homage to in one of my favorite films, last year’s Logan. In a way, my desire to better understand that film put me on the path to this year’s binge-project. So you better believe I was excited for this film and pleased to discover it totally holds up.
Shane is an American story and a human story. The central conflict in the film is a battle between frontier-America’s two great heroes: the rugged, nomadic cowboy and the puritanical, homesteading farmer. Essentially, in the film, a small bunch of famers settle a Wyomingite valley (legally, thanks to the Homestead Act). However, their fences and irrigation directly threaten the livelihood of a cattle baron named Ryker, a man accustomed to free-range ranching. So, he and his unsavory cowpokes harass, insult, and injure the farmers in an attempt to provoke their voluntary eviction. And I gotta admit, unpleasantries aside, his complaints made a lot of sense. Like a bearded Thanos, I formed a twisted sympathy for the antagonist, adding depth to the story and placing all responsibility for resolution on our protagonist.
Which brings us to Shane. Shane is a charming, baby-faced anti-hero on the run from his violent, gunslinger past. He meets Joe Starrett and after some consideration, agrees to work on Joe’s farm, forming a friendship with Joe, a fatherly mentorship with Joe’s son Joey, and something of an affection-triangle with Joe’s wife Marian. Shane has clearly seen some shit and seems grateful for his new, simplified life when the ranchers’ harassment escalates. The situation in the valley worsens until violence seems to be the only tool remaining and Shane, knowing himself to be the most experienced gun fighter with the least to lose, once again resigns himself to violence.
This film holds up for a multitude of reasons. Like I said, Shane is an American story and in a narrow sense, land rights in the American West continue to be a source of conflict. From a wider perspective, the film explores great questions about man’s attraction to the frontier v. preference for civilization and establishment, outgoing industry v. economic development, and even established populations v. migrant ones—in direct parallel with America’s conflicts, today.
But as a human story, Shane holds up as a delicate reminder that violence is sometimes the only remaining option against a bully. And yet, it cautions that those who employ violence may never be able to 'normal' again. Shane is a reluctant hero. He is a man who tasted the ‘normalcy’ of the nuclear family and yet, after almost finding a place for himself, was called back to battle. This message spoke valuable multitudes to a nation still healing after World War II but is also unbound from time and from reality. It’s how the message of Shane could resonate so profoundly with me and with a fictitious mutant superhero, named Logan. This film still earns 5 out of 5 Grand Teton vistas and deserves a curious watch from everyone today.