John Ford’s The Searchers has been described as one of the greatest Westerns of all time – with its marvelous score, its game-changing cinematography, especially its astonishing use of landscape around Monument Valley; and its underlining story about a man out for revenge for the murder of his brother and sister-in-law, and the capture of his nieces by Native American Indians. Moreover, it is brave and bold, but also unapologetic in its racist attitudes to Native Americans, something that we would all probably today express an inward shiver of embarrassment thanks to enlightened eyes. But even though we are made to feel sympathetic towards actor John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards plight, crisscrossing the West in search for his nieces, it personally doesn’t sit well with me knowing that he is an unforgiving racist. For instance, the scene where he desecrates the burial of a Comanche warrior by shooting out his eyes is quite startling and brutal. But deep in my heart I know The Searchers was made that way to shock us, maybe even to challenge our notions of what drives us despite our prejudices. And that there I have to admit is the genius of John Ford’s compelling story! We don’t have to like the main protagonist in order to be moved or aroused by a good story. Though, I must say, you almost don’t want Wayne’s character to find his missing niece, especially after he finds out that she is happy living amongst her captors. “Livin’ with Comanches ain’t being alive”, a vile Ethan Edwards retorts. At that moment, rather than bringing her back home, he plans instead to kill his niece for her underlining sympathies to the ‘enemy’.
I will not spoil the ending for those readers who haven’t seen The Searchers, but I will leave you instead to ponder whether one man’s lifetime of prejudices can be redeemed with one act of kindness? To find out I sincerely recommend you watch The Searchers.