' Cinema Romantico: A 2014 Scene (Sequence) To Go Home With You

Friday, January 09, 2015

A 2014 Scene (Sequence) To Go Home With You



Manifest Destiny. That's the marvelously mellifluous term that was coined to express fledgling America's attitude that it was entitled to stretch from coast to coast, and the Fairfield Hotel of 1850’s Iowa in “The Homesman” may as well be a blue emblem of Manifest Destiny. It is isolated, set atop a small hill with street signs set just below that are absent any actual streets and actual buildings to occupy those streets and actual pedestrians to occupy those actual buildings. It's not lonely so much as it is sorta pompous, like it's simply expecting businesses and people to pop up like capitalist germination from its handsomely constructed seed.

Of course, the only thing that seems to have manifested itself within the context of this film is insanity, whether full-fledged or slow-burning. This is where George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) deserted the army and started squatting on land that wasn't his. It's where Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) felt compelled to propose to some dimwitted clodhopper with smelly cheese in his pocket cuz, shit, any woman's destiny anywhere for all time involves gettin' hitched to a man, don't it? It's where these three women George Briggs is hauling to a church to look after them all went genuinely off their respective rockers.

“We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can,” wrote John L. O’Sullivan in The United States Democratic Review in 1939 when coining Manifest Destiny as a term. But no truths of God are in the minds of these people, no beneficent objects are in their hearts, and their conscience is sullied by their past, present and future. What future? If Providence is with these people then Providence is a pissant son of a bitch, to borrow the phrasing of Mr. Briggs.


And so when George sidles up to the front desk at the Fairfield Hotel, “beacon of the west”, like the incredibly irascible old codger he is, desperate for a room for himself and for the women traveling with him, and for a warm meal and a hot bath, it’s like he’s coming face to face with America’s own inflated ego. That ego is personified in the establishment’s proprietor, Aloysius Duffy, played by a regally imperious James Spader with an Irish accent which I like to imagine is the film reminding flag-waving, chest-beating Americans that everyone in this country more or less came from somewhere else.

There is no room at the inn even though there is all kinds of room at the inn because it only has room for investors because investors will grease the wheel of this “beacon” to American capitalism. It is not interested in merely offering “the milk of human kindness”. Ask not what I can do for you, but what you can do for me. And a dude from NEBRASKA in IOWA* (*inside joke) who may have money but doesn’t own real estate can’t do much but trundle on to the next campsite. He's dismissed from the lobby of the Fairfield at gunpoint and unleashes an oration suggesting a divine plague will sweep down upon its proprietors for their turning a blind eye to those in need.


Except George Briggs knows damn well there will be no divine intervention. Providence, as we established, has long done left this continent. So he returns in the middle of the night, allegedly to steal food for himself and those in his charge, but really to burn the place down and shoot those high-falutin’ “gentlemen of means” when they try and escape. It’s terribly unsettling. The look Jones lets play on his face as he goes about his business, which isn't much of a look at all beyond acute detachment, is chilling. And, strangely, affecting. Glorious, even. This isn't vengeance. He's not even in a hurry to escape, moving his horse at a trot as the hotel burns behind him. Where does he have to escape to? Manifest Destiny has ensured there's nowhere else to go. His eyes have seen there will be no glory of the coming of the Lord, only railroads and robber barons and Civil War.

It's a man who walked into a hotel, saw the future and to the future said “fuck you”.


1 comment:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

What beautiful, strong writing.