' ' Cinema Romantico: My Greatest Movie: The Last of the Mohicans

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Greatest Movie: The Last of the Mohicans

A kid between his freshman and sophmore years of high school returns from Waukee Video on a humid summer evening in central Iowa with a rented VHS tape in hand and strolls through the front door of his blue two story home on 3rd Street.

He situates himself in the darkened basement, places the tape in the video player on top of the TV and settles in to watch a film called "Last of the Mohicans".

He's someone who wouldn't be caught dead reading a James Fenimore Cooper novel. He is not keen on the outdoors and is frightened silly by guns. Big, sweeping gestures are not this person's style. He's a bit of Revolutionary War buff but does not take much interest in the war that preceded it, the French and Indian. Perhaps it's strange then that he is watching a movie based on a Fenimore Cooper novel that is primarily set outdoors and containing a whole lot of guns and even more big, sweeping gestures with the French and Indian War as a backdrop.

The movie starts. The Twentieth Century Fox logo but sans the theme that always accompanies it. The film has already begun its own soundtrack. It is so urgent, he thinks, there is nary a second of it to be wasted, not even with the studio fanfare. The title cards tell him the year is 1757 during the war for the possession of the North American continent and then it tells him that three men, the last of a vanishing tribe, are on the frontier west of the Hudson River. He really likes that. The setting is epic, the story is personal, and they will converge to show how the personal truly is epic.

He is introducted to the three men, Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis), Uncas (Eric Schweig), and Chingachcook (Russell Means), in the midst of a dramatic hunt for an elk. It's life & death. The whole movie is life & death, and right from the start.

He likes how the movie has no time to waste on small talk. Duncan (Steven Waddington) proposes to Cora (Madeleine Stowe) straight away in their first scene. Hawkeye defiantly challenges Duncan and Cora the first time they meet. And, man, does he like how Alice (Jodhi May) doesn't really say much at all, and he senses it's not because Alice doesn't have anything to say but because she prefers to observe and internalize.

He senses the shyness and awkwardness possessed by Alice are just like his. He senses the idealism in Colonel Munro (Maurice Roeves) and Jack Winthrop (Edward Blatchford) is much like his. He senses the passion and emotion possessed by Hawkeye and Cora are identical to his. He likes it when Cora says "the whole world's on fire" because he senses it speaks to the heart of what writer/director Michael Mann considers at stake in his film - namely, everything. Absolutely everything.

Hell, he can even sympathize with the bad guy, Magua (Wes Studi), since he's got some valid reasons for being so peeved. ("Magua's heart is twisted. He would make himself into what twisted him.")

The movie ends. He cannot move. He makes no sound, save for the sobbing that started around the time that Alice jumped off the cliff. He's enjoyed movies in the past. "Star Wars" made him happy and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" made him cheer and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" made him laugh and "Glory" inspired him but this is more then simple enjoyment. He didn't know that movies could be like......this. His life's changed, he thinks, for better or worse. Probably worse. He's fairly certain the movie has seen his soul. All things around him are in focus, and not just the giant framed map of Lake Superior on the wall behind him.

As the closing credits roll down the screen he realizes he understands what a movie, and what art as a whole, is capable of being.

He will go on to graduate from high school in 1996. He will go to work at a movie theater. He will attend the University of Iowa in hopes of winding his way into the famed Writer's Workshop only to get irate with his useless pre-requisites, hide away in his dorm room writing, and eventually drop out. He do time at an ad agency and then a string of more offices that all blur together. He will move to Arizona and back to Iowa and to Chicago and make new friends and lose old friends and become obsessed with a smattering of women and live on his own and in a house with a pool and a mountain for a backyard view and sleep on a broken couch for three months and he'll have his appendix taken out and get saddled with a stomach illness and his parents will get divorced (for the very best) and his dad will get re-married to a wonderful woman and his sister will graduate from college and he'll take a road trip through the back roads of Maine with her and he'll fly to New York City with a friend for one day just to watch Bruce Springsteen live and he'll see a movie about a female boxer that's just as good as the one he's watching right now and he'll see a Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner in person and he'll sleep on a beach in San Diego and one day he'll travel to the very sites he's currently watching on the television across from him. But during the course of all that, and a whole lot more, one thing will remain resolute, one thing that he has realized in a moment of blinding, almost unfathomable clarity on on this humid summer evening in his basement.

He will be a writer.


Wretched Genius said...

I remember this being the first time I watched a widescreen movie on VHS. Mann wouldn't let the picture be cropped, and I was amazed at how much bigger the picture seemed to be even though there were black bars at the top & bottom. While I greatly admire this film, I don't quite match your enthusiasm. But I will give it this: this is the movie that made me want to watch widescreen movies.

Nick Prigge said...

It's interesting because when they show this movie on tv on AMC it's in full screen. And, my God, do you miss a lot. Yeah, widescreen's the only way to go with images like these and nobody utilizes widescreen like Michael Mann.

Anonymous said...

This has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it also. I've watched it countless times, never seem to tire of it! I like many of the characters, especially the father ( the consummate warrior).

Thanks for your great presentation!