Martha Bayles: August 2008 Archives

I have not seen the original 3:10 to Yuma (1957), made during the high noon of 1950s Westerns, when the hats were either white or black, and the heads wearing them either good or evil.  So I don't know how much moral ambiguity it goes in for.

But I have seen the remake, released in 2007, and unlike most of the films released 50 years after the classic Western era, it actually does an intelligent job of portraying gray hats and conflicted minds.  The story is a little contrived, but it works: Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is an impoverished rancher who agrees to deliver a dangerous outlaw named Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the train that will carry him to justice.

The chances of getting killed by Wade's nasty gang are sky high, but Evans takes the job in order to save his ranch and, more important, redeem himself in the eyes of his older son, who has started to see his father as a wuss.

Wade is the kind of brilliant bad guy you see in movies, adept at finding everyone's weak spot and taking full advantage of it.  Grasping in a hot minute what is going on between Evans and his son, Wade charms the boy, tempting him to admire this killer more than his own dad.

All of this spell-casting is aimed at facilitating Wade's escape and would do so, if Evans were an ordinary rancher.  But he is not.  He is not quite as cunning as Wade, but his mind is clearer and his spirit stronger.

The turning point comes when Wade gets the better of Evans and is about to kill him.  Evans doesn't beg; rather he confesses to Wade that he committed an act of cowardice during the Civil War.  Wade spares him, and they start to work together almost as a team, to convince everyone that Wade is in fact being placed on the 3:10 to Yuma.  (Whether he will end up in Yuma, I have my doubts.)  But Evans, at the price of his life, wins back his son's esteem.

The question is why did that confession make such a difference?  The only explanation I can come up with is that by revealing his own ignoble side, Evans  levels the playing field, so that Wade can locate and act on his own suppressed nobility.
August 24, 2008 6:35 PM |
A wise social scientist once commented to me that the most important task facing any society is the socialization of its young men.  Philosophers have concentrated on this question for thousands of years, and like it or not, almost every cultural tradition defines education as the molding of the male according to certain ideals.

Obviously we women don't care for this arrangement.  But setting that aside for a moment, consider that the problem facing American society these days is not that it neglects the education of young women but that it screws up the socialization of young men.  The most powerful shaper of popular attitudes is the entertainment industry, and what is it doing?  This short article in today's New York Times sums it up very effectively -- all the more so because it is so bizarrely uncritical.

This mentality can be summed up simply: Young men have no minds, souls, or characters worth bothering about; they care about nothing, respect nothing, and aspire to nothing.  They are pure appetite and aggression, just waiting to be pandered to for money.  So may the best panderer win.

Already I am tired of the fuss over Michael Phelps, who has won eight gold medals but seems to have less charisma than a carp.  But at least he aspired to greatness and achieved it.  Without sports -- and, of course, war -- what other challenges are presented to young men?  Being the biggest gross-out on the block?
August 17, 2008 10:10 AM |


Me Elsewhere


About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Martha Bayles in August 2008.

Martha Bayles: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Martha Bayles: September 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.