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Legends of the Fall

February 24, 2011

(So I’m going to try to start writing here again. But to keep it small, in hopes that I’ll keep it up, I’m going to focus on providing reviews of movies/books/tv shows/etc that I watch and provide thoughts on them. Focusing on kyriarchy and all that jazz.)


So “Legends of the Fall” is a super old movie that I love for no discernible reason. It’s terribly depressing, which is why I shouldn’t like it. But it’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and it contains beautiful people, and it’s cathartic, so I watch it anyway. And love it.


Super quick synopsis. “Legends of the Fall” follows the lives of three brothers: Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel, and how they all fall in love with the same woman, Suzanna. Samuel meets her first, and brings her to the family home in Montana to marry her. Before they are wed, the first world war breaks out, and all three boys enlist led by Samuel’s rather naïve patriotism. Tristan spends the war attempting to keep Samuel safe, but fails and Samuel dies. The elder two boys return home, where Suzanna stays with the family through the winter because the tracks are snowed in. Over the course of the winter, Alfred falls in love with her, but she rebuffs him. In the spring, she and Tristan hook up, but he has PTSD-type issues. Eventually he runs away, for years, to travel the world. Upon returning, he finds Suzanna married to Alfred, childless and unhappy. Tristan falls for the child of the farm hand, a half white half Native American woman named Isabelle Two. They have two children, and take up bootlegging to make ends meet. Alfred, meanwhile, is a state senator or some such thing, and the two boys are by this point perennially pissed at each other. Suzanna kills herself. Shit happens related to the bootlegging, Isabelle Two is killed, and the boys make up after shooting the bad guys.


It is, however, a pretty huge on the representation of women. While it passes condition #1 of the Bechdel test, because it contains at least two named women, and condition #2, they talk, and it might even sort of pass #3, depending on how you define it, it pretty well breaks the spirit of the whole test.


The main female, Suzanna, begins promisingly. She’s introduced as educated, motivated, and passionate. It’s even implied that she’s the motivating factor behind her and Samuel’s discussions of pre-marital sex. That’s…pretty much it. Well she manages to not fall for all THREE brothers, which I guess is something. But she’s incredibly passive for the rest of the movie. The men move around her, deciding things and doing things, and she looks beautiful and emotional and stands there while it happens. To make it even better, she never has children, and is obviously compared to Isabelle Two who is portrayed as very fertile, and thus womanly. The contrast makes Suzanna out to be a failure as a woman, which is apparently a big factor in her suicide. That and the whole being in love with Tristan but married to Alfred.


Isabelle Two also pretty well fails, despite having less screen time to be useless. We meet her as a girl, maybe twelve, who announces that she’s going to grow up and marry Tristan. Which she does. And then she has his kids. And then she dies. And that’s nearly all she does. The other bit she gets: she’s half Native American, and the nice white people give her an education in things like European history.


Which brings us to the racial aspects. Tristan is consistently characterized as wild and “Native” like. When Samuel dies, which he witnesses, he goes bonkers, kills a bunch of Germans and scalps them. Because he’s native like that. There’s the cliché old Native man who dances and sings and gives Tristan good “Native” advice. All of his wild moments are accompanied that type of imagery.


To finish off, there’s a little scene I can’t decide what to do with. While Tristan is off wandering the world, there’s a really short scene where it appears he’s being raped by two men, the two men who he spends years on a boat with afterward. The voice over is a letter from him to Suzanna: “Everything we had is dead/ as am I/ Marry another”. So it sounds to me like same sex rape will make you dead inside. I don’t know if it’s precisely homophobic, but I’m bothered by it. I don’t understand why the PTSD wasn’t enough, why they had to insert a rape scene also.


The movie gets a cookie though: the boy’s father has a stroke, and he doesn’t become a pitiable character. He remains the same hard willed son of a bitch he’s always been, just nearly impossible to understand.


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