Who Was That Masked Man?

by cowboylands

A certain commentary conversation was getting veeeery interesting, so I have to bring it to the light of day. High Noon day that is. I had fingered Gary Cooper as a Man Worthy of Emulation (at least on the silver screen). Cooper’s Everyman Marshal Kane is willing to risk all for the sake of duty. And an unpopular duty it is: he is faced with having to confront the town bullies all on his high lonesome—the fine upstanding members of the community have abandoned him.

 The ending scene is striking: after the shootout the marshal strides out into the empty street to be with his wife. They are the only ones on the street, which becomes a stark landscape of harsh shadows and light, bringing their isolation into sharp black-and-white right/wrong focus. Doing the right thing has never seemed so thankless and so difficult. Yet so necessary.

Cue American presidents, who, according to the word on the range, choose this movie over many others to view and re-view (not Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? To Kill a Mockingbird? Rambo?). There have been pages and pages of High Noon/Cold War commentary, but what about this particular western grabs western world leaders by their virtual spurs?

People like the mysteriousness, the sense of knowing what they’re doing though no one else does, that happens in [High Noon]. The central character is the mysterious one. No one else in the movie knows what they are going to do, except the central character and the viewer. This opens up possibilities to those in power, like presidents… to feel like the all-knowing all-seeing viewer, along with the power to change the outcome that the central character has.Mythic power. The mythic power is something that has been lost with the onset of the new hero, the youthful and/or bumbling one, that is prevalent today.

 

 So spake batboy42.

On Marshal Kane’s furrowed brow is the mark of Cain—a mark that sets his moral persona off from the rest of bumbling townspeople-humanity. But he is not alone: he is joined by none other than the viewer, who has been tipped into Kane’s point of view by the subtle action of the camera.  And so the viewer feels that Kane’s choices—as difficult and heart-wrenching as they are—are choices that he/she would make. Is making. And will make. The Everyman becomes the Hero. We become the Hero. Life has meaning. Mythic power indeed, to instill such heady stuff into everyday life.

Then I have to take a stiff shot of whiskey because truthfully, I’d be the guy hiding behind the barrel of pickles in the general store, wishing I would have the guts to do the right thing. What would it be like, to feel so firmly, with such unshakeable faith, that my actions could have meaning? (On good days I feel they might, but on bad days, fuhgeddabout it, pardner.)

Is the reason there are so many movies with bumbling heroes nowadays because it is so hard for the everyperson to visualize one’s actions as having meaning? Do world leaders need a dose of black-and-white mise–en–scène to get them through announcing troop escalations or vetoing health insurance bills? Perhaps we all need to return to the time of myth and meaning. Is it possible? Or will we each be doomed to always be one of the townspeople, saying “Who was that masked [heroic] man?”

 

 

 

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Leave a Comment to “Who Was That Masked Man?”

  1. The only time it’s worth standing up for what’s right and finding yourself alone in the end is on a reality show. And then you get sent home.

  2. Do nice guys on those shows always, sometimes, or never finish last?

    When teaching adolescents I found it useful to stand up for the right thing to do. But it was a small school, in which one could make a difference. And I didn’t get to wear sexy reality show gear. Anyway, that was a sidetrack, but there is where it was worth it. However it was tiring, and hence: burnout.

    In a movie you get the girl/guy. So you don’t end up standing alone (Grace Kelly and Cooper’s clinch). However, in certain westerns, drifter types do end up alone, and they seem to get satisfaction from doing what they have to do. They go off into the sunset or the mountains or some other nature communion. So maybe they aren’t really alone after all. Good, because being alone can suck. Which comes back to the comment above: when is it really worth it to stand up for what’s right and find yourself alone?

    I’ve just talked myself into a wagon-circle.

  3. If you’re doing the right thing, you are not alone, pardner.

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