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Films are true and false mirrors of reality. Through movies, their creators communicate general humanist truths, as well as personal viewpoints. Actors portray people as they are or may be in reality so that viewers put themselves in a position of a certain character. Movies are made to arouse emotions and, most importantly, questions. For this paper, two movie genres have been chosen, namely western and drama. Western is said to be “the most American genre” (Olivieri), while drama can be called the most refined way of portraying the complexity of human relationships and personal life dramas. Being the bright representatives of their respective genres, The Ox-Bow Incident () and Nebraska () show the two polar edges of conviction through the images of irrational, collective, crowd-drawn and majority-claimed lynch law and individual.
Despite their seemingly divergent genres, The Ox-Bow Incident and Nebraska have much in common. In fact, The Ox-Bow Incident is a drama in a form of western. The movie’s story is a “back-drama to explore the human condition and […] dysfunctional relationships” (Olivieri). The town community represents a society in which the voice of the crowd and the decisions of the majority transform people into avengers and executioners who condemn innocent men to death. Town folk is so obsessed with and blinded by the need to avenge their neighbor that they soon become targeted rather on the act of revenge than on its rightfulness. They are not concerned whether they have caught the right person. Thus, conviction in this movie is shown as a force that gradually loses its high purpose and true ideals and transforms into the moving force for a collective crime by far worse than the legend, with which the whole journey started. By trying to make things right, people become wrongdoers. However, the human tragedy of “wrongful convictions” (pun unintended) is not the only thing that resonates with the second movie and its story. The parallels continue in other cinematographic elements, as well.
Perhaps, the most obvious similarity is the black-and-white gamma, in which the films are made. However, whereas The Ox-Bow Incident is black-and-white by “birth”, as a product of the decade when color films have not been yet widely used, Nebraska is a modern creation, in which color choice is a means of conveying the movie’s message. Thus, it would be wise to devote at least a small section of current paper to this detail before proceeding to the analysis of the main characters and their convictions. To my mind, color or, better to say, its absence, is a crucial element in Nebraska. On the one hand, it helps create an adequate mood that corresponds to the scenery and movie dynamics. The story is dull, in a non-offensive way. The storytelling flows gradually and has no action or culmination in a traditional Hollywood blockbuster sense. However, such dullness is what adds realism to the story and makes the viewer focus solely on each character and, especially, on the depths of the main character’s drama. On the other hand, black-and-whiteness may be regarded as a symbol or allegory of the grey life many people lead in remote small towns all over the USA. Characters seen in the movie are broken, often jobless people leading meaningless lives in towns with broken economies. Thus, the color scheme is by far not accidental in Nebraska. It helps the creators tell Woody Grant’s story of extreme and unshakable conviction that looks true and hopeful on the background of the broken town life to an extent that one almost believes in the dream the old man is chasing.
As suggested by the thesis statement, the central discussion point for this analysis is the element of conviction. In The Ox-Bow Incident conviction is shown not as the subject matter for the movie or a reference to the main character, but rather as a collective mind of the crowd. It is not the sum of truly democratic viewpoints and individual worldviews. It is the voice of the crowd, in which some people even don’t have their convictions and simply follow the lead seeking some show. As for those individuals who have their points of view, but they are in a dissonance with that of the crowd leader, their voices are barely heard. The viewer sees how personal convictions in The Ox-Bow Incident are devalued as they compose the minority report. Unluckily, the main character Gil Carter (played by Henry Fonda) is one of the seven people who constitute the minority and oppose lynching without a thorough investigation. Respectively, Gil’s conviction does not play a crucial role in the story or the lives of the “criminals”. In fact, the conviction of the main character, just like the very personality of the main character, is unclear and obscure in the first part of the story. In a way, Gil is an inert participant of the quest who decides to follow the crowd only because he does not want the suspicion to fall on him and his friend, the newcomers to the town. Thus, his interest in the crusade was, at first, purely egocentric. As the story proceeds and the barbaric moods of the vigilantes evolve, the characters who oppose the Lynch Law start to voice their concerns one by one and try to stop the madness. Gil’s voice is one of not many who sound occasionally if not to protect the accused people then at least to speak in favor of the rightful justice-making. The turning point when individual convictions are bared and exposed is the moment when the priest Davies and even Tetley’s son Gerald oppose the rest of the posse as they cite against the decision to execute the three convicted men.