Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Searchers - Opening Scene Analysis

Many critics see the final scene of The Searchers as one of the most influencial within the film but I believe it could easily be argued the opening scene ranks the same. The cinematography between the two is almost identical but simply in reverse. What is enduring about this scene is the very first few seconds as Martha opens the door, as if she is opening the door to the movie narrative and a picturesque landscape overpowers the darkened corners of the screen to present the inside of the house.

In many ways, this simple minute with only one line reinforces many of the ideas and myths that surround the settlement of the West. For example, the notion that they are the only family within sight would have been highly uncommon in reality but media outlets such as the Western film aimed to solidify these ideas because it portrayed a kind of paradise. The score solidifies this idealistic image also with high-pitched strings providing a happy yet calming soundtrack to accompany Martha looking out onto what seems to be a utopian situation. Similar views on settlement are found in literature, in Little House on the Prairie for instance. Many comparisons can be drawn. Both families are shocked to see figures approaching the house. Here we see Aaron in awe of of his brother Ethan's arrival, showing this embedded sense of peace that this family has to the extent that they remain detached from their own family as well as the rest of the outside world.

What is also established in the scene are the generalised ideas of gender. For instance, Martha is consise with her appearance to the finest detail and also immerses into a moment of melodrama with her hand movement whereas Aaron simply struts in front of the house squinting in his rugged shirt and waistcoat. A major contrast between them is the colouring of their outfits - Martha wears white and blue to suggest high levels of domestcity and a certain aspect of innocence also but Aaron wears dark clothes which almost look dirty suggesting he endures the more typically masculine jobs around the land. These ideas can also be found in other Westerns and again, Little House on the Prairie. Aaron falls into one of Frederick Jackson Turner's three catagories of emigrants being 'the pioneer, who depends for subsistence of his family chiefly upon the natural growth of vegetation, called "the range" which certainly seems true of this family's position given the acres of land that surround them with no neighbours to unsettle them.

Turner also speaks of the American need to 'enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature' which can certainly be seen here with them being the only household in sight. This falls into the theorised expansive power which resides in the American identity. What is striking, and particularly visual in this scene, is how subconscious that notion has become - there seems to be no regard for what or who may have previously been settled as their idealised lifestyle is the dominating feature and visualised with extensive beauty in the camerawork as we move from the interior to the exterior.

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