Stranger and Friend: Non-American Westerns and the Immigrant in the Twenty-First Century

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    Abstract

    This chapter draws attention to the immigrant in recent, non-Hollywood Westerns. As one of the core genres dealing with American national identity, a significant presence in the Western is the immigrant, often hailing from Europe who, memorably, was venerated as an American ancestor in a number of John Ford’s Westerns. However, these characters are, at best, secondary figures, serving to idealise the masculinised, white American protagonist and the certainty of the American Dream. The chapter argues that twenty-first century Westerns made outside of the United States, where the immigrant is the protagonist, are holding the American Dream to account for its abundant failure to fulfil its promises, particularly the values typically associated with the Dream of equality and upward mobility.

    In order to do this, the chapter explores three core motifs in three recent non-American Westerns that have placed the immigrant family centre stage at a time when immigration has global attention, and which encourage a critical stance towards the American Dream: The Salvation (Kristian Levring, 2015) from Denmark, shot in South Africa, starring Mads Mikkelson; Slow West (John Maclean, 2015), funded by Film4 and the New Zealand Film Commission amongst others, starring Michael Fassbender; and Jauja (from Argentine Lisandro Alonso, 2014), a Danish language film starring Viggo Mortensen and set in Argentina. Each film interacts with the mythic, multifaceted concept of the American Dream, and with three narrative structures that can be found in immigrant representations across cinema’s history: firstly, the binary construction of the immigrant as either / both friend or stranger which is a narrative manifestation of the transcultural process of assimilation; secondly the dialectic of diaspora and settlement, of routes and roots, using Neil Campbell’s conceptualisation of the Western (2008); and finally the construction of the immigrant as ‘redeemer,’ a concept from Jonathan J. Cavallero’s evaluation of the early films of Frank Capra. The experience of immigrants in these films constructs an America that either violently resists their assimilation as Americans or re-presents the American Dream as an illusion. It is argued that such Westerns are re-writing the American Dream as one of ‘ambivalence and despair,’ a term used by Jim Cullen to describe the American Dream of the immigrant (2003). The result is a denunciation of the United States’ self-professed ideal of the ‘city upon a hill,’ the nation that claims to be a beacon of good values to the world, in the context of a time when immigration features increasingly in headline news, TV drama, narrative film and documentary-making.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationReframing Cult Westerns
    Subtitle of host publicationFrom ‘The Magnificent Seven’ to ‘The Hateful Eight’
    EditorsLee Broughton
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic
    Chapter10
    Pages186
    Number of pages203
    ISBN (Print)9781501343490
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2020

    Keywords

    • Western
    • Westerns
    • The West
    • American West
    • Non-American
    • Immigrant
    • Immigrant-redeemer
    • Immigration
    • American Dream
    • Transcultural

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