For many of us growing up in today’s world, we are children of concrete jungles. We are more familiar with subways, skyscrapers, strip malls, and carefully manicured suburban lawns than forests. Venturing out into true wilderness is risky and incomprehensible by our cushy standards. Yet many years ago, this continent was not quite conquered. The West was once a vast place full of possibility; a place for adventure, for starting over, and for exploration. That is the world showcased in the film Hostiles.
Set in 1892, Hostiles portrays an America that is quite unrecognizable by today’s standards. The country was still recovering in some ways from the Civil War roughly three decades earlier. Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were still territories. In New Mexico, Hostiles explores relations between Native Americans and the American army. Specifically, some sentiments in the country that have shifted to favor less harsh treatment of the native population. Protagonist Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has fought many native groups for decades of his career with the army. One of the men he fought is Chief Yellow Hawk, a Cheyenne leader who has been imprisoned with his family at Fort Berringer for seven years. Orders have been given from the president himself to transport Chief Yellow Hawk from New Mexico to Hawk’s homeland, a valley in Montana, to live out his few remaining days.
Imagine the internal turmoil such an order would inspire. Here is a soldier who has fought and continues to fight against Native Americans. He must help his enemy, not only in a general sense, but a specific man he has opposed on the battlefield. Captain Blocker balks at the order, but he must carry out the mission or risk losing his military pension.
When he reluctantly begins the trek through the wilderness with his enemies in tow, he encounters a second subplot that actually is what we see in the opening scene of the movie. A frontier family has been slaughtered by a roving band of Comanche, with the mother (Rosamund Pike) being the sole survivor. The attack shown in the opening scene, and the skirmish scenes throughout the journey, are part of what I see as a contrast with the modern life I described earlier.
Living in an isolated area or on the frontier, people are in control of lady luck and must fend for themselves. Hostiles’ evil acts show us that one must be prepared to do whatever it takes to end threats when evil people try to do harm. Living in neighborhoods where we would hope others could hear cries for help, where we might typically also be able to call 9-1-1, we forget the potential need to defend ourselves, both from and with lethal force.
To me, that is part of the allure of the West that the film highlights and something we have lost in our lives. We stay in our daily routines chained to our cubicles, offices, and couches. In contrast, Hostiles showcases the rich natural splendor of our continent and a rugged self-reliance that has fallen out of fashion. Along the way, we see how even enemies can learn to work together and move beyond old hatreds. Bale stands out as a character who struggles with his mission and his demons yet has a classic style of honor. Rosamund Pike also shines as a traumatized widow, swinging between the deepest grief a woman could endure to an empowered and strong willed traveler. If nothing else she deserves awards for her ability to utter blood curdling screams.
Westerns are not for everyone, and Hostiles is no exception. For me, though, there’s something invigorating about sudden bursts of gunfire set against the backdrop of the mountains. In this case, the action is combined with human drama and messages about race relations still relevant to a present where people of different nationalities suffer in cages. If these notions appeal to you, consider tuning in now on Netflix.
—Antonio Rodriguez, Blogger.
Joliet native Antonio Rodriguez is a jack of all trades, having worked in several careers since obtaining his bachelor’s degree ten years ago. An obsession with Mad Men and a love of advertising has led him to focus on studying Marketing at Lewis University, which he balances with walking his two rescue dogs. If either the zombies or machines rise up, he’s the man to find.