Friday, December 17, 2010

More Top Films: The Far Country (1955)

In the Far Country, Mann and Stewart subvert one of the main themes of traditional westerns: self-reliance. One of the standbys of a lot of westerns is the self-made-man, the cowboy who lives by his own code and answers to no one, the guy who needs help from nobody. Here in The Far Country we have that to the extreme. Jeff Webster not only needs no help, he distrusts it. Somehow, it is a fatal sign of weakness for him and that is not a good thing. He is clearly presented as a flawed character, someone with whom we are not supposed to agree.

This is especially subversive because it is one of those ideals that American culture aspires to fulfill. We look askew at other cultures that place high value on the good of society over the individual. We like to see ourselves as the cowboy who can go it on our own. The truth is that this ideal is not something that carried American culture into the frontier successfully, and The Far Country reminds us of that. Yes, there were a lot of self-reliant types in the frontier. There had to be. But those same capable people brought civilization into the wild. They built communities and cities. They cooperated and looked out for the common good. They built churches and courthouses. They brought the rule of law.

In the end, Jeff Webster is forced into acknowledging that he needs people, and perhaps just as importantly, that people need his help as well. There are things in the world more important than looking out for number one. Other people are worth fighting for as well. This is an important message in a lot of other westerns, if not quite as clearly presented as in The Far Country. It is an important part of American culture as well.


  1. Hey Jason,
    Hope all is well in Dresden and that y'all are staying warm. I heard that a family left the field in Germany recently. Was it the Phlegleys who work with you? If so, I'm so sorry. I just wanted you to know that I've moved my blog to
    If you wanted to, I'd appreciate you changing the link on your blog to it. Would love an update.

  2. Thanks, Deanna. I had already added your new blog to my reader, but forgot to change it on the blog here. Yes, we lost our new team-mates. Sad and we had a lot of hope for them, but it will work out.


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