Friday, September 16, 2016

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)

Revisiting this film recently with my son, I was reminded of a couple things. First, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are two of the most likeable screen presences of all time. Second, this film leaves one as empty as the other western of its time, “The Wild Bunch.”

The Boomer generation has really reaped the whirlwind of its empty idealism. Maybe the reason we find ourselves with a choice between the two most disliked candidates in the history of the country goes back to the misplaced cynical ideals the generation had back in their twenties.

Butch and Sundance are ultimately just likable, hollow men. They (and the audience) think that they are harmless scoundrels taking advantage of a corrupt system in a time when civilization had not yet made it to the frontier. But, when the frontier begins to disappear as the railroad ties things together, they realize they need to move on to the next frontier: South America. The system catches up to them there too, so they decide to “go straight” for a while. It is then that they are forced to kill (seemingly for the first time), and they decide that they are not cut out to be “real villains.” But the days of “harmless” robbers are gone…

What makes this film infinitely more enjoyable than “The Wild Bunch” (for the first half) is that it isn’t trying to indict the culture of its day. Boomers loved to stand in judgement of their elders. Instead, it concentrates of presenting an idealized version of history. The leads are impossible to dislike, the music is wonderfully pleasant, and the traditional western landscape is presented lusciously.

Unfortunately, the message of the story is just empty.

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