When most people feel sick, or unhappy, they rely on familiar remedies: chicken soup, a hot bath, a new mystery novel, some alone time, a favorite treat, deep sleep…these are sources of comfort and renewal.
For my husband, watching a Western does the trick.
I have recently read that many films referred to as “Westerns” are more accurately categorized as “frontier dramas”, and this seems sensible, but it doesn’t quite roll off of the tongue, does it? Whatever the term for it, the genre is full of comforting elements, and I have come to realize that my husband knows powerful medicine when he sees it.
In a Western, the good guys usually win, but that is not the point. The important element is the goodness itself, the honesty and clarity of the protagonist’s internal moral compass. I recognize the simplicity of his position; he is good because he knows what is needed and also what isn’t needed, what must be done to guard and preserve his needs, and what must not. What does the good guy need? He needs his home, his land, water for his cattle, the safety of his family if he has one. He needs justice, freedom, truth. What does the bad guy need? Who knows? He is too busy trying to get what he wants—and the concept of “must not” doesn’t figure into it.
In a Western, the plot is usually recyclable. John Wayne is John Wayne. No means no. A spirited child may be endangered. A saloon girl with a heart of gold often arrives on a stage, or leaves on one. A lawman is either nowhere to be found, or too cowed or drunk to be of any use. Sometimes the lawman is the hero. Will he face his own mortality on a dusty street? Will he walk away alive, but with a sense of futility rather than triumph?
If not, a gunslinger will very likely be called in, either to silence those who stand in the way of Want, or to silence those who stand in the way of Need. Is he fearsome? Stubborn? Business-like? Expensive? Will he whip the town into a righteous frenzy? Maybe. Sometimes a gunslinger stumbles in, and acts in alignment with Need, though he longs for a quiet life he will never find, a life he walked away from the day he became “fast”.
In a Western, choices are made, and the chooser lives, or dies, with the consequences of his choice.
If any of this sounds familiar…maybe you have seen them all. Or, maybe it is because a Western is a lot like reality. Not so many guns in our reality perhaps, but we know Mr. Need and Mr. Want, we know the spirited child and the gold-hearted saloon girl. Maybe we have been one of these characters in life, or maybe we have played each of the parts at one time or another. Sometimes we stand on a Dusty Street. We all make choices.
A Western is powerful medicine, a form of truth.
Are you feeling better yet? I am.