Roxana Hadadi on the New Western

Posted on July 8, 2018 at 3:14 pm

One of the best essays about film I’ve read this year is Roxana Hadadi’s “Amid the Latest Western Genre Resurgence, ‘Lean on Pete’ and ‘The Rider’ Challenge Cowboy Masculinity in the American West” in Pajiba. She discusses several recent movies, including “Logan,” HBO’s “Westworld,” and “Hell or High Water,” but focuses on “Lean on Pete” and “The Rider.” The Western has always been the quintessential representation of the American spirit of independence, isolation, adventure, arrogance, as well as a way to explore our nation’s deepest conflicts and history of brutality and racism. And, as with most movie stories over the past century, the stories have almost always been about men and from their point of view. Hadadi writes:

The American experience has long been linked to the masculinity of the solitary cowboy, pushing the limits of the frontier. But what happens when there is nowhere left to go?

…Which brings us to Lean on Pete and The Rider, two films that also fit into the Western genre but are less about what the New West represents and more about what it actually is….These are stories about boys on the cusp of being men, each of whom is attempting to navigate selfhood in situations of poverty and desolation, in places where the cowboy code was once enough but isn’t anymore. Where so many Westerns focus on exploring (and romanticizing) the destructive ways that masculinity manifests, Lean on Pete and The Rider are concerned with what happens when those stereotypical markers—violence, sex, and lawlessness—are not only stripped away but are never the right choice at all. If you reject what it is to be a cowboy but you exist in the shadow of that figure, who are you?

You won’t read a better, wiser, or more goregously written essay on film this year.

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