Revenants and Westerns

I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good dead-man western revenge story. Just a weird bit of synchronicity was getting a youtube ad for Revenant that reveals all the highlights of that particular genre: man left for dead recovers (possibly via supernatural intervention) and seeks out revenge or justice.

As a story, I think it goes back to classic ghost folklore. The modern Western incarnation tends to either leave the supernatural elements ambiguous, or omits them altogether by proposing that the revenant is just plain tougher than everyone else and hard to kill.

It’s a story so central to the genre that Eastwood did two variations behind the camera: the nihilistic High Plains Drifter and the less cynical Pale Rider. Both of these, in my read, imply a ghostly origin for the gunslinger. Eastwood did it at least two more times in front of the camera: Hang Em High and the conclusion of Fistful of Dollars.

Probably my favorite is Jarmusch’s anti-western Dead Man, with accountant turned outlaw William Blake cutting a path to the Pacific in a quest to die on his own terms. The irony of Dead Man is that Blake is already dying and on the run. He’s confronted by a series of opportunists and bounty hunters engaged in a farce of frontier justice.

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I picked up R. S. Belcher’s Six-Gun Tarot. Sure enough, the hanged man turned lawman appears in the fourth chapter. (Not really a spoiler since it’s a back-cover blurb.)

The Six-Gun Tarot Book Cover

Not to mention there’s a ton of this within superhero cinema. Classic Tony Stark is arguably an example, although he’s spoiled in that near-death experience doesn’t make him a cultural outsider. I’d say Darkman and Robocop are the classic revenants.

In spite of a rich folklore of women as revenants (usually ethereal), I don’t really think women have been represented in modern Western or action film as such. I think it would be interesting to see.

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