“He western “It is the encounter of a mythology with a means of expression.” This is the canonical definition signed by André Bazin of the genre that made cinema. And, in effect, all possible stories (Borges dixit) fit into it: that of the besieged city, that of the returning warrior, that of the search for the unprecedented and that of the sacrifice of a god (in order and for example: Fort Apache, The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance, Desert Centaurs y three godfathers). Martin Scorsese knows it. He hides it, but he knows it. Although The assassins of the moon, his latest and mammoth film of three and a half inexhaustible hours, may be considered his first approach to the genre, in reality, a good part of his cinema is fueled by it. He always did.
When a decade ago the magazine The Hollywood Reporter invited him to reflect on a film from the history of cinema, he chose desert centaursthe film that John Ford shot in 1956 and that, in the words of Scorsese, “it is a masterpiece defined by its discomfort”. Not for nothing, Taxi Driver, his first great manifesto from 1976, can be read as a remake of the western fordiano. This is what Tarantino does in his Cinema meditations and it seems almost impossible to ignore one by one the parallels that sew one film to another. In both cases, it is a rescue. Ethan Edwards, the character with whom John Wayne He denies himself, searching for his niece kidnapped by the Comanches. Travis Bickle, whom he plays Robert De Niro also out of his mind, he aspires to be forgiven of his sins, transformed into an angel of vengeance against the captors-pimps of a Jodie Foster that replicates with due cruelty the role of Natalie Wood. But what matters in both films is hate. These are always two guys poisoned by their absolute contempt for everything, including themselves.
“Ethan,” Scorsese writes, “is scary. His obsession, his absolute hatred of the Comanches and all Native Americans, in addition to his loneliness, set him apart from any other character played by John Wayne… Ethan Edwards, just like Wayne and Ford gave him life, he is a cousin of Melville’s Ahab, on the one hand, and of his Bartleby, on the other, taken to the extreme point of madness. And everything that works for Ethan works for Bickle. Despite this, Scorsese would never define Taxi Driver as a western. And he’s right, it’s not. Or it is to the same extent that desert centaurs seems the darkest of them all, the most disillusioned, the one who contradicts them all. There is a scene at the beginning of the film that perfectly defines Ford’s intentions and bitterness towards the genre he elevated. When Ethan finds a Comanche buried at the foot of a rock, he shoots him between the eyes. He wants to condemn him to wander forever among the winds, unable as he is at that precise moment, without eyes, to enter the land of spirits. “He hates the Comanches so much that he has even gone to the trouble of learning their beliefs to violate them,” says Scorsese.
The Moon Killers is, in its own way, a response to that specific action by Ethan Edwards and, in short, to the entire racist genealogy of the westerns In its whole. Based on the text by David Grann (not a novel), the story of the Osage Indian people is told, who, at the time, were designated as God’s chosen ones. From the god of capitalism. His lands in Oklahoma were pure oil. And that, in the midst of a golden age of growing urbanism after the Great War, was objectively the best proof of his divinity. Immediately afterwards, and with the close example of the Tulsa massacre where the whites decided to put an end to the flourishing black economy, what happened happened. Nothing good. The film tells of the investigation carried out by the nascent FBI to clarify the thirty murders of Native Americans that went unpunished for too long.
Scorsese says that originally the film was planned as precisely a western classic in which the protagonist role was that of the federal agent who, basically, saved the Osage. On the first script, Leonardo DiCaprio was the hero; Robert De Niro, the villain, and Lily Gladstone, the redeemed victim. “At some point I realized that I was making a film about white people exclusively,” the director confessed at the film’s presentation in Cannes. “Which means he was taking an outside-in approach.” In the first script, DiCaprio would play the incorruptible Texas Ranger sent to Oklahoma in the early 1920s by J. Edgar Hoover to answer a desperate call from the Indian nation. And so on until the director realized the inappropriateness of a story in which he turned those who had condemned them into saviors of the Osage. All white.