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The Homesman

The Homesman (2014) Poster

I watched recently a DVD of a movie starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman.

This movie in one sense echoed one of my favorites, The African Queen, with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

In both cases a high-minded religious woman has to travel, and a low-life drifter is coaxed into joining her in her travel.

In The African Queen, of course, the Hepburn character, a missionary in contested territory, [that is, African territory contested between two great Imperial Powers in 1914] has to travel because the outbreak of war, both in Europe and amongst the administrations of the contending nations' colonies in Africa, has made her situation impossible. The nearest safe place for her as a British subject is Kenya.

In The Homesman by contrast, Swank's character is traveling because there are three madwomen in her small isolated town in the middle of the Nebraska territory. These women have to be taken, in what looks essentially like a horse-drawn jail cell, towards a more civilized locale where they can be re-united with their respective families. The motives for the voyage are, then, quite different.

On the side of similarity, though: in both cases a burial plays a critical role in the plot. In The African Queen, the missionary's brother is murdered by German soldiers in an early scene, and the first task of the Hepburn/Bogart team up is to bury him properly. In The Homesman, the traveling pair encounters a cemetery in the midst of their travels that has been disturbed by grave robbers, and Swank's character won't proceed until order has been restored.

Fans of The African Queen will remember that the lead characters are ready to give up and accept their certain death at one point late in the movie, when they have become stuck in a marsh and have no idea how to get back to the proper channel, and thus on to the lake that has been their destination. They pray for the salvation of their souls and fall asleep. When they awake, though, they have become the beneficiaries of a sudden rain, which has restored their forward momentum.

I won't draw out the analogy in The Homesman, because I don't wish to provide a spoiler here, but I think it fair to say that there is a somewhat analogous moment, when the central characters' voyage seems to have come to a sudden tragic end, but that seeming proves deceptive.

All in all, it is a fascinating well-made movie, as was its precursor, and I leave you to it.


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