Slow West (film)

I'm unsure what genre this film would be: it is sweet and dreamy yet contains emotional turmoil and tragedy with a splash of absurdist humour. It could be best described as "philosophical-action". It is set in the wild west days of northern America where the western frontier was abound with lawlessness and life was cheap. The main protagonist is a thin, pale Scottish lad, Jay, with large blue eyes. He has arrived in America and is heading westward in search of his lost love Rose Ross. Rose and her father John were falsely accused of murder and fled Scotland. As per the American dream, they came to start a new life somewhere on the frontier.

Jay is a romantic pacifist without a single violent bone in his body. He looks at the stars, ponders about the natives on the moon and recites poetry. He doesn't know how to shoot a gun nor has the gumption to use it; he is completely hopeless out in the wild. Jay meets Silas (the lone ranger) by happenstance and the two make a deal where Silas will escort Jay safely across the western frontier to Rose in return for a sum of money. Silas is a man of few words that carries a lot of loneliness and pain. He grew up with a gang of bounty hunters but peeled himself away from them to seek a life of peace while at the same time putting a target on his back: a deal with the devil is always hard to break.

Initially, Jay doesn't entirely trust Silas and attempts to make the journey himself. In his final attempt, he gets seduced by Werner: a man of knowledge and wisdom who also ponders about the world and the meaning of it all. There is a segment of a philosophical discussion that takes place between them. Werner is in the process of capturing the knowledge on the lives and culture of the native Indians as, in his opinion, once they are near-extinct and become the minority to the Europeans, their culture and existence will be romanticised and exoticized without any objectivity The two spend the night wondering about time, the universe and fleeting human existence.

The scenery in the film is simply stunning and the white clarity of the sunlight adds a surreal feel to the film. It is fantastic to see the New Zealand landscape presented in its raw beauty without adulteration by any CGI which sometimes happens in other major films set in New Zealand.

As Jay and Silas continue on in their journey, we discover that there is a handsome bounty on Rose and her father and all the bounty hunters are heading out west alongside Jay and Silas. It is a matter of time before they are found dead or alive as $2000 sits on their heads and Jay and Silas must get there before the bounty hunters.

I am unsure what to make of the humour in this film except to compare it to the likes of Park Chan-wook's films (especially Old Boy). It is at times “inappropriate”, but also fun and childlike. For me the humour exalts Slow West into a reflective work of art rather than a standard western as the humour diminishes the dominating force of the violence and brings to focus the hero's journey each human is embarked on.

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