Partly due to its relatively recent emergence on the geopolitical stage, the concept of an “American Warrior” is mostly unheard of. The United States developed quickly into the collection of cities, towns, and villages that held the majority of its population, spending very little, if any, time in a tribal condition. Most warriors come from tribal or clan-like origins, so the lack of these societal structures in the United States resulted in a lack of American Warriors. That’s not to say that these American Warriors are not completely nonexistent. Part of the American way is the absorption and acceptance of many different backgrounds. If this ideology is run in reverse, it would stand to reason that some Americans might be accepted into warrior cultures, becoming warriors themselves. This week’s two films examine some American Warriors.
The Last Samurai
Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours
Becoming a warrior in an isolated culture can carry quite a lot of culture shock with it. Granted, it couldn’t be any more than the titular character of John Carter (2012) experienced when he became a warrior of Mars, but there’s still a learning curve when discovering what is appropriate and what is not. Fortunately, with the barriers of the world’s countries becoming more and more open, these culture shocks are becoming less and less. Unfortunately, this is also eliminating the need for clan-like warrior cultures. In terms of Japan, we in the United States can thank Commodore Matthew Perry for opening up its borders to us, which inevitably began the process of westernization in the island nation. Shortly afterward, the samurai warriors of Japan found themselves fighting the changes that forced them into the history books.
In an attempt to flee from the memories of the Indian Wars, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is given an opportunity to train soldiers in Japan. However, when his inexperienced troops are ambushed by rebel samurai, he finds himself captured and brought back to the samurai camp. The leader of the samurai, Katsumoto Moritsugu (Ken Watanabe), saw something special in the way that Algren fought and now shows him their way of life and explains that they’re fighting to prevent the westernization of Japan. Meanwhile, Algren is shunned by the widow of the samurai he killed, but she starts to warm up to him as he integrates into her society, even going so far as to protect Katsumoto during an assassination attempt. Clad in the armor of the samurai he had slain, Algren joins the fight against the Imperial Army and soon finds himself to be the Last Samurai.
Dances with Wolves
Length: 181 minutes / 3.02 hours
Even though early American settlers came from civilizations that no longer had warriors, there were still plenty of warrior cultures native to North America. Partly due to the mutual distrust between the settlers and the natives, there was very little cross-pollination of their soldiers. There still were a few who did manage to integrate themselves into the native cultures, but they are the exception to the rule. A few examples in film include Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo from The Last of the Mohicans (1992), as well as John Dunbar from Dances with Wolves (1990). Of course, the idea of an individual integrating into a native society, a la Dances with Wolves, has been explored in different ways since its release, the most famous being James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), which was often referred to as “Dances with Wolves in space”.
During the Civil War, First Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) is awarded for bravery and given the chance to be assigned to whatever post he wants. His desire to see the western side of the country is granted and soon he finds himself as the lone soldier in charge of Fort Sedgewick. Despite the dangers of residing close to the Sioux, John does not take their intimidation lying down and sets out to talk with them instead of running away. Around the same time, he comes across Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who was taken by the Pawnee as a child. While Dunbar and her develop romantic feelings, he manages to become accepted by the Sioux, who notice his partnership with a wolf and give him the name “Dances With Wolves”. Suddenly, Dunbar finds that Fort Sedgewick has been re-occupied and must decide whether he wants to stay as an American or leave as a Sioux.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Western Warriors