Why we love the modern Western

I’ve always had a love for the frontier. Cowboys and crooks hashing it out in the desert, brave women defending their homesteads and an environment that is made for the tough and resilient – these are all things that make The Western one of the most enjoyable genres there is.

Originally, a Western film was defined as a genre that revolved around stories primarily set in the late 19th century, in the American Old West. Today, filmmakers take a post-modern view on the genre, often creating creative pastiches tailored to both the silver- and small screen.

We’ve made a list of our favourite modern Western films and series, and the reasons we find them a creative response to this classic, much-loved genre.

The Small Screen

Westworld

Probably the most successful take on the modern Western is the recent HBO series, Westworld. Penned and produced by the husband and wife duo Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the series takes a totally unique approach on the frontier by allowing people to visit a Western-inspired theme park where they can spend a few nights in this Western reality.

Does it all sound a bit complicated? Well, it is kind of, and that is what makes the series so great. It’s an exploration of morality, reality and technology – all against an American Old West backdrop.

A step into Westworld is a step into a highly technological reality, but set in a Western world, with cowboys, crooks, horseback riding and more. Although the series’ storyline is quite complex and intricate, it still has all of the traditional Western qualities. It might even be too real for some, as it touches on several burning issues of those days, such as rape, prostitution, murder and more.

 

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Preacher

AMC’s Preacher is not for the faint hearted. Based on comic books with the same title, the series was developed by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The series, which is now in its third season, follows Jesse as a crisis of faith leads him, his ex-girlfriend and vampire-sidekick, Cassidy, on a journey in search of God.

The show is an often disturbing mix of humour and horror that is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. The comic books, which is part of the DC franchise, has been around since the early 2 000’s and it’s creator, Garth Ennis, has on more than one occasion, described the series as his take on the Western. The show is set in West Texas where the show lead, Jesse, takes over his dad’s church after his death.

If you do not mind a little blood and guts, Preacher is well worth the watch. The show is shot in such a way that it is very reminiscent of graphic novels, and in that sense the violence can be quite fitting. As the preacher, Jesse takes the role of the classic Western’s sheriff that is always struggling with the morality of his own decisions.

 

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The Silver Screen

Young Ones

Described as an action-science fiction film, Young Ones, is a beautifully crafted film set in the desert. The story plays off in the future, where access to water has become nearly unobtainable and a cowboy-and-crooks-like face-off occurs between those in control of the water and those without.

The film, which stars Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Michael Shannon and Kodi Smit-McPhee, also features a traditional Western-like homestead and family nucleus, all set in the future. Also good to know is that a big chunk of the film was shot in Springbok, in the Northern Cape.

Young Ones is an indie film, and when viewing it you’ll notice that it is quite experimental. The film, released in 2014, was written and directed by Jake Paltrow – brother of Gwyneth Paltrow.

young-ones

*Image source: IMDB

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

With all the allegations against Casey Affleck, my first instinct is to just boycott his films, but that would be denying credit to the beautiful cinematography of this film, Rooney Mara’s role, as well as the work of the writers, costume and set designers among others.

The film was directed by David Lowery, also known for his editing work on Pete’s Dragon, and tells the story, a love story, of two people that have to overcome several obstacles, including their own flawed nature, to be together. It is a classic take on the original genre and features a shoot-out, cowboy boots and some beautiful Midwest scenery.

If you fancy yourself a film aficionado, you’ll recognise some Terrence Malick (think Tree of Life, Thin Red Line and To the Wonder) influence on the film. The scenes are shot in a dream-like fashion, with an narrative voice keeping the stream of consciousness. In fact, this film might as well be a direct answer to Malick’s Bonnie-and-Clyde style film, Badlands.

 

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The Broken Circle Breakdown

If you ever have the opportunity to watch this 2012 film, directed by Belgium descended Felix van Groeningen, you need to seize it immediately. This foreign language film is set in Ghent, Belgium, and tells the story of two people coming to terms with an immense loss.

Although set in Belgium, the main characters are obsessed with American culture, especially cowboy culture, and belong to a Bluegrass band. If you are into this genre of music, the film will transport you to Midwest and have your foot tapping along.

Grief is at the centre of this aesthetic masterpiece, and the director creates a mix between the cowboy culture, the bluegrass music, and the overarching themes of marriage, grief, parenthood and mental health.

It is one of my favourite films and definitely worth getting ahold of!

 

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*Header image source: Variety

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