Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Jeremiah Johnson (1972), directed by Sydney Pollack.


"You've come far, Pilgrim."

"Feels like far."

This has always had a post-Vietnam, post-hippy "back to the land" or "back to wilderness" feel to it. Westerns were a good vehicle for that sentiment; you could see it in the clothes and hair styles. A chance for a new beginning away from corrupting civilization. It's part of a formula that our solitary hero inadvertently acquires a son and a wife, but more unusual that he loses them again. I never decided whether he was a veteran or a deserter.

From the very first viewing I have had the eeriest sense that, starting with Johnson's return trip through the burial ground when he senses that his family is in danger, he begins a journey out of this reality and into another world. With his vengeance quest he enters the realm of legend, specifically the legends of the Crow, who are honored to have such a formidable enemy. Displaying the monument the Indians have made for him, the settler says "Some say on account of this you're dead. Others say on account of this you never will be." In the final scene when he meets Paints-His-Shirt-Red: do they find peace in Paradise, or is this a mountain valhalla were they will fight eternally?

I knew a guy back then who worshiped all things Indian and this was his sacred movie. Not just because of the real Indians, but it was a chance to believe that a white guy like himself could live like them.


Available on Blu-ray with a pseudo-commentary track with Pollack, Redford and writer John Milius. Only the director is watching the film; the others contribute just recorded snippets.