High Noon - Honour, Sense And Sensibility

Thoughts On: High Noon

Staying with our western series following the release of my new ebook/screenplay Apologetic? we're going to be looking at High Noon. Before that, let's get the hard bit over and done with. If you'd like to check my screenplay, a sample is here...

And to read the whole thing, remembering it's free on Smashwords in epub and in a range of other formats on Amazon, here we go...

Big thanks for checking out the links, and on we go...

A former Marshall faces life, death, enemies, friends, his wife, former lover, a whole town, as a clock ticks down, as high noon approaches, as an old enemy rides into town.

I'd like to start off by saying that this movie is not what the tag line tells you it is. High Noon is a not the story of a man too proud to run. Before getting to that though, this blog is obviously called Thoughts On. But, when I often ask people their thoughts on a movie, the answer I'll most probably get is: I like it, but I don't like to think too much or too deep into it - I just like it. I've not got any real problems with that, not at all, but what I've always found is that the things we don't understand, we sometimes don't appreciate. Furthermore, the things we like, but then think deeper into become the things we love--or at least we develop a greater sense of respect for them. I find this is true about almost everything in life. I used to absolutely hate maths. I've never been that good at it, but, when I first learned how to solve a quadratic equation (which I've since forgotten how to do) I developed a respect for the subject. Even though it remains complex, pretty much a huge wall to me, and the little I did know of advance maths has since dissipated, the respect I have stays. With that in mind, I ask you if it's really a waste of time to look into movies--especially those we love. So, what do you say? Comment below or tweet at me at: @DanielSlackDSU. Should we analyse movies? That said,  I'll reiterate: this is not a story of a man too proud to run. The tag line suggests he is at fault for his pride--it being 'too' much. The film beyond the tag line is a complex series of questions ending in an epic shoot-out promised. Those complex series of questions, however, make clear that pride isn't the end all and be all of everything about this story. Will stays in town firstly because of the danger Frank poses to himself and so his wife on top of that. He promised to get out of jail and kill the man - and, like Will says, what's a hundred miles between them going to do? Frank seems like the kind of man who'll happily chase him down and slaughter his family. So, turning back makes sense - and has little to do with pride. The second reason Will turns back is for the sake of the town. Frank's gang pretty much ran the town before Will took over. He may have been a friend to some of the townspeople, but it seems he was a tyrant nonetheless - just look at what the women in the church say: respectable women couldn't walk down the street in the day. However, there is no certainty surrounding the idea that Frank coming back into town is a recipe for disaster. What is then set up is a profound question as to where Will should fight and why.

What this translates to is a basic question of realism vs. fatalism vs. optimism. The optimists are those town members who assume everything will be fine. Amy, Will's wife, is also an optimist. We can see this through her hope, her almost irrational assumption that they can run and everything will be all right. This makes Will a realist. He sees the step by step, the cause and effect. If he runs, Frank comes after him, they die on the road, unarmed, or they die in their new town. No amount of hoping is going to stop what seems inevitable. However, there is a sense of fatalism about Will. He assumes that Franks is bad news for the town, that they need someone to look after them. Some of the townspeople don't like this. Moreover, quite a few have never liked him. He represents sense and a clear idea of right and wrong in face of the law. Law is a key idea here. What makes for a good guy, a good sheriff, is sticking by the law book, but also sometimes knowing when to abandon it. For the sake of a friend (Frank) the town sees leaving him be is to neglect of rules that don't matter. Will's disagreement with this is what gets him into trouble with the town, is what makes some think he's due a comeuppance. In that idea we can also see fatalism again--they think Will is doomed because he's not in the complete right. The course of this film is thus a group of people with answers in mind watching a clock tick as the big question waits, soon having to be answered. In short: what should happen when Frank steps into town? Should he be confronted or welcomed? If he should be confronted, then should Will be doing it alone? The church scene perfectly demonstrates the myriad of questions and considerations surrounding these ideas. But, ultimately, where this leaves Will is alone. The question is never truly answered--but Will is left alone nonetheless. This all comes down to what is most probably the crux of the film. This is about the individual. All decisions made, by Willl, Amy, Helen, Harvey, the townspeople, are a culmination of what they think is just and what they think is safe for them and those they care for. Such is moral identity. Right and wrong isn't a simple equation. It is always relative. With this in mind we can see why Will is left alone. His old friend says it best: some people just don't care. Despite everything Will has done for the town, they appreciate him--but not enough to die for him. This is where individuality really comes into play. Whose problem is Frank? Is it the town's? Is he just Will's? In the end, the verdict ends on him being Will's problem alone.

People still care for Will though, they want him to leave. Such is a death sentence though - as has been made clear. Though said with good will, these people are kind of suggesting he go die - just not where they can see and feel guilty. That's harsh, but in real circumstances, I believe this is a true representation of how people may act. I'd like to take a tangent or two here. The first comes the idea that this is a simple story. (This links back to the beginning question of should films be looked into). This not  a simple film in my opinion - I think the questions asked are hard to answer and are very interesting. However, this maybe is a simple film from a perspective of today. If you grew up in the 50s watching films like High Noon, honour, sense and guts are themes you are very attuned with. 60 years down the line, this kind of story telling has been lost a little. Maybe this is due to over-exposure, I can understand that (and is a perfect reason to watch older films if you're a young person) but the themes haven't been lost entirely. As has been said quite a lot, modern sci-fi films and comic book movies are basically westerns. Despite this there's nothing of the likes of High Noon in the Avengers. I even fail to see this kind of depth in Nolan's Dark Night Trilogy. Is cinema getting worse? Are we running out of content? Of themes? Of stories? All questions for another time - sorry. But beyond cinema, High Noon is a simple film because it deals with honour, sense and guts. We can look straight at 500 Days Of Summer here (a film I love and have talked about before by the way). In 500 Days there's a scene in which Tom stands up to a guy hitting on his girlfriend and who also insults him. He smacks the guy in the mouth. This is a scene very much like the one in High Noon where Will walks into the bar to hear the bartender shooting off his mouth, talking smack. What does he get? A smack in the mouth. Rightly so in my opinion. But, at the same time I'm likely to, like Tom, have the guy stand back up and sock me right back quite a bit harder (maybe--never been in the situation). Anyway, this mentality is almost spat on today in popular culture. We see this in 500 Days Of Summer. The says woman she can stand up for herself. Sure they can, but Tom also stood for himself. For this he was seen as base and simple. This would probably be a key criticism of this film from any newer pop culture tabloid, blog, website or whatever. Honour is pretty much dead and women kind of killed it.

I'm not talking about holding doors open here, I'm talking about standing for those who you love - even if it is at a bar and up to a dick insulting yourself and a friend. It's one thing to walk away, but another never to fight. I, in most cases, would be a person to walk away. But, I am not one to say that you shouldn't stand your ground when a line is crossed. We're not just talking about fist-fights here. I'm talking about everyday confrontations of all manners. A debate is not an argument, just like a fight isn't always assault. It's the probable popular opinion that this film is too masculine or dumb that I really mean to take issue with here. 'Civilised' does not mean perfect, it doesn't mean world peace. Civilised is normal human interaction. All it means is don't be a dick. This bridges onto my next tangent. This film is largely about an honour system vs. a peace system. We can see this exemplified today in the over-exaggerated conflict between cultures and the massive movement toward equality for the sake of equality. I don't bash equality here, but (in a sense that doesn't consider myself in a situation) equality is an inevitability. 'You get what you deserve'. We all grew up hearing that from parents, teachers, friends, and bullies. The more accurate version of this I heard quite often was: 'you get what you get'. And this perfectly sums up my point. Equality is an inevitability because, in a stable state, in a homeostatic, equilibrated society, what you get is the product of balance. When it ain't broke, you don't fix it and so what you get is good enough--it's what you deserve--but most importantly, it's what you get. What this means is that the maybe we shouldn't strive toward equality so hard. But furthermore, it means that peace systems are redundant. However, they do exist and they are revered. This is because of, again, the individual - and is why I said 'in a sense that doesn't consider myself in a situation'. If I, like us all, were a slave on a plantation, or a Jew in a concentration camp, I most definitely wouldn't say that 'yeah, this is all equal, this is all fine'. This is where the tangent takes us home as it is the core conflict of the film exemplified. Is peace more important than respect, than what is right? We see this very question personified through the character of Will and then his wife, Amy. Will demands what is right - respect in a certain sense. Amy, is willing to let that go for peace. Who is right? Is peace or respect more important? I'll leave you to ponder...

The answer is: the question is wrong. Peace and respect are shown to be the same thing. Respect gives you peace, just like peace cannot be kept without respect. This is the 'if you don't get it, I can't tell you' that is repeated so often throughout the film. Though I just put it down in words, this is a very difficult idea to execute. This is why masculinity is blamed for all that is bad in this world, for wars, poverty, capitalism, inequality, oppression, such and so on. But, without masculinity, where would we all be? We would have never made it out of the jungle. This is why I take issue with the complete dismissal of respect, of a man being seen as a man and doing stereotypically manly things. This idea comes largely from factions of feminism with words such as patriarchy, oppression and the white man. This film is an allegory to these women though. They seek to have these ideas of masculinity quashed for the sake of women, of more respect for themselves. There's an inherent contradiction in this. It's the second place contesting the first place winner because 'hold on, where's the equality?'. I'm not saying that men are in first place - just that you better run the race if you want to win. This is demonstrated in High Noon through Will being marginalised, being left to face Frank and his men alone. He fights for respect so that he can be left in peace--himself, his wife and what he believes to be the town on top of that. This is what makes him a hero. But he doesn't defeat those men alone. Amy gets wind of the answer to that 'if you don't get it, I can't tell you'. She sees that she loves Will enough to step off the train. She sees that what she ultimately wants is him by her side, that to keep him there she must take on his issues - she too must fight. This is what makes this film special to me. It's a perfect, perfect, allegory to the idea of peace and honour, to right and wrong. It also cites another perfect example of us vs. them. I really believe in this idea and urge you to check out my thoughts on it here with Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans.

So, all in all, this film is a question of right and wrong, but more importantly a relative right and wrong. What was right for Will? What was right for Amy? What was right for the town? The end is a little bittersweet as the town aren't forced to answer - but this is what makes Will our hero. It's also why he rides away without goodbyes, hugs and kisses. He did what was right in his eyes, for himself, and for those he loved. If that's not a hero, what is?

Before you, just a quick reminder about my own western inspired fantasy, Apologetic? A sample is available on the blog and the full story is available right here...

Thanks. Oh, and don't forget to comment or tweet at me. Should films be analysed? Does exploring them in depth make them better? Tell me what you think in the comments or....

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