Hidalgo

Recommended with reservations. Now here is a thematically rich story. I was impressed. This buddy road trip western is based on the true story of Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensten) and his beloved horse, Hidalgo, who engage in a three thousand mile race across Saudi Arabia for a huge purse. But it is so much more than that. It is set in 1890 with Frank as a pony express rider who gives dispatches to the U.S. Army, one of which results in the slaughter of innocent Indians at Wounded Knee Creek. Now, like The Last Samurai and many other movies, it is fashionable to be Anti-American, anti-Western civilization. But I gotta be honest, this movie is not that imbalanced. It is anti-American, but it is also in some balanced ways, Pro-American Western and anti-Islam, anti-Eastern. However, in the end, the Native American Indian comes out on top. I’ll explain. Frank’s discovery of the fact that his dispatch aided in the slaughter of his Indian brothers haunts him and drives him to drink and act in a useless Buffalo Bill’s circus rodeo. He is a man without a country, unable to continue in the culture that is very much a part of who he is, and yet has turned treacherous. This Buffalo Bill rodeo show reduces the “wild west” concept to a shallow entertainment construct. It’s a manufactured image meant to entertain folks. This is an anti-western genre. The Western origins of America here are not so honorable or noble. When Frank gets the call to go to the race, he takes it in an attempt to get away from it all and redeem himself somehow. In Saudi Arabia, Frank meets the various other riders and their patrons, we see an unscrupulous British woman, and a nefarious Muslim Saudi intent on winning at all costs. Now here is where it gets interesting. The Muslim culture is shown to be rather barbaric and cruel. Women are oppressed and devalued, men are exalted unworthily, punishments for crimes are unjust and cruel (castration for fornication). And best of all, their religion is primitive and somewhat ignorant. The muslims all look down upon Frank as an infidel, who cannot win because “Allah will not let you.” And when Frank will die in the desert, they claim, he will “go straight to hell.” Their claims of Allah and their religion being tied to the race are humbled by the fact that Frank wins it. This is all great. But it is not a propaganda movie. Frank builds a relationship with a particular sheikh, played by an aged Omar Shariff, who is very much a part of this barbaric culture, but just happens to be transfixed by comic books about Buffalo Bill Cody. Through the story, the two of them slowly grow to respect each other. And the leading Muslim rider ends up helping Frank later because Frank saves his life. In fact, the guy is in quicksand and resignedly accepts his fate as “Allah’s will.” But Frank refuses to accept that and saves the guy, also showing the fatalism of Islam to be fallacious. The Muslim says, it is God’s will who will win, and Frank replies, “What about your will? Seems to me that’s what gets you across the finish line.” So there are good guy and bad guy Muslims. And the contrast here is with religious fatalism and good old American self-determination and will. And man’s will wins. And that is the dominant them in this movie, that will is more important than blood. Everyone else elevates the pure blood thoroughbred race horses as well as the nobility of royalty in their Eastern cultures, while, Frank’s horse is a mutt, a mustang. Interestingly, Frank himself is also a mutt. He’s a mixed blood with a white father and an Indian mother. And Frank’s two helpers for the race are a little black slave boy that nobody wants and a Muslim criminal, whose punishment for stealing would be to cut off his hands or help Frank in the race. So, here the notion of America as a melting pot of people, who regardless of their race, can all succeed because of their will and self-determination. This is really quite a paen to the heart of America. The theme embodies the statement on the statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” This American view is clearly the superior way of life in the movie. Unfortunately, the storytellers try to artificially lump Christianity in with Islam as against Frank’s will to succeed. I say artificially because they go out of their way to call the scheming British woman a “Christian,” when in fact, she is nothing of the sort, has absolutely no character traits of Christianity at all, and yet they keep calling her “the Christian.” Can you say AGENDA? This is one of the few smelly agenda aspects of the film. The British “Christian” (who has nothing to do with Christianity) needs to have her horse win the race in order to maintain her aristocratic prowess, etc., so she tries to seduce Frank, but he won’t sleep with her. He’s too honorable to lower himself. Good old western values. The fact of history is that Christianity was PART AND PARCEL of the western mindset. The very values that Frank honors, respect for women, honor, responsibility, courage, kindness, quiet determination and respect for all races comes from the Bible, from Christianity. So if we deconstruct the movie, we see the contradictions of the Western values being critiqued, yet, the Western values are ultimately the superior ones here, and those Western values come from the very religion that the storytellers try to dismiss or deny. This aspect rang hollow to me. This is not to deny the atrocities done in America, and even some in the name of Christianity, but let us be honest about both the good and the bad. Another great element of the superiority of Western values comes when the Sheikh’s daughter, who is oppressed by her culture and yearns to live freely like a man tells Frank, who shows her kindness and understanding, “You truly see me, when others do not.” This is why I respect this film. Although it fallaciously attempts to separate Christianity from Western values and ultimately contradicts itself, it does a fairly good job of showing the good and bad of the cultures involved with American culture (with all its foibles) coming out on top. Well, almost. And here is where the second big rub comes. At the moment of apparent defeat, where it appears Frank will never make it to the finish line and die in the desert, the thing that saves him is a vision of his Indian mother and an Indian ritual dance. So, after all this elevation of the will over blood, the storytellers resort to blood as the origin of Frank’s redemption after all. He reaches in and draws from his Indian blood to find the determination to survive. Quite a contradiction that I’m sure the storytellers did not intend, but when you are so focused on your agenda, you can often contradict yourself in trying to force it into the truth. So everyone else’s racist blood theories, like Muslim, British, etc. etc are wrong for being racist and religiously ignorant, because it’s really Indian blood and religion that are superior. They have just substituted one racism for another. Too bad. The story had such potential. But I still think it was though provoking, even if to see the good side of western values that is superior to the East.

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