Meek’s Cutoff (HUM303/455/470)

I don’t think I’ve seen a Western this original since Silent Tongue. Meek’s Cutoff cuts directly against the grain of the Hollywood Blockbuster, unspooling at a deliberate pace that achieves an unusual level of realism. All films are in a sense about time, but Meek’s Cutoff uses the temporality of a journey along the Oregon Trail to encourage its audience to contemplate profound themes about hope, hate, and survival. Above all, for the purposes of HUM455, it remaps the geographical imaginary of the frontier which lies at the heart of US American identity. For students of HUM303, it raises questions about the nature of adventure and its constituents: the elsewhere, the speed of action, the hero transformed by experience. Those taking HUM470 might screen it with an eye on the manner in which director Kelly Reichardt establishes the interiority of her characters. Given that the film is based on an actual event, the issue of historical and biographical truth is unavoidable.