Monday, June 2, 2014

A western viewed through a contemporary lens: 4 desultory notes about A Million Ways to Die in the West

"Everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair." --Franz Kafka

1) When watching A Million Ways to Die in the West, I was confounded. What is going on? Who is Seth MacFarlane? Why is Charlize Theron involved? The movie left me not so much disgusted as concerned for the people who appeared on screen.

2) Charlize Theron's participation in A Million Ways to Die in the West forms a kind of paradox: Theron's star presence makes the movie appear worthwhile (we won't concern ourselves with "Release the Kraken" Liam Neeson). Yet, Theron's choice to star in the movie is its most suspect decision.

One can imagine that Theron desired a pleasant break from shooting the new Mad Max reboot, or that she's friends with Seth MacFarlane, or she likes how her character, Anna, the wife of chief bad guy Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who gets treated with respect (her most degrading moment consists of placing a daisy in Liam Neeson's rear end). For all I know, Theron may enjoy putting down Amanda Seyfried (who plays MacFarlane's previous love interest, Louise). Her character, Anna, proves to be an excellent shot, and she gives confidence to Albert (MacFarlane). Perhaps Theron just thought what the hell. It's a paycheck and a leading role. Olivia Wilde's career successfully recuperated after appearing in Cowboys & Aliens (2011) after all.

3) In AMWTDITW's featurette, Seth MacFarlane claimed that he was making a portrait of a western viewed through a contemporary lens. If that is the case, AMWTDITW indicates that today's western audience is bored, jaded, and distracted enough to require a liberal amount of expletives and casual deaths to keep them awake, pseudo-jolted, and possibly laughing (MacFarlane does include one visual reference to John Ford's famous door scene in The Searchers just so any die-hard western fans in the audience can start weeping on cue). The contemporary lens somehow compels Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to squat and emit a steaming stream of diarrhea into not one but two cowboy hats in the midst of a shootout.

4) Why was AMWTDITW made? I imagine that MacFarlane figured that it would enhance his career as an actor (even though on screen he comes across as exactly the kind of hopelessly tragic easy-grinning fellow who very much wants to please, but never gets anywhere as an actor in Los Angeles, so he lives there anyway, as it were in the lowest pit of hell). The movie will appear on the "Popular New Releases" on the Netflix queue, or the list of movies that one watches on jet flights out of a sheer desire for diversion and not much else. A Million Ways to Die in the West will find its audience, and persist in space, and confuse any extraterrestrials who may wonder why such a cultural artifact ever existed, and what we were thinking.

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