Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

High Noon

For years I had heard Augie talk about High Noon as the quintessential story of honor, duty, and good old-fashioned manhood triumphing over self-interested rationality. I finally watched it, as was somewhat surprised that the line he always attributed to it -- "a man's gotta do what man's gotta do" -- was, in fact, not in the movie at all. (Though pretty close: the line belonged to John Wayne in Stagecoach.)

It's a really great movie. I could extol its many virtues -- like the dramatic tension of unfolding in real time -- but I doubt I could say it as well as so many others have likely done in film classes for the last fifty years. But Will Kane's decision to face four gunmen and near-certain death, despite everyone in town abandoning him, really is the stuff of mythic heroism.

From a philosophic perspective, what I liked the most about the movie was the fact that Marshall Kane's virtue was essentially non-rational. When his new wife asks him, "Why do you have to go back?" he says, "I don't know why. But I have to go back." Later he comes back with more sound logical reasons: "He'll hunt us down whereever we go. If there's going to be trouble, better to have it here." But even that's not the real reason. In the end, his commitment has little to do with the town's well-being, or his own physical well-being, but rather with the integrity of his soul. "I never ran away from a thing in my life, and now they're trying to make me run away."

What also struck me is that the quality that Kane is willing to die for is somewhat indefinable, and remains that way throughout the movie. It's clear that it doesn't make rational sense. Even the treacherous barman says, "I'll give Kane this much -- he's got guts, if not much brains." And Mrs. Ramirez says, when asked why Kane is staying, says, "If you have to ask me, then I can't explain it to you." And earlier, she says, simply, "Kane is a man, and it takes more than broad shoulders to be a man."

The most telling point is when, at the end, Kane tosses his marshall's badge into the dust. Here is where it's most clear: he didn't do it for the townspeople, or for the honor of the office of marshall. He did it because that's the kind of man he is. Even the office itself was eventually unworthy of someone of his moral stature.

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