Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James: Some Reflections

Before proceeding, might I first highly recommend The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? It is a terrific, artful, meditative western which feels rather timeless and very un-western in many respects. Anyone who is a fan of the work of Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line/The New World)will probably know what I'm talking about. The film is on nearly every critic's top 10 list for 2007, and it's definitely one of my ten favorite films which were released last year. Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Roger Deakins and powerfully acted by Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, as well as the rest of the supporting cast, it would difficult to more highly recommend a film from this past year.
"The righteous should choose his friends carefully,
For the way of the wicked leads them astray" (Prov. 12:26).

This is the verse which immediately leapt to mind as I was watching the closing chapters of the film. Because Jesse (played by Pitt) has lived as an outlaw and chosen to surround himself with dishonest lowlifes, he is in constant paranoia and anxiety as to whether they are plotting to kill or capture him for a reward.
"A man burdened with bloodshed will flee into a pit;
Let no one help him" (28:17).

The wisdom of Solomon would certainly apply to the situation Pitt's Jesse James found himself in during the film (of course, Jesse James was not righteous, and he did not choose his friends carefully). Some other verses which seem apropos:
"He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
Evil pursues sinners,
But to the righteous, good shall be repaid" (13:20-21)

"Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52).

A little word for Robert Ford, who so badly wanted to be a member of Jesse's gang:
"Do not be envious of evil men,
Nor desire to be with them;
For their heart devises violence,
And their lips talk of troublemaking" (Prov. 24:1-2).

After killing Jesse James, Robert Ford spent the rest of his life re-enacting the assassination (on a stage for profit). He came to loathe his actions and regret that he murdered Jesse. He became known to everyone as a coward.
"He who plots to do evil
Will be called a schemer" (24:8).
It would be hard to argue that Ford did not spend the rest of his life essentially being remembered as a schemer, and as a coward. Now, some may argue that shooting Jesse James was not a sin because Jesse James was a bad man and a murderer (he killed around 17-25 people). I would only state here that at least most Christians agree that the state certainly has the right of the sword over its own citizens, and that vigilantism is not something to be tolerated under a Biblical worldview. More could be said, but I do recommend this film, and look forward to some input from the rest of you.

[Edit: I only wanted to add, in reference to movies, that the wife and I just saw Atonement (starring Kiera Knightly), and I really liked it. Actually, it was another little surprise at the end of the year that really makes you rethink your year-end top ten lists. I can confidently say if I had seen the film last year, it definitely would have been on my top ten list for last year's best films. I hope it wins the Oscar for best picture, to be quite honest.]

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