Column by Glen Allport.
Exclusive to STR
I bought “The Lone Ranger” on Blu-Ray this week and enjoyed it even more than I had in the theater – it's a fun, big-budget summer action movie. Then as the credits rolled, I sat and cried for about 15 minutes.
“The Lone Ranger” has been a financial disaster for Disney, despite the fabulous Johnny Depp performance as Tonto, despite the Jerry Bruckheimer / Gore Verbinski polish and energy, and despite its more than quarter-billion-dollar global box-office take. When you spend a reported $215 million making a film, plus maybe another $200 million on marketing, you need an ocean of box office cash to come out ahead. Disney projects up to $190 million “Lone Ranger” loss, according to a story making the rounds this past August. Yikes.
Critics were not kind to the film, which has a 31% Tomatometer rating at Rotten Tomatoes, although the audience was happier with it – 57% of user ratings at the site are positive. Why the nasty reviews from the media, I wondered? And why did Americans in particular stay away? This quintessentially American story took in nearly twice the box-office receipts overseas as it did here at home.
I can't say for certain why the film got such disdain, especially in its home market, but I can say this: the story is directly and clearly about two horrors that Americans in particular have had much practice at actually ignoring, downplaying, and denying. The first of these horrors is one of the worst genocides in world history, and the second horror is a foreshadowing of the loss of the American republic and its gradual and now nearly complete replacement by a corrupt and violent corporatist tyranny.
Really: Who the hell wants to deal with that?
Not the American movie-going public, apparently. Even less, American movie critics in the elite corporatist media.
Readers at STR won't have any question about the reality of the second horror, but some brief comments about the genocide: before Europeans arrived, American Indians were, naturally, 100% of the American population. Now, according to Wikipedia's article on the American Indian Wars, they're 0.9% of the population. More Indian deaths were probably due to European diseases--which hit the native residents of both North and South America harder than the Black Death hit Europeans--than to war and massacre, but American Indians were systematically pushed off their land, and a vast number, including women and children, were murdered by U.S. Army troops and by other whites. Genocide is the correct term for what America did to the native Indian population. (For an excellent, mind-expanding look at the Americas shortly before and after the arrival of Columbus, see 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann and Mann's follow-up volume, 1493).
The plot of “The Lone Ranger” [spoiler alert], and the backstory for Tonto, begins with the massacre of Tonto's tribal village by two men who have found silver nearby and who want to be certain the tribe won't become a source of that information to anyone else. Many years later, the same men and their confederates attack several white settlements disguised as Indians to provide a reason for breaking a treaty that would have prevented a railroad from going through Indian territory. The few remaining members of Tonto's tribe die (at the hands of the U.S. cavalry) in an attack aimed at stopping the railway. Near the end of the film, after the last of the Comanche warriors are killed, one of the two original murderers tells Tonto, “In a few years, it will be as if you people never existed.”
Of that villain and his wealthy railroad stockholders, Armie Hammer (as the Ranger) says, “He controls the railroad, the cavalry . . . everything. If these men represent the law, I'd rather be an outlaw.”
Genocide and corporatist tyranny, right here in the land of Disney. The wonder is that Bruckheimer and crew were able to craft a movie around those themes that didn't cause audiences to run out of theaters screaming. Instead, the film is often upbeat and generally quite entertaining – Bruckheimer and Verbinski previously collaborated on “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Lone Ranger” has similar polish, energy, and humor. And indeed the good guys come out ahead – aside from all those dead Indians and a number of dead, good-guy Texas Rangers who were trying to stop the railroad false-flag scam. Tonto and his masked companion survive and are clearly available for further adventures, although those have likely been cancelled by Disney executives. Actual, right-here-in-America genocide combined with a glimpse at our long-running, malignant corporatist tyranny were, I suspect, too much reality for this would-be franchise to survive.
And yes, I actually cried after the movie ended. Readers will understand that I am not complaining; rather, it seems a wonder that such a film could be made today. If you've not seen “The Lone Ranger,” I recommend it both as Hollywood-style entertainment (if you enjoy such things) and as a jolting reminder of important truths that are too-often swept under the rug.