Review: The Homesman

Hillary Swank in The Homesman

The Homesman showed up recently on Netflix. I watched immediately.

The movie annoyed me. And the more I think about it, the more annoyed I become.

Spoilers ahead.

detail from the poster for The Homesman

I can see why Tommy Lee Jones made this movie. He wrote it, he directed it, and he took the lead part. His character redeems himself in heroic fashion, saves the helpless crazy ladies, and becomes a good guy.

I don’t understand what drew Hillary Swank or the other women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) to their parts. Meryl Streep is even in this film!

The plot is that 3 women on the frontier go nuts from the hardships of frontier life. They become passive, mute, mere shells. Since there are no responsible men around, Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) will take them back across the river to Iowa and civilization where they can be cared for.

Along the way she recruits help from George Briggs (Jones) a wastrel without a moral thought in his head. She persuades him to do her bidding with a promise of a cash reward at the end.

That sounds like a woman power plot, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s the opposite.

The 3 insane women do nothing but sit around. They never talk. One sometimes snarls, one has a baby doll, one just sits. Women have suffered horrors forever – and still do. Frontier living may have driven some of them mad but not 3 at once. And a night alone on the prairie is not enough fear and danger to make a strong woman go crazy either. But they all do, conveniently, and the heroic male is the only one who can save them from their weakness and fragility.

Mary Bee is a single woman who asks 2 of the most worthless of men to marry her and give her children. They both turn her down. A single woman with a farm, property, stock, and a strong back is turned down as a marriage prospect in the middle of the prairie where no other women are available. That doesn’t track for me.

Neither does driving a wagon for days across the grasslands and never seeing a rabbit, an antelope, a pheasant or a fish in a creek. Food couldn’t have been that scarce.

I didn’t get really mad about the story until about 4/5 of the way through, when I realized how it was going to turn out. There are no strong women in this story, only a not-so-good-man. But, of course, even a not-so-good-man is better than a woman.

That’s the message of The Homesman that continues to annoy me.

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