Top 10 Antiheroes

By August 13, 2012Top 10 Lists

7. Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956)

The protagonist in AFI’s “Greatest American Western of all time” is a one Ethan Edwards, played by the great John Wayne. He is a Civil War veteran and a loner who goes out to find his niece (Natalie Wood), who has been abducted by Comanches. Edwards is not shy about expressing how he feels about the Comanches and that is where his character may come across as a little unheroic. Heroes aren’t usually racist and this is a trait of Edwards’ that director John Ford never quite resolves. A key example of this is when Edwards shoots the eyes out of a dead Indian, damning him to “wander forever between the winds.” He may not believe in this ancient myth, but he knows that the Indians do, so it is an additional insult. He also demonstrates antiheroic traits in other areas, such as his intolerance of civilized customs when he abruptly breaks up the funeral with: “Put an amen to it. There’s no more time for praying.” The famous last shot of the film is also indicative of his antiheroic behaviour. He voluntarily turns and walks away from the door, showing that he accepts his state of loneliness. These are just some examples; the film is full of them and this kind of character was very unusual back then. As a result, Ethan Edwards has been the model for “many iconic anti-heroes” (“AMC blog,” Michael Rowin.) However, on what scale he is antiheroic very much depends on your audience. Sian Griffiths, in her essay on “Ethan Edwards: Anti-Hero,” wonders, “Did the film’s first audience even question his hatred and desire for murder?” (“Borrow Horses” blog.) Would his attitude towards the Comanches have been considered quite so bad in 1956? It’s food for thought…

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