Meek’s Cutoff

Rod Rondeaux

I write today without doing my homework. Don’t tell my students.

Second daughter (Wee-Hey) and I saw Meek’s Cutoff and I resist reading the reviews and backstories while the movie floats through my soul and brain.

The film about a group of settlers making their way westward opens and closes like a chapter in the middle of a book. You don’t immediately know why this particular group of settlers is heading toward Oregon and, at the film’s end, you’re not sure what will happen next.

Meek’s Cutoff resists Hollywood’s tropes, eschewing the rise and fall of denouement and climax. I kept waiting for the rattlesnake bite and the marauding redskin. And when the Indian does make his entrance, the film takes a left-hand turn. Although I embrace my Indian roots, I find myself viewing the film through the lens of the central figure: a white female settler. I resent the fact that I assume her stance, viewing the Indian as the Other.

Not sure if it’s a function of the camera’s point of view or my own perceptual blinders: the Indian character enters as the objectified Other. The film wraps its trajectory around the stranger. The settlers in the film and the voyeurs in the audiences are yoked to the Indian. And I leave the cinema in awe, knowing that the destiny of the settlers rests with the Other, inverting the typical Hollywood narrative, and reminiscent of Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 film, Walkabout.

A screening of Walkabout and Meek’s Cutoff would make a nice pairing: both rich in landscape and spare in dialogue. And both feature an indigenous figure at the hub of the story. Nice.

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, cinema, film, framing, Indian and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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