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Author Topic: A possible ironic plot twist in The Outlaw Josey Wales  (Read 472 times)
TomTurner
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« on: May 18, 2018, 06:55:01 PM »

This movie hardly lacks irony, but an intriguing possibility has occurred to me, which can you will see below.  But first, the evidence:

When Grandma Sarah Turner meets Josey Wales in the film, she is not very fond of him, or the entire state of Missouri for that matter.  She tells a shopkeeper:

"Anything from Missouri has a taint about it...Never heard of nice things from Missouri coming West"

And later, after being rescued from the Comancheros she tells Lone Watie "This Mr. Wales is a cold-blooded killer. He's from Missouri where they're all known to be killers of innocent men, women and children."

When they arrive in Santa Rio, where her late son's ranch was located, in the Saloon she tells Rose that her son "was killed in the Border War by Missouri ruffians. He died a proud member of Senator Jim Lane's Redlegs, fighting for the just cause!"

They camera then cuts to Josey, who has an especially pained look on his face.

The movie is in no way clear about this but I think it is entirely plausible that Josey Wales is responsible for the death of her son Tom.  It's my guess that he was one of the soldiers in the redleg division that he gunned down with the Gatling gun.

Later in the movie when Grandma Sarah says grace before a meal she says "And thanks a lot for Josey Wales, who you changed from a murdering bushwhacker on the side of Satan to a better man in time to deliver us from the Philistines."

Has Grandma figured out by this point that Josey, her savior, is the very same person who killed her son? Or is she just referring to his checkered past?  Impossible to say.

It would be just Clint Eastwood to set up this incredible scenario whereby he kills someone in the redleg division, one that that killed his entire family, then goes on to save this person's family from being killed by bandits, then helping them set up and defend their homestead from the same army division, creating a extended multicultural family and a new harmonious life for themselves.  Its a complicated, conflicted yet redemptive conclusion to this incredible saga.

Am I crazy or does anyone else see this connection?   

Many thanks to Global Moderator Matt for his post where I found the specific quotes was looking for:
http://www.clinteastwood.org/forums/index.php?topic=2996.0
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KC
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2018, 09:05:33 AM »

Hi, TomTurner, and welcome to the Board!

This is a thoughtful post. Personally, I don't think Josey could have had any idea, after hearing Grandma Sarah talk, that he had killed her son, specifically, among the many other deaths he was responsible for. How would he have known what he looked like? For the same reason, Grandma couldn't have suspected him, specifically, among the many other "Missouri ruffians" her son had done battle with, of being her son's killer. She had never seen him before. But they certainly each understood that this was a possibility, and that is what makes their relationship so tense in the beginning, and their mutual reconciliation and the "new harmonious life" they embark on with the rest of the makeshift family so moving.

From that post you referenced in the "Film Discussion Thread" for The Outlaw Josey Wales

Quote
Further along in the movie, we note that Grandma Sarah has a change of heart when she prays aloud:

Quote
    GRANDMA SARAH: Lord, thanks a lot for bringing us to this place. Pa and Daniel died at the hands of that low-down, murdering trash out of hell that done 'em in. But they put up a good fight, and died the best they could. And thanks a lot for Josey Wales, who you changed from a murdering bushwhacker on the side of Satan to a better man in time to deliver us from the Philistines. And thank you, Lord, for getting us together in Texas.

Grandma Sarah seems to think that Josey is the one who has changed, rather than herself. Discuss what you think finally precipitates her change of heart.

I think they both have changed. Especially in a civil war like this, where atrocities were committed by both sides, each believing firmly that their cause was the just one and the other side deserved what it got, it would be hard not to see those on the opposite side as entirely evil. But when the war is over, and the scarred human beings have to live with one another, they have to find a way to change themselves, and recognize that others may have changed as well. Of course there were die-hards who would never allow their prejudices to soften even a little bit, and if their whole family has been slaughtered, we can understand that. But we feel more for those who are able to overcome their past and live with hope towards a better future.

In the movie, the final shot is a freeze frame. Josey is badly wounded, but he has killed his archenemy Terrill (who he does know was responsible for killing his wife and son at the beginning) and is free for the moment of further pursuit by the vengeful Union troops, thanks to the support of the saloon patrons and Fletcher. Now we see Josey riding off, not into the sunset as in Western cliché, but into the sunrise. But to what destination? Here is another question posed in that long-ago "Film Discussion Thread":

At the end of the movie, Josey, wounded, leaves the scene of his showdown with Terrill and his tacit reconciliation with Fletcher, and starts to ride off into the sunrise. He is caught in a freeze frame, and the final credits come up. What happens next? Do you think Josey is going back to his surrogate family, or is he going off by himself, as he had intended to do earlier that morning? Do you think he will survive, or will he die of his wounds? If he lives, will he attempt to start a new a life with Laura Lee and the others? Why or why not?

The best answer we got in that thread (or the one I agreed with most, anyway), was from mgk:

In my opinion, Josey rides off toward the ranch where everyone is waiting for him.  He has reluctantly gathered up this new family of his but he's very grateful to have them around.  He hopes that now that the Texas Rangers think that he is dead and Fletcher has given him a new opportunity to get rid of his "hunted man" image, he is ready to settle down again and make something of him life similar to the way it was when he lost his first family at the beginning of the movie.

But don't forget the last line spoken in the move, "I reckon we all died a little in that damned war."
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AKA23
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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2018, 04:36:05 PM »

I always love it when new members bring thought-provoking ideas to the board. Great, and very original post, Tom. Keep on thinking outside the box. 
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TomTurner
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2018, 06:58:57 PM »

Thanks KC and AKA23!  I have wanted to discuss this for years but no one I know is as crazy about this film, except my brother in law (see my first post on him in another thread) , who just thinks I'm nuts for even thinking about it.

I think that when Josey heard Grandma's speech in the saloon is when he first realizes that there is more than a distinct possibility that he killed her son. He couldn't be sure about it but he certainly shot enough of them to make it plausible.  I think that quick cut to him is Clint's very subtle way of telling us this.  Josey is clearly not happy about it.

Or he is merely reacting to her insult?  I think Josey's skin is much thicker than that by this point, especially after listening to her previous ranting against Missourians.  There is a long existing feud between Kansans and Missourians (I looked into this and just learned that there was a border dispute that started six years prior to the civil war, sometimes referred to as "bleeding Kansas") so her attitude is far from unique, and Josey would have been used to be insulted by people from Kansas.

I wonder if the book goes into any more detail about whether Josey killed Tom or not?  I would even love to ask Clint if ever given the chance

I could be reading far too much into this: Grandma's reference to "killers of innocent men" that made me think if - and this is a big if - her son was there at the scene of the surrender and shot by Josey, she was probably told that her son was innocently processing the prisoners of war and a "Missouri ruffian" rebelled and gunned down these "innocent" men.  Yes, we don't know where Tom Turner was killed, or by who, but this possibility is not out of the question, and this could have been another very subtle way off reinforcing the idea that Josey was responsible.   Clint is after all, a master storyteller, and maybe he wanted to inform us of this incredibly ironic situation yet keep it vague enough so it didn't come off as a contrived Hollywood plot. (killer of son lives happily after after with mother and daughter of the victim)

I agree, we have no way of knowing if Grandma Sarah ever learns that Josey is responsible for shooting her son.  I am only raising the possibility because it makes the circumstances all the more powerful.  Its also an interesting metaphor for the post-civil war America in general.  Many soldiers and war survivors had to go home or relocate because their homes were destroyed and possibly live among people who may have killed their relatives or were guilty of other crimes.

Fetcher's last line is so incredibly powerful. I have to confess that I have paraphrased it a few times.  I am a victim of Hurricane Sandy and more than once I have said to friends "we all died a Little in that hurricane." (I have always been a little too melodramatic ....lol)

I didn't notice that Clint rides off into the sunset. This is a little weird continuity-wise because the fight with redlegs goes on for quite a while and the sun look pretty bright all the while.)  Be that as it may, its a great touch that Clint has Josey doing the opposite than the standard cliche'.

But where does he go?  A very interesting question, which of course remains unanswered.  I guess I agree with MGK too.  My first instinct is that he doesn't want to cause more trouble for Grandma and Laura and leaves just in case anyone ever comes looking for him someday - despite Fletcher's apparent truce - he shot 55 people after all! But then I started to think how he must miss his own family, and may want one again. As a bonus there is a cute, if a little "odd", filly back at the ranch willing to make him feel right at home as well. 

Clint Eastwood is the king of the ambiguous ending.  This is why I love his films so much.
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