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Author Topic: HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER: Style and Technique 8: Symbolism  (Read 9264 times)
mgk
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« on: September 14, 2003, 11:06:00 PM »

Symbolism works under the surface to tie the story's external action to its themes. Symbols are concrete objects that are featured in such a way as to represent intangible story elements.

Name some symbols you found in this film. Are they used effectively?
« Last Edit: September 14, 2003, 11:12:38 PM by mgk » Logged
dane with no name
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2003, 04:12:58 AM »

could you elaborate on the point a little bit mgk?

Do you meen the more direct symbolism such as the outsiders ( such as mordecai) being the only helpfull characters in a town gone bad, or the whip, or the redpainted town of Lago renamed hell? Or is it the twisted poetic justice done to the townspeople shoving us that we cant live with fear or shame over things we have done that we have to confront in order to better ourselves. Hmm. maybe it´s me who´s had too much coffee ;)
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mgk
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2003, 09:05:11 AM »

Symbolism is often included in our questions in the film discussions.

Here is the symbolism question for In the Line of Fire....maybe that can help you understand.

Or, here is the one where symbolism was discussed in the Dirty Harry film.

Hopefully those will give you some idea of what we are looking for in this question; if not, some of the other films previously discussed also have questions about symbolism that might help you even more.
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Xichado
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« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2003, 03:18:16 PM »

Do you mean the more direct symbolism such as the outsiders ( such as mordecai) being the only helpfull characters in a town gone bad, or the whip, or the redpainted town of Lago renamed hell? Or is it the twisted poetic justice done to the townspeople shoving us that we cant live with fear or shame over things we have done that we have to confront in order to better ourselves.

Dane, you are in the right path.

I saw symbolism in Mordecai, the change in the name of the town and in a few other things that I am trying to understand a little bit better before posting about them.

From my point of view, Mordecai and his stature represent the goodness that still exists in Lago -small sized, abused and overshadowed.

Lago means Lake in both portuguese and spanish, and you know the town it's located in the shore of a lake. A lake is a still and enclosed body water -not always since there are cases of lakes with connections to rivers, and there are even dry and arid lakes-, but what happens in a lake stays within the limits of that lake. A crime has been committed in Lago and it stayed enclosed within the city limits and its people.

There is also the contrast between water (Lago) and fire (Hell). The water in the lake -the one we see on this movie- is still/calm/peaceful but I see it as a symbol to the way people behave (inactively) towards the crime that was committed. The fire that is shown later on is wild and untamed -has movement- and not only will destroy most part of the town but it's also there to punish people and by doing so it will reveal the secret that has been kept.

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dane with no name
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« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2003, 02:49:52 PM »

The whip, one of the ultimate symbols of punishment and pain. The marshal may have been whipped to death because the townspeople felt he betrayed them, (why not just shoot him down and be done with it one might ask, but NO, he has to see that what he was about to do was not approved of by the townspeople) and he later uses a whip, both as payback, but also as a instrument of torture, just like a demon from hell (as in the new townsname) torturing the dark fallen souls in the netherworld. symbolism with capital S
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bcm
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2003, 11:45:44 PM »

Lago: The town has so little character, so little backbone, it's not even worth a name of it's own. That's why it's called after something out of the surrounding. Why lake? Well, water will never oppose. If you put a hard, heavy, cold object into water, the water will make the room for it, and won't oppose, won't fight, won't argue. This is how I feel about the name of the town.
whip:. A whip is not only a weapon, it's a symbol of power. Humans use whips on animals, and back some years farmers used it on slaves. It's cruel, it hurts, and it basically demonstrates the power of the one with the whip, as opposed to the vulnerability of the one without the whip.  They could have killed Duncan with a gun, but Stacy chose the whip. This way Duncan not only lost his life, but he almost lost his dignity as well (I think that was what Stacy was aiming for). I don't know if we would understand such a revenge, if the murder itself had not been especially brutal, cruel and wicked...
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« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2003, 02:19:51 PM »

I'll add something to the Lago ("lake") part -

We see he has them paint the town red, which resembles a town on fire, or Hell - and even paints the sign with that name. Perhaps a biblical reference to the Lake of Fire mentioned in the book of Revelations.

Same with the whip - biblical connotation of how the "good guy," or "saviour" of the town was scourged to death and left alone to die. Not long after an avenging Angel of Death with sword (or gun) in hand appears to set the record straight, giving each one their due reward. Whether it's actually him or not is left for each one to decide, but in any case retribution is carried out.

Very similar to Pale Rider of course, however (excuse the pun), I think Pale Rider pales in comparison to HPD.
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Joey
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« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2003, 09:20:18 PM »

Everyone's got some great interpretations of the lake symbol, I'll just add my own thoughts to it.

I think the film refers to the Christian ideology many times in its depictions of Hell etc. and so in following this reading, the lake could represent purity/rebirth. Obviously Christians view water as a symbol of life/rebirth, as in the christening ceremony when the final stage of accepting God involves being placed under water.

Within the film, the lake might represent something pure and virtuous, an idealised vision of what the town could have been which is in direct opposition to the corruption of the townspeople. Interestingly, Lewis Belding(?) runs toward the lake as though requiting a last-ditch offer of salvation before he is shot. The image of his dead body languishing in the lake is a potent reminder that some are beyond redemption. And the Stranger submerges himself in a body of water to avoid being shot by Callie, only to emerge unscathed. Quite remarkable when the tub is no bigger than he is! ???

In these examples, the lake seems to be a decisive force in determining who is worthy of redemption and who has forfeit salvation.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2003, 09:23:16 PM by Joey » Logged
Matt
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« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2003, 06:32:31 PM »

Joey, I've really been enjoying your posts, and I'm glad you're joining in on our film discussions!

Reading Joey's thoughts on the lake being a symbol of rebirth, made me think of something else that I wanted to mention, but I'm not sure it belongs here, or in the "Themes" question.  But, Lago is a town that has no children whatsoever. The absence of children seems to symbolize to me the absence of innocence. The town is "barren" not only in this purest sense of the word, but it is also barren in goodness and virtue. The fact that there are no children in town also suggests, as I mentioned in another thread, the complete lack of community or family values. It's every man for himself in Lago, and no one seems to care enough about anyone else to be able to produce or raise a child.
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mgk
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« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2003, 07:11:36 PM »

But, Lago is a town that has no children whatsoever. The absence of children seems to symbolize to me the absence of innocence. The town is "barren" not only in this purest sense of the word, but it is also barren in goodness and virtue.

Not only does it mean that the town is probably void of goodness and virtue but it also means that, with no children, there will be no future.

Good observation, Matt.
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Christopher
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2003, 07:11:42 PM »

Good point.

You know, I don't believe I ever noticed there were no children in Lago, or at least I'd never given it any thought. Now that I think about it, the only children seen are the Indian kids in that one store.
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KC
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« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2003, 11:02:19 PM »

Chris, as I was reading through Matt's and mgk's posts, I thought of those Indian kids ... they are, indeed, the only children in Lago. Perhaps this is a theme in Eastwood's Westerns: no kids in the cities. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, there's a boy and a young girl briefly glimpsed in the first, booming Texas town ... but no kids in the ghost town of Santo Rio. In Pale Rider, I think Megan is the only child we see either in the miners' camp or in the town of LaHood ... and she's pretty much grown up. And in Unforgiven, I believe the only child ever seen in Big Whiskey is a young boy whose mother is hastening to escort him away from the scene of English Bob's beating.
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Matt
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« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2003, 11:17:44 PM »

I had forgotten about the Indian kids, but after reading Christopher's post, it occured to me that the Indians are a separate community within Lago that seems to be despised and looked down upon by the other citizens of Lago. The Indians aren't responsible for the murder of Duncan, nor did they witness it (from the flashbacks we see, that is) and in fact, they are the ones to whom The Stranger shows kindness and generosity.

So if children are a symbol of hope for the future, innocence, goodness and proof of a loving community, then it's fitting that the only ones we see in Lago are Indian children.
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Brendan
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2003, 03:27:48 PM »

The lake. It was there so the townspeople could "bury they're sins, and wash them clean."  :D
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Matt
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« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2004, 09:28:12 PM »

Thanks, everyone! This thread is now locked.  Please post any additional thoughts you have on this topic in the Westerns forum.
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The Schofield Kid
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« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2010, 04:40:06 AM »

This topic has been temporarily unlocked.  Feel free to post any additional thoughts or discussion here.
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« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2011, 03:21:00 AM »

Thanks, everyone! This thread is now locked.  Please post any additional thoughts you have on this topic in the Clint Eastwood Westerns forum.
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