Good Movie Review On Legends Of The Fall:
Tristan’s Hero Quest
Modern film is a great area to explore ancient hero motifs. The classic hero quest is still part of western culture and its narratives, and the recurring motifs that began with Greek and Roman mythology are still present today. This is evident in the many “superhero” films that abound. However, the best example of ancient hero motifs, because of the abundance of which appear throughout the film, is Legends of the Fall, featuring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.
No film is complete without a traditional hero quest, and Legends of the Fall does not disappoint. In fact, the hero of the film, Tristan Ludlow, has perhaps one of the most epic hero quests of any contemporary narrative. His quest is what secures this film as “legend” because of the expanse of Tristan’s experience and the trials and tribulations that he endures.
The film focuses on a family homesteading in the open plains of Montana. There are three brothers, all unique in appearance and temperament, and their father brought them up to be respectable men. This is where the first motif plays out: sibling rivalry. All three brothers are talented in their respective ways, but the youngest is quiet and keen to follow, the oldest is very driven and business-like, and Tristan, the middle child, is wild and passionate. He is strong and emotional. He is the hero. Because of his independence and his will, he is envied by the other brothers. This plays out in the film dramatically. The two eldest brothers fight over the beautiful widow of the younger brother after he dies in war. This rivalry is a driving force throughout the film, and one of the obstacles that Tristan, as hero, has to endure.
It doesn’t end here, however. Another major motif that appears in the film is the unhealable wound that the hero struggles with throughout his journey. In this case, it is the death of Samuel, Tristan’s younger brother. He feels responsible for the death of his brother because he wasn’t there to save him, and this propels Tristan on a tortured inward journey where he leaves home in order to confront those demons. He is away for a very long time, without much communication with his family, when he endures a tremendous amount of new experiences. He comes back reborn in a way.
This reflects another important motif: leaving home only to return anew, the prodigal son. He returns home, weathered from all of the experiences but in stable condition. This represents the death of the old Tristan, the tortured Tristan, and the birth of his new self, returned and ready to begin a life and make a family. While home, Tristan begins a new a sort of journey, but it is all part of his hero quest. With prohibition in place, he becomes a bootlegger in order to make enough money to care for his father and keep up the ranch. This ultimately leads to more tragedy when his wife is shot due to a stray bullet. This propels Tristan into another violent rage that will ultimately require some jail time. However, near the end of the film, the older brother returns to help his family after years of estrangement, and Tristan seeks refuge in the wilderness. This is another ancient hero motif, the wilderness versus the mechanized world of society. This becomes his sanctuary and where he eventually dies fighting a bear.
Tristan’s quest is a classic hero quest filled with ancient hero motifs. Besides his quest, however, there are other hero motifs, namely that of beauty and love as demonstrated through the character of Susannah, Samuel’s fiancée, Tristan’s lover, and Alfred’s wife. This represents a strange love triangle, but it evidences several motifs, namely that of star-crossed lovers who don’t end up together. Susannah is in love with Samuel, but she is captivated by Tristan’s wildness. After Samuel’s death, Susannah is left a widow and Tristan is left to grieve as well. This draws the two together. Susannah is the damsel in distress, and Tristan, the hero attempts to rescue her, but his emotional wounds don’t allow for the love to flourish. Instead, Tristan goes away, and Alfred begins to court Susannah. This love affair ends with Susannah’s suicide because she can’t live without Tristan, but Tristan has gone and married another after his return. This is another tragic hero motif on love and beauty.
The final hero motif worth mentioning is Tristan’s mentor, One-Stab, who narrates the story. He is a wise, elderly Native American who teaches Tristan all of the ancient ways. Tristan, more than the other brothers, embraces the ancient traditions and this serves him throughout the hero quest. One-Stab is the representation of the wise elder motif, and even though Tristan loves and respects his father, it is One-Stab and his native ways that permeate through Tristan.
Legends of the Fall tells an epic hero quest about the middle child, Tristan, and the trials and tribulations he endures. From the start until the finish, Tristan is a classic hero figure, and his quest and story represent numerous ancient hero motifs that create a modern-day, classic hero tale.