Jan 25, 2018 in Analysis

The Shootist


The Shootist is a film, which was directed by the legendary Don Siegel and produced in the year 1976. It is a modernist film set in 1901 in Nevada. The story revolves around the heroic Books who has made a name for himself when he emerged as a successful gunfighter. It features his last days, which are so turbulent and characterized by lots of challenges. The film covers his last days just before his death when he is making overwhelming wishes. Before meeting his death, he finds himself under the custody of Bond Rogers, a strong-willed widow who owns a magnificent boarding house. His friendship with this family becomes stronger as he is perceived as a good mentor for Ron Howard who is the only son in this family. However, this does not last long before he is caught up by his former foes. This becomes a turning point in his life. Having achieved something in his life, he now wants to enjoy a peaceful death. Therefore, he spends his time looking for a better way through which he could die without enduring any pain and agony. However, this is not fulfilled as he is interrupted by his enemies who deny him a dignified death he has been hoping for. Despite the fact that he kills all his enemies, he later dies after receiving two gun shots. This fatal dwell marks the tragic end of his life.

The Shootist is a modernist film because it has various elements of this genre in it

This can be depicted from the way it is composed and presented. Its thematic concerns, stylistic devices, and the arrangement of the plots are clear indications of a modernist work of art. There is a shift from the traditional literature, which is embedded in the traditional concepts of narration and depiction of facts in reflection of the society. However, Don brings a breakthrough in this genre when he extensively employs new features throughout the film. This can be seen in the following areas:

To begin with, The Shootist involves the use of formal characters

There are so many characters in this film each of whom has a distinct role to play. These include Books, Queen Victoria, Hostetler, Bond Rogers, Gillom, Marshal Walter Thibido, Mike Sweeney, Moses, Jack Pulford, and Jay Cobb. The interaction between the Books, the protagonist, and other characters is similar to a typical society. It involves the normal agreements and conflicts, which is always seen in modernist literature. While there is a cordial relationship between the protagonist and other characters like Bond Rogers, Gillom, Old flame Serepta, and Marshal Walter Thibido, there is a turbulent relationship between him and others like Mike Sweeney and the two strangers who engage him in a dwell. The conflict is particularly witnessed when Mike opts to avenge Books for the murder of his brother. Later, Books is confronted by his enemies who launch a shoot out on him. However, after his death, it is only the young Gillon who demonstrates his love for his slain friend when he covers his dead body. He is saddened because of the close relationship they had. As already highlighted, their friendship starts when Books is welcomed in their family by his mother who wants him to mentor this young boy. The kind of interactions amongst all the characters is showing that this film is a modernist one.

Besides, The Shootist is rich in symbolism

Don extensively employs this device throughout the film to help in the delivery of his message to the viewers. The death of Books is symbolic of his fulfillment as a gun shooter who was able to live a life of fulfillment. As a fighter, he did a lot of things, which made him be popular in his community. Later, he could not have a peaceful death as he had been planning, especially during his last days on earth. As a human being, he knew that he would die one day. Therefore, he was prepared to face his death in a bold manner. This is why, he was ready to traverse the community and come across people like Lauren. Eventually, he was not able to accomplish this desire. Although this was a very big blow to him, it was symbolic of how people’s past can haunt them. Instead of focusing on his future, he concentrated on the past. All the things he had done in the past would later influence his life. His death, which resulted from cancer, is symbolic of how the past can haunt a person. Symbolism is also used when Gillon takes off his cap before the dead Books. This symbolizes respect for the dead man. The removal of a cap is always used to indicate some submission and discipline. It has been used in the disciplined forces for a very long time. When Gillon removed his cap to salute the corpse of his mentor, it means that he was showing that he respected him as his senior. However, this would not cease with his death because it even continued. Apart from being his mentor, Books was a celebrated hero in this community. The film emphasizes the role of focus in life. Everyone should not be glued to their past. Instead, they should take the initiative to adapt to their immediate environment and live together with the rest of the society. The use of this technique enables the film to add depth to its meaning, enrich and make it more interesting for the viewers.

In addition, The Shootist presents themes, which are relevant to the modernist ideologies. In other words, there are messages of flexibility, hatred of war, and individual fulfillment. Books was conscious of his role as a gun shooter. He had been engaged in the traditional gun shootings. This did not go well with the rest of the society because it earned him lots of enemies, which later cost him a lot in his life. Besides, his actions and attitude towards life was a clear indication of personal consciousness. As a rational man, he could look at life from a more logical point of view. His story is a clear demonstration of how conflicts can be dangerous and costly in the long run. Although he had been longing for a peaceful death, he could not achieve this because of the changing circumstances. It is no longer possible for people to stick to the traditional and superstitious ways of life in which a dying man’s utterances were considered as secret. Modernity has come and has changed everything. People have rejected the old standards and have become more concerned about objectivity. Books himself was also an alienated person who was not linked to his family ties. He was even more comfortable to live with Rodgers. It is a clear indication of the growing modernity in which individuals become more alienated and seek personal fulfillments without an unnecessary influence from other relatives.

Finally, the film demonstrates the elements of modernism because of the use of irony and satire

It is true that Books is a hero. The viewers expect him to demonstrate his successes throughout his life. It should not only be narrowed to fighting. In fact, he is expected to do extraordinary things. However, this does not come to be. As fate would have it, he becomes a victim of his history. First, he decides to seek refuge in Rogers’ house. This is so ironical because no one can expect him to be under the custody of a woman. His courage should not allow him to be under the care of a woman. It is so satirical since he is the one who would be expected to provide for people like her. Later, he dies in the battle field. It is so ironical that a great shooter like him is felled by another fighter. His death after felling all his opponents not only appears strange, but satirical. Although he later dies as a hero, it is a great loss to Gillom who gets so grieved by the great loss. All these features qualify this film as a modern one because it is a shift from the traditional epics, which is usually characterized by immortality of the protagonists.


The Shootist is a well-directed film, which gives an invaluable education to its viewers. It is a great work by Don because it demonstrates how art can be used to express emotional interior state of the characters by using a variety of stylistic devices such as satire, irony, juxtaposition, imagery, and expressionism. These enable it to clearly bring out the major theme of the film in a simple manner to be understood by all the viewers. It is a true example of a modernist work, a trait, which made it clinch the prestigious Writers Guild, Academy, and Golden Globes awards. The Shootist is indeed an invaluable film, which should be recommended to all those interested in getting entertained, educated, and challenged. It is a must-watch modernist film.


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