Silverado: Fulfilling Conventions of a Western

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Silverado: Fulfilling Conventions of a Western

The Western genre has left an indelible mark on the world and thanks to Hollywood, the ingredients to a traditional Western are hard to miss. Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado contains classic western elements and visualizes the Manifest Destiny mythology of a primitive way of life confronted with modern technology and social changes by fulfilling traditional conventions, iconography, and expectations of a standard western.

In order to understand the Western genre, it is important to know the history behind it. Most westerns have an underlying theme that ties to the Manifest Destiny that occurred in the second half of the 19th century. America was expanding to the west as conflict rose over the ambiguity of the rights of property on the American frontier. Most westerns included this mythology into the plot of the story. Silverado included this with the main character, Emmet, is riding to Silverado to meet his brother so they can make a new start travel to California. There is also conflict amongst property as a corrupt sheriff tries to run new settlers off the land.

If there is one genre that sticks to its guns when it comes to its conventions, it would be the Westerns. From the lassos to the gun fights, Hollywood has created a concrete image of what the Wild West looked like during that time period. Westerns generally stick with a certain type of plots, characters, settings and music that create the atmosphere of the American frontier during the Manifest Destiny. The classic plot of a Western is centered around the good guys versus the bad guys, with no ambiguity of who is who with conflict often growing out of several archetypal situations: ranchers vs. farmers, Indians vs. settlers, and outlaws vs. civilization with the main goal to maintain law and order on the frontier. Silverado fulfills the white hat versus black hat conflict with four drifters meeting by chance on a trail to Silverado where they encounter a corrupt sheriff and a rotten local rancher in league with local bandits to run off new settlers and terrorize the town. The four guys of virtue join forces to fight for what’s good against the wrong doers.

The laconic heroes in the story also embed characteristics often found in characters of Westerns. Western heroes are often local lawmen or enforcement officers, ranchers, army officers, cowboys, territorial marshals, or a skilled, fast-draw gunfighter. They are normally masculine persons of integrity and principle - courageous, moral, tough, solid and self-sufficient, maverick characters and often with trusty sidekicks, possessing an independent and honorable attitude. The Western hero could usually stand alone and face danger on his own, against the forces of lawlessness (outlaws or other antagonists), with an expert display of his physical skills (roping, gun-play, horse-handling, pioneering abilities, etc.). Silverado’s characters follows closely with these Western character conventions. Emmet is a lone, taciturn cowboy, hardened to his elements fresh from an undeserved five year prison sentence. Paden is a well-spoken, educated man who loves his horse and his hat and is a talented gunslinger. Mal is the classic western good guy who stands up for what is right and never backs down from a fight. We’re able to see the racism of the times that is prevalent in the West through his eyes. Lastly, Jake is wild and acrobatic, brash but carefree and thinks with his guns. There were also several women roles that were portrayed like a classical western. They were depicted as weak individuals who were second to the men in society. Rarely was a woman a main character in the films, and if she was, she was shown to be weak, holding the man back, trying to tie the man down. However, Silverado slightly strayed away from portraying weak women with Stella being a wise saloon manageress.

The setting is also important in fulfilling the traditional...
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