The Homesman Review: A spiritual pioneer drama

In the opening scene of this spiritual film. We see a solitary figure wearing a bonnet and dress and walking slowly behind a plow pulled by two mules; above her, the big sky, and below her, the good earth. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is 31-year-old single woman who has built a solitary life as a hard-working farmer with a keen sense of moral good. So She lives in the Nebraska Territory in 1854. After having her proposal of marriage turned down by a younger man who finds her too “bossy and plain”. So Mary volunteers for a mission of mercy.

So Pioneer women faced wild extremes of weather, virulent diseases, the abuse and violence of husbands, battles with Indians and animals, the burdens of childcare, and the endless struggle against poverty and starvation. Some of them fought courageously and survived; others were driven into depression and mental illness by the hardships of frontier life.

Three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) in the community have gone around the bend. One wails and talks repeatedly about God’s judgment; another threw her baby down an outhouse hole; and a third clings to a rag doll that represents her three children who died of diphtheria. The town preacher, Rev. Dowd (John Lithgow), has come up with a plan to have these unfortunate women taken back to Iowa where a Methodist minister’s wife (Meryl Streep) will make sure they are looked after.

When no men are willing to take on the dangers and rigors of this expedition. Mary Bee says she will be the “homesman” transporting them. She heads off into the wilderness with the three mad women locked in a boxy wagon. By sheer luck, she rescues George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones). A claim jumping vagabond who is a few minutes away from choking to death as he sits on a horse with a noose around his neck. In exchange for saving his life, she elicits his vow to accompany her on the journey. Along the way, they square off against a band of Indians, a gunslinger, and very cold weather.

The Homesman (Chuyen Di Bao Tap) is based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout. And its portrait of an overlooked slice of American history on the frontier. As director, star, and one of the three screenwriters. Tommy Lee Jones gives us a Western which brings us into the presence of the inexplicable promptings of the human heart. On their arduous trek, Mary Bee and Briggs are two outsiders thrown together by chance. So she is a devout Christian who comes across as an angel gently caring for the three mad women. And as if that were not enough. But Mary Bee puts her own life in jeopardy to bury the body of a child they happen upon in the deserted prairie. So her kindness and sincere faith begin to work wonders on the hard-drinking and hardened cowboy Briggs.

In one of our favorite movies Household Saints a character says: “You think you know how the game of life is going but you never do. At any moment God can deal you a wild card”. So the wild cards here are mysteries which confound reason and leave us feeling humbled by the profound complexities and paradoxes of life. In a poignant performance, Hilary Swank centers The Homesman (bao phim) and leaves us breathless in the face of her courage, vulnerability, and service of others. So Mary Bee walks her talk as a Christian. And enters a very small circle of screen characters to do so effectively.

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