Picking up an authentic, historically accurate movie, one that’s not found on the History Channel, seems to be a rare occurrence. Completely twisting the facts to fit the action packed scene is the norm. Even though there are added love interests and catastrophic battle scenes that are not historically correct, they represent situations that could easily have been found in that distinct time and place. With that in mind, we get exceptional movies that have at least one fantastic and accurate scene, situation, or portrayal such as Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Gone With the Wind, Dances With Wolves, The Godfather, and The Patriot.
The reason I love movies like this is with the knowledge that it is, basically, a historically relevant movie with a compelling story. It’s not full of blue aliens, Disney characters, or futuristic worlds. Granted they aren’t 100% accurate, like Defiance or The Conspirator, but they do share a common spirit. One of the reasons I love movies is they allow me to experience something special and put me in the moment; historic movies take me to a time period that I sometimes wish I would’ve been born into.
Another movie I’d like to add to the list is not a “box-office blockbuster” or a “Best Picture” winner, but it certainly has the qualities necessary to throw it into the mix. The film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is a movie full of courage, devotion, and passion. Directed by Michael Mann, and scored to the exquisite compositions of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, the film itself is one of great beauty.
Set during the French and Indian war, the movie depicts the siege at Fort William Henry and the following battle after the British surrender to Marquis de Montcalm. The portrayal of these events resonate with authenticity. We see the lives of the soldiers and their families living in close quarters within the fort, the wounded accumulating by the hour, the skirmishes outside the walls, and the chaos within the trenches moving closer and closer by the day. The eventual surrender is well depicted, as well the unwarranted generosity and gentlemanly behavior on the part of Montcalm towards his British opponents, including Lt. Colonel George Monro. After the surrender, the evacuation of the able and wounded English and subsequent brutality of the hostile Indian tribes leaves a mark on the memories of those viewing the savagery. One senses the confusion and utter panic on behalf of the English, being attacked with intense ferocity without the availability of safety within sight.
In addition to the accurate historical depictions, what solidifies my love and appreciation for films are the emotional and realistic relationships that form between characters. The movie opens with the Mohican indian Chingachgook (beautifully played by the famous Ogalala/Lakota Sioux and first national director of American Indian Movement, Russell Means) and his two sons, Uncas (Eric Schweig) and our hero, Nathaniel, (played by the famous Daniel Day Lewis also found in There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York) hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They later visit the homestead of their friends, Camerons, “hack[ing] it out of the wilderness with their own two hands.”
The three men initially reject the offer to join their friends as volunteers in the British army, but the eventual murder of the Camerons and the encounter with a detachment of officers, including the two daughters of Colonel Monro, throw them into the ranks of the war.
As a result, our heroes lead the surviving officer, Duncan, and the daughters, Cora (played by the stunning Madeleine Stowe from the TV series Revenge) and Alice to Fort William. In the course of their travels, Nathaniel and Cora are found in a treacherous war in which their love is discovered and validated amidst the firing cannons and flying tomahawks. This love is one that we all dream of: all sacrificing, unwavering faithful, and passionately sustained.
Cora’s devotion is clear when she challenges her father’s authority to save Nathaniel from being hanged for sedition. Nathaniel is equally faithful when he saves Cora from a slit to the throat. He climbs up the highest mountains to rescue her from the antagonist Magua (played by the infamous Wes Studi), and free falls into a trecherous waterfall to ensure her safety. His love will forever be marked and defined by the ever famous line “No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive… You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.”
During the development of Nathaniel and Cora’s relationship, a bond is formed between Uncas and Alice. Uncas subtly watches over the meek and pure Alice who is evidently fragile and delicate in the midst of the wars waged around her. Before Uncas joins Chingachgook and Nathaniel jumping into the waterfall, he pulls Alice from a rash suicidal decision to end her life; she believes that she cannot go on after witnessing such evil and death. His tender affection for her is unmistakable in his embrace and comfort. The love that Uncas feels for Alice is moving and foreshadows the painful climax to come.
After Nathaniel once again saves Cora, Uncas sets off to save Alice from the clutches of Magua. Regrettably, Uncas is sliced before her eyes and kicked off a mountain after repeatedly trying to outmatch Magua. Although defeated, Uncas refuses to give in without one last blow. His sacrifice is the last straw for Alice who is united with Uncas through the same tragic death. Is there a greater picture of true love other than the sacrifice of one’s own life for their soul mate?
After watching his son’s sacrifice from a distance, the overwrought and enraged Chingachgook has his revenge in the brief but power defeat of Magua. He is able to rip his enemy apart with the surest and swiftest movements formed over years of perfection. Before enacting the final blow, Chingachgook looks his enemy square in the eye and that moment is the epitome of a father’s righteous justice. His mouth is silent, but his eyes say, “You messed with family, and you will die for that.
In the final scene, Chingachgook, Nathaniel, and Cora gather together to grieve their lost ones in the only way they can. We glimpse a future full of hope for Nathaniel and Cora despite the extreme pain and loss at the end of the film, but at the same time the final moment is mixed with intense despair from a man who has experienced unspeakable tribulation throughout his long life. It is at this point that we hear the words of a man who is the definition of wisdom:
“The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us….The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here….Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one – I, Chingachgook – Last of the Mohicans.”
My Note: A movie with historic merit in addition to relatable passionate connections and true devotion to those connections.
My Grade: A