Who are we fighting against? Against the world
This invective uttered by John Dutton, at the end of the first episode of Yellowstone, is not a declaration of intent only narrative. Defer to an imaginary that Kevin Costner knows very wellhaving brought to life a masterpiece of the last great age of the western, showing enormous respect for a film genre that was then heading towards its decline.
There is a lot of John Dutton in that sentence. And there’s so much of that in John Dutton topos of the cursed hero, disillusioned with life and willing to die rather than abandon his principles. There is so much Clint Eastwood admired in it The ruthlessin the way John mourns the loss of his wife, but also in the way he refuses to passively spend the time left to live.
There is, of course, a lot of the western characters played by John Wayne, for that underlying pride (which today would be framed, not entirely wrongly, in the spectrum of toxic masculinity) which prevents him from mourning the death of a son in public; above all, in common with The Dukethe head of the Yellowstone family possesses the ability to fully represent American republican ideals and, at the same time, stand as a staunch opposition to the capitalist establishment.
Taylor Sheridan, not surprisingly one of the greatest authors on the scene, has been able to revive all this in one of the best TV series currently in circulation.
The Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is one of the most important screenplay manuals, a real cornerstone that shows how through a recombination of archetypes and mice (the central Test, the meeting with Enemies and Allies, the Call, the Refusal…) having defined the 12 stages of the journey, any television or cinematographic story can be given rise. In the introduction it is emphasized just how the western is the genre that first and best lent itself to this narrative model.
In Yellowstone the journey of John Dutton’s hero begins in the twilight of his existence. When, that is, the family ranch is threatened by interests perhaps greater than even those boundless hectares in Montana. It’s almost ironic to draw a parallel between this and the character Kevin Costner played in Dance with wolves and note how the two figures appear perfectly antipodes. A contrast that appears almost intentional and that makes the analysis of Yellowstone even more fascinating.
While John Dunbar was enraptured by those prairies in Nebraska and eager to fraternize with the Sioux tribe, learn their ways, to the point of becoming one of them, for Dutton only blood ties count and therefore he closes himself off from the outside world. Any relationship with the foreigner, when not bellicose, is aimed exclusively at personal gain e he manages to keep this clear line of distinction marked with a sometimes ruthless coldness.
In a broader sense, Dunbar, with his genuine exuberance and even a certain awkwardness, deconstructed the figure of the traditional western hero, as opposed to the disenchanted John Dutton, who brings back all that imagery mentioned above. With a substantial difference. Yellowstone is still a modern reinterpretation of the genre and – during his Voglerian journey – a protagonist who appeared to us as monolithic also reveals to himself the real essence of him, with all the load of his fragility. We will be back.
Furthermore, as the episodes go by, we understand together with John D how the defense of the ranch at all costs is nothing more than a pretext to reunite his family.
Precisely in the Duttons’ family nucleus we find those beautiful and cursed characters who raise the qualitative rate of the series and create a bridge between the western that was and the new era, of which this work, its spin-offs and Deadwood represent the maximum expression. Kayce is such a mythological figure, condemned against his will to be the heir to the head of the family. The adopted son Bill is almost a Shakespearean character who passed through Montana, while a separate discussion should be made for Beth.
The golden age of the western, as an expression of the society of the time, was marked by a certain machismo. The role of the woman was generally limited in narrative terms to the “Reward” of the hero. This hasn’t completely prevented the birth of iconic female characters, but it has certainly limited it. With due exceptions, this subordination to male characters has remained up to the present day, or rather up to a revolutionary TV series like Deadwood.
With Beth Dutton we have gone even further, since it is not only a female character who plays an important role in the story; she, like Monica Dutton, performs functions and attitudes that were previously the exclusive prerogative of the male characters. He is a character, in essence, that could have existed in the 60s but only if he had been a man.
It is also through these huge differences that subtly and naturally fit into context that Yellowstone perpetrates a refined and inescapable nostalgic feeling.
Then it is clear, Yellowstone is not just a reinterpretation of the glories of the past. It is certain that some dynamics or archetypes do not change. Depending on the point of view, the plot also takes the form of an ideological clash between invader and invader. However, the context changes. The battle between Indians and cowboys resurfaces crudely, but the geopolitical substratum is much, much more complex. The Dutton family, for example, pose as both victim and perpetrator at the same time. It is prey to the expansionist ambitions of local politics and entrepreneurs, which it offers the at the beginning of history, but also occupier (for many generations now) of those lands that once belonged to the native population.
The series plays a lot with these plots, winking now at political dramas, now at gangster movies. Sometimes two sides team up against a third, then everything gets mixed up and the balance is upset. Everyone has their own reasons to support, all points of view are adequately explored and it is only the magnetic charm of the protagonist family that pushes the viewer to side with it. And then there’s the end of the cursed hero as presented to us in the movies we grew up with. There is no way to preserve pride in all its purity, in this new world, and even a solid man like John Dutton will have to deal with it. Even deeper than Ethan Edwards, extraordinary protagonist of a liminal film like Wild Pathsplayed by John Wayne, will have to dig into his own humanity, for the sake of his family.
In conclusion the virtue of a series like Yellowstone is all here: being perfectly aware of the existence of a very powerful imagination, of giants on whose shoulders to walk and from which to draw all the best they have been able to offer; at the time sex being able to take that step further and immerse ourselves perfectly in our time.