Monday, August 29, 2011

The upside down ship in Cowboys and Aliens

Anybody who knows anything about Steven Spielberg has to have recognized the symbolism of the upside down paddle wheeler 500 miles from any river big enough to handle it.
In many films that a produced or director by Steven Spielberg, we get these kind of images, alluding often to other films or pieces of fiction to build a kind of subtext that is not overly obvious.
This is different from some of the short cuts Spielberg and his cronies sometimes take – such as the recent car chase in Transformers and The Island, or many of the other less obvious tricks Spielberg sometimes plays such as the blow pipe trick that appears in both Young Sherlock Holmes and later in Crystal Skull, or the temple scene Spielberg lifted wholesale to use again in Temple of Doom.
At their best, films associated with Spielberg are layered, and these have symbolic keys that allow us to unlock deeper layers of meaning in each film.
The upside down paddle boat appears to be one of these, a reference back to one of Spielberg’s classic film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where we encounter a finishing trawler grounded in the middle of the Gobi Desert, a thousand miles from the nearest sea.
Close Encounters is – among other things -- a kind of retelling of the Biblical account of Moses and his call to the mountain to collect the Ten Commandments. And with Cowboys and Aliens literally drenched in religious dogma, you have to wonder if this symbol of Spielberg’s past serves as a key to unlock some religious subtext here in this film.
In Close Encounters, the stranded ship is one of a series of events that indicate alien presence, foreshadowing of later more direct contact, including abductions and eventually, the musical dialogue between human and alien.
It is here that the wounded evil alien takes refuge against the rain and pursuit, and it is here that it lays in wait, eventually making its move against the sheriff’s grandson, and it is here that the minister is slain.
The minister has already given his words of wisdom to each of the pilgrims, who are making their way through the Bad Lands towards a fate none of them yet know, each seeking “absolution.”
But like Moses after delivering the tablets and law of this new faith, the minister cannot go on to the promise land, instead remaining behind, with a few words spoken over his grave before the others continue on.

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