This is a movie Elizabeth loves so it was nice to finally watch it together. I remember buying this movie in middle school when I was going through my go-to-Best-Buy-and-spend-all-my-money-on-movies,-especially-ones-I-had-never-seen phase. I remember watching it and not really thinking much of it. I’m glad I watched it as an adult because I do appreciate it more now.
The worst thing about this film to me is really just the time period. I don’t really find this part in history very interesting, very important maybe, but it’s not something I think about too often. The thing I love about this movie is easily Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s such an incredible actor it’s hard not to want to see everything he’s in. What I think he did best in this film is his accent. It’s extremely convincing.
I now think of this movie in a different light, thanks to Elizabeth, and it might not be something that I’m dying to see again, it certainly was a nice experience the other night.
Okay, what can I really say about The Last of the Mohicans? It’s my favorite movie. It’s not my only favorite movie . . . but it’s tied with several others. If you don’t count whatever animated kids’ movies I watched over and over as a kid, I honestly think that I’ve seen The Last of the Mohicans more than any other movie. And that’s totally fine, because it’s the greatest film ever made.
I know that’s a lofty statement and I’ll get a lot of disagreements, but I DON’T CARE BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. I don’t think there’s another movie out there that makes me cry from the opening solely due to the music and the opening scenery. Yeah, the opening of Up will make you cry, but it looks like cheap heart tugs compared to The Last of the Mohicans.
Let’s start with Nathaniel/Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), perhaps the greatest male on-screen character I’ve ever seen. He’s so goddamn masculine. But not in that scary, awful Raging Bull sort of way . . . I mean that he’s so strong, so capable, but so loving and caring. Adopted as a baby by Chingachgook (Russell Means) after the death of his family, Nathaniel is part of a strong, 3-man family unit, along with Uncas (Eric Schweig) that really don’t want much to do with conflict, whether it’s between different tribes or with white people. They fall into the pretty much unavoidable French and Indian War, but the side they take is based on the people they’re helping rather than politics or trade. I really love this family: Chingachgook is the strong, wise, understanding, calm father. Uncas is the quiet, strong, sensitive, easy-going brother. And Nathaniel is the strong, outspoken, skilled, loving, sensitive PERFECT MAN. I’m not even going to talk about how fucking hot Nathaniel and Uncas are, because words can’t do them justice anyway.
But what’s also so great about The Last of the Mohicans is how strong the supporting cast is. Cora Munro (Madeline Stowe) is one of my favorite on-screen ladies because she’s a total badass. When we first see her, she’s a pretty prim and proper woman. But we get a hint at her personality when she gently turns down her childhood friend Duncan (Steven Waddington)’s marriage proposal because she doesn’t love him as more than a friend. She’s a maternal figure to her younger sister Alice (Jodhi May), and at the first sign of trouble is able to hold her own. The Munro sisters, along with Duncan and a bunch of English soldiers, are on their way to meet up with their father, Colonel Munro (Maurice Roëves) while being led by Magua (Wes Studi). When Magua betrays the party and leads an attack against them, the Mohicans catch up with them (after tracking the war party with their amazing tracking skills because they are AWESOME) and save Duncan and the Munro sisters from being killed. Duncan nearly shoots Nathaniel, but Cora stops him because she knows the Mohicans saved them. Does she also stop him because she is instantly insanely attracted to Nathaniel? It probably helps. When they all come across the home of the Mohicans’ friends to find all of their friends murdered, the Mohicans instruct that they need to leave everything intact. Cora doesn’t hesitate at all to yell at Nathaniel, thinking it isn’t right not to bury them. Nathaniel also doesn’t hesitate to sort-of-yell at Cora and they leave their bodies. That night, Cora takes it upon herself to find out why they left them there, leading to a conversation about Nathaniel’s origins, etc etc. When a war party approaches, Cora immediately grabs the gun she stole from a dead soldier, and Nathaniel hands her some gunpowder that she loads with ease. Now, I can’t say for sure that this is the start of them falling in love, but the way Cora fearlessly handles a gun obviously signals to Nathaniel that this woman is certainly his speed. Throughout the whole movie, Cora and Nathaniel match each other in brazenness, bravery, empathy, and loss.
But there’s also Duncan, who is so great and tragic. Few movies have a supporting character that realistically changes as much as Duncan, I think, because in the end, he doesn’t really change. He just loves Cora. His love for her leads him to speak against Nathaniel out of jealously, but also to sacrifice his own life so that Cora and Nathaniel can be together.
And that leads me to my next point: there are so many good scenes in The Last of the Mohicans that I don’t know if it’s fair to call one the best or to have a favorite. But I will say that things start to get really real in the famous scene behind the waterfall that includes Nathaniel’s slightly horrifying speech to Cora. There’s not many good guys left at this point, the Mohicans, the Munros, and Duncan (who’s in a gray area at this point in terms of being a good or bad guy). They’re being tracked down by Magua and his crew, they’re out of gunpowder, they’re outnumbered, and they’re trapped. Cora tells Nathaniel to save himself, because at least if only one of them dies, the other will still have their memory. Nathaniel immediately tells Cora no, that she has to stay alive. Why is this so scary? Because he doesn’t say it, but what he’s really warning her against is rape. He tells her to submit, not to fight back, because if she just submits she might not get murdered. The look on Cora’s face when he tells her this is great (in terms of acting): she’s horrified, sad, desperate.
LUCKILY . . . Cora does survive, and helps the Mohicans track them. Nathaniel figures Magua will take them back to his tribe, so they meet up with them there. And this is the scene that is seriously one of the most tense and saddest scenes in any movie ever. Magua presents the Munro sisters and Duncan to the tribal leader as symbols of him being a war hero. He wants to sell Duncan to the French, keep Alice as his wife, and burn Cora alive. Nathaniel comes in, and has Duncan translate Nathaniel’s words into French, a language Duncan, Magua, and the tribal leader all understand. Nathaniel successfully convinces the tribal leader that Magua is a bad guy, but Alice is still going to have to be Magua’s bride and Cora will be burned at the stake. Alice is taken away, which Uncas sees from afar, and he goes off to save her. Nathaniel tells Duncan to tell the tribal leader, “Take me!” so that Nathaniel will die and Cora will live. Instead, Duncan tells the tribal leader to take him, that as a British officer in exchange for a woman, it’s a good trade. Nathaniel doesn’t realize what he’s said, and Cora hears Nathaniel pleading, “Take me!” So when the tribal leader nods and the film’s score starts up again, Cora starts yelling and crying until the tribesman untie her and hand her off to Nathaniel, while taking Duncan. Nathaniel repeats softly, then loudly, “I said to take me,” but Duncan yells at him to get Cora out of there. Running from the tribe and to safer, higher ground, Cora and Nathaniel see Duncan raised on a stake, burning and screaming. And here’s why Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing; for the whole movie up to this point, we’ve seen Nathaniel as an expert marksman, not letting anything distract him. But when he raises his gun at Duncan to shoot him so that Duncan doesn’t have to burn alive, there’s tears in Nathaniel’s eyes and he can’t stop himself from crying as he pulls the trigger. It’s completely gut-wrenching and oddly beautiful.
The same can be said for the climactic scene on the edge of the mountain, where Uncas has tracked Magua and his men taking Alice. He fights Magua to the death, except he’s the one that dies while Alice looks on, crying. At this point, Alice must assume everyone she loves and/or would be able to save her is dead: she must assume her father is dead, Cora has been burned at the stake, Duncan has been sold, Nathaniel has been killed by the tribesmen, and she just watched Magua kill Uncas. So when Alice carefully steps in front of Magua with her back to the side of the mountain, she has the most blank, lifeless look on her face already. Magua tries to coax her from the edge, but with Uncas’ blood dripping down his fingers, he’s not exactly convincing. So while Cora helplessly looks on from afar, she jumps from the mountain and kills herself.
So in the end, it’s just Chingachgook, Nathaniel, and Cora. They’ve all lost so much at this point, but they still have each other, and as corny as that sounds, the way they all look at each other and look at the sunset really makes you think that they’re going to function well as a family.
The Last of the Mohicans is not only visually beautiful, it has an insanely amazing score that will make you want to cry and never stop listening to it. I guess I just can’t find anything really wrong whatsoever with The Last of the Mohicans, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m already disappointed in you.