Movie Review: ‘HIDALGO’ & the Wounded Knee Massacre

The New York Times article I just shared (or at least tried to!) on my Facebook Timeline, “Save
Wounded Knee”, instantly brought back to my heart’s memory one of my
favorite films: “HIDALGO”.

I know, the film shouldn’t have been claimed to be based on real facts,
as on further research it was found not to be, it would seem. That is,
as far as the big, long, deadly endurance race that Frank Hopkins and
his dear Native-American mustang, Hidalgo, are supposed to participate
in through the Saudi Arabian area deserts, is concerned.

But WHY did Frank Hopkins decide to take part in that ‘Race of Fire’ to
start with (if he ever did and if that race ever existed at all) is for
me the main point, the central issue, the central fact burning at the
heart of the story really told in the film, forming its whole actual
background from its beginning to its end: that very real fact, that very
real topic is the slow extermination of the Native Americans by their
White conquerors, and the torn loyalties lived by those who happened to
be half White, half Indian, and to have to witness and endure that
brutal extermination of the Indian half of themselves by the other half,
the White.

To witness and endure it would already be bad enough, but in the case of
Frank Hopkins he happens to be also the very messenger who, on Hidalgo,
is missioned to unknowingly deliver the terrible official orders to the
general in charge of containing what was seen by the White as the
uprising of the Indians in the area of Wounded Knee – the very area of
Frank’s own birth, of his boy’s years among the Sioux tribe of his mom,
married by one of the White men, his father. His name there had been
‘Blue Child’, and in the tribe he was still remembered and saluted
affectionately as such, but his outside appearance didn’t betray his
double origin, so among the White he was working for, he was just seen
as another White man, known as Frank Hopkins, with the reputation of
being the best endurance rider of his time.

Totally shaken by the massacre that happened under his very eyes after
he himself had unwittingly delivered the order for it, Frank has turned
into an alcoholic, saved from complete misery only by compassionate
Buffalo Bill and his Shows of the Wild West, where he and others find
some employment re-enacting for an audience scenes of the now extinct
conflict between the Red and the White.

One fine evening some very special spectators from Saudi Arabia convey
to Hopkins the challenge from their Sheikh, that the cow-boy cannot
claim to be the greatest endurance rider of his time, or he must prove
it by participating in one more race, right against their own Beduin
riders and thoroughbred stallions and mares, through the deadly expanses
of their own Arabic deserts.

Frank could not care less about the challenge, but there is a Prize to
the race; that huge sum of money, if won by him, could buy up all the
wild mustangs, so loved by the Indians, that are being rounded up and
corralled by the White Government, to be all shot if they are not bought
back, each of them for an amount no Indian could afford to pay.

To save those mustangs, his friend the Chief points out, would be to
save at least something very important in the Indians quickly vanishing
culture and way of life; even Buffalo Bill cannot help this time; where
else would the needed enormous amount of money be found? A hesitant
Frank finally accepts the challenge and with Hidalgo he embarks, leaving
the coasts of the US for that new, far away adventure.

If really the story of Frank Hopkins and this ‘Race of Fire’ is largely
fiction, as some critics of the film have so relentlessly done their
best to demonstrate (why??? Does it matter so much after all???), still
as it is told it is undeniably a beautiful story, and the real-life
Frank Hopkins, however a spinner of high tales he may have been in his
memoirs, can at least be proud of having been the basis for a truly
inspiring Myth, as it is told in the movie: even if it is all mostly
invented, still I hail the script-writer(s) for having believed in their
character enough to make of him a convincing and moving Hero, out of
his White cow-boy’s humble straightforwardness and simple dignity, yes,
but also out of his deep love for that secret Indian culture buried in
his roots, which in the end he allows to burst fully out of his White
man’s crust, and which saves him and Hidalgo from impending death, when
he at last claims that other identity so long repressed in himself:

After days and days of impossible situations to be faced and overcome in
a merciless nature and among even more merciless rivals, fallen with
bleeding Hidalgo in the burning sands, out of sheer exhaustion and
despair, only a few miles away from the end of the race, down on his
knees in a last cry of anguish he calls to his Sioux ancestors,
imploring their help through one of those poignant Sioux songs he knows
so well from his childhood; and his ancestors, among whom his mother and
brother, appear to him in the heat waves of the desert, with love in
their eyes and smiles, infusing back in him life-energy and power, and
desire to win; to the fierce, arrogant Beduin Prince with whom he has
particularly struggled all along in the race, and who now passing on his
great horse this fallen rival, mocks him, when the Prince jeeringly
boasts,

“You cannot win! I am of a  People of the Horse! I am of a great Rider Tribe!”,

Blue Child, a new flame in his eyes, quietly answers,

“So am I.”

And leaving behind his usual saddle and reins of the White rider, he
jumps straight upon resurrected Hidalgo and rides him bareback like a
Sioux, irresistibly passing the few remaining competitors, to a victory
hailed by the whole crowd and the Sheikh himself and his daughter, both
grown great admirers and friends of this incredible hero from far away
lands.

The last scenes bring us back to the real purpose all along behind all
that has been attempted and finally achieved: back in the US, the wild
mustangs of the Indians have been all rounded up and imprisoned in vast
corrals; soldiers are now getting ready to shoot them all down in a huge
mass slaughter; but a rider comes on a mustang, who shows them the
receipt he has from just buying back – the full amount paid in cash!- all the
mustangs; his friend the Chief has died, but did get the news of his
victory before dying; with the help of a few other Indian friends, Franck has the joy
of freeing again all the wild horses, who will have now a new,
unthreatened life in that area… where their descendants still live,
still free, to this day.

What I found remarkable also in that story is that the usual expected
love-stories are avoided. with both the two charming feminine presences
in the film: on the one hand, the heartless, ambitious and spoiled
British heiress whose old husband stayed behind on the ship, sipping his
iced gin, while his wife, familiar to the region since childhood and
having also her own thoroughbred mare in the race, will use any
seductive or devious means to win the race; and on the other hand the
thoroughly sympathetic young daughter of the Sheikh, raised on a horse
like his now all dead sons, but not allowed to ride in public and fated
by her culture to become merely one of the obscure wives of some Beduin
Prince who may win the race; so she does her best to help instead the
intriguing cow-boy who is competing too; circumstances bring them
together for some chaste moments, and she points out, quite rightly,
that both of them are hiding their true self: she, as a woman, wearing
the veil her culture compels her to wear whenever men other than her
father or husband are present; and he, as Blue Child hiding himself
under the face of a White man,,, in his case too, because the White
culture he lives in will not allow him to do otherwise. Together at
least they don’t need to hide: he is the only man to whom she will
deliberately show her face, without fear; and with her the ‘Blue Child’
in him will not fear to reveal himself either.

This speaks particularly to me as well, both as a woman still facing so
many prejudices in this contemporary world still so masculine in its
outlook on life; and also as a ‘colored’ person who has in fact all the
existing human colors in her being, but under the appearance of a White
person.

Since I have seen ‘Hidalgo’ a few years ago, I have become more
conscious of that fact. Sometimes I wonder how different my personality
and life would have been, had I been more visibly the metis I actually
am. Am I somehow in hiding?… Have I been all my life?…

What a pity that the critics killed that film even before it got out. It
is not as well known and celebrated as it should be. A movie that conveys
in such an un-preaching and natural manner such deep questions, deserves
to be seen. And it is, on top of it all, a highly entertaining film,
with just the right balance of ‘action’ and quiet moments. A lot of
humour. Stunningly magnificent pictures. Excellent acting all around,
with for example Omar Sharif as the Sheikh, and Viggo Mortensen as Frank
Hopkins (if I had not fallen in love with him already as Aragorn in the
‘Lord of the Rings’ films, I would have now with his Frank Hopkins!)
Viggo, always a most sincere and intense actor, really involved himself
fully in embodying Frank, and even more his “Blue Child’ identity,
learning with total dedication the real language of the song he is
chanting in the end. He loved that underlying theme I too just tried to
reveal in the film; when the critics managed to diminish greatly the
success such a really good film should have met, Viggo was quite
disappointed and saddened by this unjust treatment dealt to it.

I agree with him: this is a really good film. To be enjoyed without reserve by the whole family, again and again!

Cover of "Hidalgo (Widescreen Edition)"

Cover of Hidalgo (Widescreen Edition)


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dykewriter
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 15:28:24

    give that the George Washington Cherry Tree story persists, despite it having no truth to it at all

    I don’t see why people are hung up over the movie’s truthfulness either

    Like

    Reply

    • Bhaga
      Apr 16, 2013 @ 14:52:14

      Good that at least the film was made and can stil be seen on DVD… That, the critics can’t stop.

      Like

      Reply

      • dykewriter
        Apr 16, 2013 @ 15:30:17

        I was following a story about a Production that was filming in New Zealand or Australia, I don’t remember

        they did all the things to secure the locations from the Indigenous group who’s land they were using

        but they didn’t clear the script with the Canadian Indigenous band who was the source of the Ogo Pogo Myth

        so the group down under, shut the production down, even though it would have benefited them

        so even when the story isn’t actually true

        but belongs to a culture

        there’s a lesson in there somewhere I’m sure

        Like

    • Bhaga
      Apr 17, 2013 @ 04:42:28

      I think you are quite right on that…

      Like

      Reply

  2. Bhaga
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 05:31:08

    Oh my, I have to log in…

    Like

    Reply

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