McCabe & Mrs. Miller

McCabe & Mrs. Miller ★★★★★

The death of the grinning, awshucks cowboy is far more disturbing than I remember it, and Mrs Miller has a much more prominent role than I realized. 

I find it invigorating that a film with such a rich atmosphere as this has most of its best moments in unexplained and abrupt snapshots of the world that surrounds our titular characters (Alma’s vicious attack on her client, the bartender’s shaving situation, and the Ida Coyle subplot come to mind). But I also find the despair in some of the quieter scenes emotionally devastating, such as in the warm final scene with Mrs Miller looking hopelessly at an antique which is starkly contrasted with McCabe’s frozen lifeless body, or her final scene before that when she walks around outside McCabe’s room, as well as the scene where Mrs Miller’s restaurant proposal to McCabe when she is first introduced. Especially in this scene, the focus is on the little details, the environment, not the pitiful McCabe or the confident Miller. 

I believe this emotional reaction I have to these scenes in particular and the lack of interest in the story itself (most of the dialogue is run over by noise) is a part of the ultimate point of the film, which is its intricate establishment of melancholic mood. The film desires to capture that mood of this pivotal time in American history by way of, similar to There Will Be Blood, a character study. More specifically, a character study of businessmen, one cowardice and one threatening, but both are fiercely trying to fight for survival. 

So with the richness of the world, the tenderness of Leonard Cohen’s voice, the PERFECT performances by Beatty and Christie, the gloomy, mushy cinematography, and the seamless establishment of setting and mood makes for one of the most beautiful pieces of survival, alienation, and melancholy ever put to the screen.

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