The Last of the Mohicans is a movie based on the book by James Fennimore Cooper and directed by Michael Mann. Russell Means plays the lead character. This film is set in the 1757 and the story revolves around Hawkeye, a white man raised as a Mohawk who falls in love with the daughter of a British general. As a period based film, this film is held within the period when skirmishes took place between two European imperial powers – England and France – in the newly discovered American continent. The year 1757 saw the third year of war between England and France for dominating the American continent. The center of the story is the massacre of British troops, women, and children by General Montcalm’s Indian allies after the British surrender of Fort William Henry to the French on 9th August 1757.
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Thesis: ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, is based on an historical event that has been slightly altered to create a successful film that is hugely entertaining with added elements of romance, beauty and adventure.
The movie draws upon the novel for selective elements and has added lot more contemporary flavor to it with idealized colorful characters. The movie has been shot on the Blue ridge mountains of North Carolina and the visuals are breathtaking. The main protagonist Hawkeye is defined not so much about what he says or does, as by his handsome appearance. The movie is a treat to the eye with beautiful actors and landscapes. A lot of importance has been given to appearances – beadwork, tattoos, uniforms, weapons, canoes, Irish-sounding music. Wes Studi and Russell Means are American Indian actors who breathe life into the characters of Magua, the tough and treacherous villain and Chingachgook, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement. They lend the characters a certain authentication by their looks.
The first half of the movie is somewhat confusing and it took me the first half an hour to understand the characters and the situation. However, the adventure episodes in the latter half of the film added more pace to the movie. The scenes that brought audiences to the edge of the seats include a terrifying ambush, a desperate escape into the waterfall and a tragic mountaintop fight. The fight on the cliff top is an excellent piece of moviemaking. However, the movie lacks smooth flow during the action scenes between the French and British soldiers due to some choppy editing.
Much in the film can prove useful to the historian such as references to indentured servitude, the portrayal of the war leaders and the belief of the English and French that they were rulers of the continent. The film correctly portrays the Iroquois as ferocious warriors who were to some extent barbaric and had their skins covered with bear grease and red ochre. Colonel Monro is ably represented as a brave and blunt commander who did all he could to save his fort until further reinforcements arrived. Contrary to most contemporary movies dealing with Native American characters, this movie interestingly depicts American native Indians as equals with the white immigrants. History does have accounts that prove Indians and whites did have an amicable co-existence in the Northeast Atlantic frontier in the eighteenth century. This film, while being true to the history that lies embedded in its scripts takes the common liberties that artistry grants and deviates from being true to the period. There are scenes that are over romanticized and situations that are over dramatized. The scenes showing Indians living in temporary military camps of 1757 is totally absurd. Neither the Iroquois nor the Delaware, nor the Huron were nomadic hunter-warriors. Moreover, the distinctions between tribes in the film are rather blurred and differences between Mohican and Delaware are nonexistent. The natives in the film appear as individuals rather than members of a wider community and little social organization is shown in the film.
There are a few technical flaws in the representation of the historical period in the film. The bearskin miters were usually worn by the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, whereas the movie shows the 60th Royal Americans wearing them (Baker, 1). Major Hayward is shown carrying a hanger sword which is not appropriate instead of the small sword his title allows him to carry. History shows that it was George Bartmen, Webb’s Aide de Camp who signed the letter to Lt. Col. George Monro. In the movie, this is shown as signed by Webb. The contents of the letter have also been changed. In history, there was no ambush on the road in the woods as shown in movie and no waterway for an escape by canoe as shown either (Baker, 1). Another scene shows Uncas helping Alexandra Cameroon as she cooks. It is not in the nature of an Indian brave to help with household chores (Baker, 1). In yet another scene, a French soldier is shown waving a white scarf on his sword tip. In reality parlay flags were blood red and not white as it is common today (Baker, 1).
The movie “Last of the Mohicans” though made with historical elements, has slight distortions to reality in order to give it a more commercial orientation. The movie has some great acting, great outdoors, great camerawork and a fast moving storyline that is gripping. It may be considered a beautiful movie based on history but not a historical movie.
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Baker, A. Mark (2003). The Script and the Matter of Historical Accuracy.