My mother once told me that Little Big Man was one of her favorite movies. I remember her saying that the 1960s were a very cynical decade but that the 1970s cinema seemed to get back its heart.
When I first saw Little Big Man I remember scoffing at it–what the filmmakers thought it was supposed to be. A drama? A comedy? A satire of history? Something self important or not important at all? Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it back then, but what I take from the movie now is that it’s a shady version of the truth–like all history is–and it’s as funny and disturbing as real life can be.
The movie tells the story of Jack Crabb (played subtly brilliant by a young Dustin Hoffman), a white man who grew up with American Indians and then later joined the white culture of late 1800s America. His unique upbringing allowed him to move back and forth into two different worlds, two different extreme cultures. Both cultures had altogether different values but the same apparent life dissatisfaction, not to mention an unreserved hatred of one another.
Not only did I personally relate to the protagonist’s strange dilemma but I also saw it as a metaphor for the different perspectives we are arbitrarily born into in life. Everything we take for granted, everything we believe but haven’t actually learned. Perhaps the film, like the novel it was based on, is a testament to neutrality, pacifism and non-violent resistance. It may well be the antithesis of most 1970s films, which were hard anti-establishment and pro-Democratic.
Little Big Man was actually one of the very first films to depict Native American sympathetically since in years past conservative filmmakers painted them as “savages”. But somehow, as I watched the story of Jack Crabb come and go, as uneventful in the stream of time as it was truly unique to behold, I couldn’t help but wonder if it truly is the definitive post-patriotic meditational experiment.
In an age of Right vs Left war that never really ends, isn’t the only winner the one who lives to tell the story of the bloodshed?