The individual as outsider or "outlaw" has been a romanticized, mythic figure in American culture since our country’s founding. So, too, has the brave lawman or marshal who stands up to such individuals and whose thankless task is to bring them to justice. Upholders of the law certainly have their work cut out for them because outlaws refuse to conform to a restrictive social order in which they feel they have a marginal place.
Whether perpetrated by hardened loners, infatuated couples, or daring gangs, these doomed blazes of outlaw glory have been depicted on the Big Screen many times over. Director Sam Peckinpah once said, "The western is a universal frame within which it’s possible to comment on today.” So what is it about these social deviants that we as movie-goers find so compelling?
Is it their brazen attempt to make a clean get-away on horseback across vast stretches of the American landscape with a galloping posse of grim authorities in hot pursuit – the ultimate precursor to future road-trip movies? Why do we often regard outlaws as heroes, though their deeds violate so many laws? Is their belligerent refusal to willingly submit to society's oppressive mores partly responsible for this? Or is it their enviable devil-may-care freedom as short-lived as it may well turn out to be?
Indeed, such reckless abandon seems even more seductive precisely because it is so ephemeral. This lecture will examine iconic western movies and the bold choices made by those who desire to live (and die!) outside the law as well as those destined with the daunting job to uphold it.