Grant Mitchell

In 2011, the late, great and multifaceted Sam Shepard handed in a soulful and unique performance in neo western “Blackthorn.” In this film, love is brought to the forefront by exploring its influences on a person’s lifestyle and their actions. In this case, it is explored through an aging, infamous fugitive Butch Cassidy.

As the story goes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived a life as high-class bank robbing outlaws during the final days of the untamed Wild West. This went on until they were pinned down and killed in a Bolivian mining town while evading capture back in the U.S. way back in 1908. But the movie opens twenty years later in a rural Bolivian town with Butch Cassidy living as a horse breeder under the assumed name of James Blackthorn.

While it appears Butch’s life is no longer filled with the illegalities and danger it once was, it contains a very similar theme his younger years shared: love. This is seen through Butch’s romantic relationship with a much younger village woman that lives with him. It is also evident when he receives word from back home that Etta Place, gang member and mother to his son, passed away. This throws his imagination back into the memories of life as an outlaw and the life left behind in the U.S. while having to hide his identity and surviving of the legendary shootout.

So Butch embarks on his journey back home, but all of this is interrupted when he shoots a man attempting to rob him and loses his horse with all of his money in the saddle. Strangely enough, Butch decides to let his robber live after hearing a story of stolen gold, even taking the man on as a companion. Perhaps this is because he sees himself in the man, an opportunist with a gun and a desire to find treasure.

A slight trek follows, and the two men return to Butch’s home in the Bolivian mountains. But the man’s presence in Butch’s home does not go unnoticed. As daylight trickles in, bounty hunters enter Butch’s home. They attack, fatally shooting his village woman companion, wounding Butch before he kills one attacker, all while his newfound friend dispatches the other intruder. Shaken by the loses of the two women he loved, Butch decides to return to the last love he has in his life, being a high plains outlaw in search of glory and riches.

Butch and his companion then enter into a desert plateau and acquire the money Butch’s companion promised from an abandoned mine, but not before his companion considers betraying him. Once back in the desert, the two are hotly pursued by bounty hunters also in search of the money. Butch, willing to die the way his friend Sundance did, tells his companion to press on with both shares of the money while he stays behind to hold off the attackers. In a blaze of glory, Butch kills the attackers, but he himself is wounded.

The film continues on with Butch recovering in hiding while his now former companion lives well in a lavish hotel and new clothes. All the while, mining bounty hunters working jointly with the Bolivian government close in on the money and its unknown thieves. Feeling the guilt of leaving Butch behind, his former companion rides to the mountains in hopes of meeting Butch at a predetermined point set when they separated at the desert shootout.

Suddenly, Butch emerges and shoots his former companion’s horse, having realized his former companion would have eventually tried to kill him because he is not his beloved friend and partner in crime, Sundance. Seated atop his horse, Butch looks down upon his former companion while he screams at Butch to help his dead horse off of him because he made the world remember who Butch Cassidy is. Butch, unmoved, rides past while the Bolivian military closes in.

Throughout his journey with a virtual stranger, Butch remembered his life as an outlaw with Sundance and Etta. He remembered the heart and dedication put into the relationship with his former partners. And Butch subsequently tried to latch onto those same old feelings of emboldened adventure and camaraderie with a snake and a stranger. But Butch eventually realized the way he is supposed to die. Butch remembered Sundance dying in his arms in the snowy Bolivian mountains twenty years before.

There is no real glory in an outlaw’s life or demise. That is what Butch learns on his journey, and that is all he gains as he leaves behind all the money retrieved from the mine with his treacherous former companion screaming behind him. Butch rides into the same mountains he rode into twenty years prior as gunshots ring in the air signaling the death of his temporary companion.

Butch has lived the way his heart told him to — eager to seek out adventure when with those he loved, and equally willing to sit and rest when the same people desire that of him. Continually showing his deep desire to feel connection and love, but the knowing fate of that is all the same: death and the bittersweet remembrance of a former life.

Grant T. Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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