[Marxism] The Assassination of Jesse James

Gary MacLennan gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Mon Dec 8 16:02:35 MST 2008

I have just finished watching the *Assassination of Jesse James*.  Really a
strange film in that it was so slow that it reminded me of  watching Test
Match Cricket. In any case it gave me a chance to re-visit Lou's blog and
read up about the famous bandit. It is interesting to try and use the
Hobsbawm category of "primitive rebel"  in this instance.  I do not have the
book to hand, but from memory the crucial variable was a state that could
not be trusted to be impartial or was too weak to mediate conflicts.  There
was also an intriguing observation to the effect that Primitive Rebels
always met with betrayal and treachery.

It seems to me that the James story fits into most of this scenario.  Except
that as Lou makes clear he was a primitive rebel of the Right.  There is no
explicit or conscious sense of that at all as far as I could detect in the
film.  So instead of a political context that would enable us to grasp the
specificity of the James gang we are given a long and torturous journey into
James and Robert Ford's psyches.

So this film then was I think a turning away from the rational to an
investigation of the irrational or the dark side of the Force.  In the
relationship between James and Ford I was reminded of the relationship
between Rimbaud and Verlaine.  Although there was nothing overtly sexual
about what Ford and James did together there were the obvious outlines of a
twisted demoniacal relationship.  The sneering remark of Jesse to Ford "Did
you miss me" and the reply "Yes I cried myself to sleep every nite" and
Jesse's insistence that Ford share a bedroom with him while the older
brother slept with the animals all pointed to a mutual obsessiveness.

Casey Affleck then for me was the pretty boy assassin, a dark angel of Death
and one that Pitt's character clearly recognized to be such.  Thus in the
film James provided Ford with the weapon for the necessary sacrifice then
divests himself of his own guns ostensibly not to shock the neighbours and
watches in the painting the reflection of his assassin as he prepares to
kill him.

I was reminded forcibly of the ending of Coppola's *Apoclapyse Now*.  Kurtz
knows he is to be killed and welcomes the assassin.  So that gives us I
think a way to understand the meaning of the *Assassination of Jesse James*.
It is partially a study into the Right Wing Primitive Rebel.  What it lacks
is an understanding of the historical role of the rebel of the right. He
(and it is mainly he) is there to do the dirty work that underpins a
structure of domination and exploitation that is fashionably called Empire

When that dirty work can no longer be justified or when Empire decides it is
no longer necessary the Empire moves to discard its former servant.  In the
Boer War the British put on trial and executed three Australians who had
loyally murdered for them.  See the film *Breaker Morant* for a sympathetic
study of their leader Morant who emerges as a proto -Aussie nationalist
betrayed by the Mother country.

Similarly in our own time the evil clowns of Abu Ghraib were dragged all
bewildered into court.

James who had slaughtered for the Confederacy can no longer find a reason to
live.  Was life as a KKKer not an option in Missouri?  Ironically again as
Lou pointed out it was the Popular Front Left who in making him out to be a
Robin Hood that posthumously imposed a totally different narrative on him
and transformed him from a primitive Rebel of the Right to a Primitive Rebel
of the Left.

So what then did I finally make of the film?  Well it was too long and slow
for my holiday tastes.  But it did have a definite fascination.  Madness of
course does and we do watch James and then his assassin go mad.  But really
I longed for an Apollonian moment when the politics of all this could be
explained as Lou does so well in his blog..  I am also way past the
excitement of watching the text of the repressed homoerotic.   Why didn't
Jesse and Bob just get married?  And then they would have had a real reason
for killing each other...



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