“An eye for an eye” is a good story. Humanity has been telling it forever, it seems. When the second “eye” is innocent and strong of spirit and the first “eye” is dumb and conscience-weak, that story is immensely cathartic. It seems to set the scales of cosmic justice right again. It feels capital “g” Good.
in the hands of a skilled storyteller, I let my heart be paced to match that story. I weep for slain innocence. I cheer for the hero in the white hat. I scowl at the heavy. I grunt in approval when the bad guy gets what’s coming to him at the good guy’s hands. Something within me yearns to see this kind of justice done. I need to believe that capital “j” Justice wins in the end. I need “an eye for an eye,” because too often, the innocent are made blind.
There is a catch in my inspired heart. Another voice, not my own, whispers alongside my cheers. “That bad guy is worthy of love, too. The real antagonist is the one who taught him to behave that way. The heaviest heavy is the emptiness that weighs upon his soul and drives him to do such terrible things. You don’t know him. You just know this one, truly terrible thing he did. You can love the one he harmed, and you can love him. Loving one doesn’t lessen your love for the other. God’s breath fills his lungs too. The spark of everlasting life also lights his eyes.”
If his life is everlasting too, and love for him is abundant as well, then maybe it’s okay for him to find that love in the everlasting and face the recompense for his evil in the here and now? Doesn’t his victim deserve at least that? If we allow him to remain here and keep enacting death, aren’t we aiding evil? If the life that we alerting is the shining of the life everlasting, how can we let someone like him assail it, assault it, make a mockery of it? “An eye for an eye” isn’t revenge. It’s a debt we owe to those initially blinded.
But esthete how they would want to be repaid? Wouldn’t those most intimately acquainted with death most want it eradicated entirely? Wouldn’t they want those they love to avoid participating in similar death-dealing?
There’s no way to know. Those we have lost, we have lost. We cannot seek their council. They leave and do not return.
Anyway, Wind River is a compelling film. It’s like Beowulf or Njal’s Saga. I mean that in the most complimentary sense possible with respect to those myths’ complexity. It’s one of the oldest stories, but it’s told with contemporary verve. It’ll last until we, humanity, finally figure out how to end it happily.
This review was originally published during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017. – editor