by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” – Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural address, March 4, 1865.
There’s a lot of God-speak in ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ One of the “bad” good guys recites verses of Psalm 23 as he shoots and stabs his way through the climax battle. The “really bad” bad guy is crawling away from his attacker in the church he burned as he recites a prayer in Latin.
But that’s not what most folks are looking for in the just-released remake of the 1960 version with Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner which itself was a remake of ‘Seven Samurai’ done in 1954 by Akira Kurosawa. The audience wants to see a good Western with a win over evil. If the good guys have a very checkered past, all the better.
The new film is set 14 years after President Lincoln’s second inaugural address. The people of a small California mining town are threatened by a gold mining company owner who brutally subjects citizens to intimidation, fear and death. He wants their land, and so he simply takes it by force. A young widow, whose husband was killed by the company owner’s thugs, solicits the kind of men who aren’t afraid of the company, the owner or just about anything else. Needless to say, they don’t live in this small town.
A true-to-form Western with brutality, fancy handling and shooting of guns, violence, killing and the introduction of the Gatling gun into the big battle scene evokes images of some places in America today (sans Gatling gun). This film, like many others, is a story of “might makes right”.
However, in this film, God gets more than a tacit acknowledgement. The really bad guy even tries to equate his view of capitalism with God. Jesuits might call that casuistry. Others might just call it rationalization. But one thing is for sure, the old version of The Magnificent Seven was a lot lighter on God references and religious symbolism than this new version. This shoot-em-up is equipped with a clapboard church as the town centerpiece, one of the seven spouting Bible quotes and heaven-speak, townspeople praying the Lord’s prayer together and a multi-cultural band of cowboys who actually turn out to be magnificent, at least in the eyes of the townspeople.
“To be in the service of others with people you respect… I couldn’t ask for more than that”.
Jack Horne- one of the Seven (Vincent D’Onofrio). Good theology, even from a cowboy.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels