How Alex Cox's Walker Uses Absurdism to Attack Imperialism


Thru a lens smeared with blood, Alex Cox’s genre-defying ancient movie, Walker, follows the footsteps of certainly one of American historical past’s many problematic figures: the mercenary, filibuster, and self-imposed Nicaraguan president, William Walker (Ed Harris). Having already invented an anarchic, punk-rock ethos with motion pictures like Repo Males and Sid & Nancy, Cox sketches a vicious and razor-toothed portrayal of a real-life determine who's equivalent portions Colonel Kurtz and Darth Vader. Despite the fact that similarities will also be interested in the psychedelic insanity of Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s El Topo and the absurd, fourth-wall-breaking comedic stylings of Mel Brooks, Cox’s film is a wholly singular and unequalled paintings, an all-you-can-eat buffet of violence, brutality, and outright absurdity that makes use of its playful tone to skewer the very thought of imperialism.


Past creating a rattling entertaining piece of cinema, Walker units out with the grand ambition of condemning the imperialist perspectives adopted loyally through William Walker—equivalent to manifest future and the sense of superiority within the American way of life. In the beginning of the movie, he loudly publicizes his unwavering trust in his proper to take land, a lot to the chagrin of his innovative fiancée Ellen Martin (Marlee Matlin). Whilst first of all reluctant to set out on a conquering tour of his personal because of his want to get married and get started a newspaper corporate, Walker briefly turns into solicited through the prospective spoils. As soon as Ellen passes clear of cholera, there’s not anything preventing him from making historical past, and he starts a bloody imperialist marketing campaign masquerading as saviorhood.

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Walker units its tone proper out of the gate with the titular personality’s failed Mexican rise up: gunfire breaks out like staccato rhythms, our bodies fly about like ragdolls, and all is bedlam—all of the whilst, sluggish samba track cuts the motion, sluggish movement photographs making a spectacle of the violence. The demise and carnage themselves aren’t humorous—Cox isn’t pulling methods from the slapstick manual—however it’s additionally now not performed for drama. It’s too ridiculous to be severe, however too rooted if truth be told to be the ha-ha more or less humorous. Thru extra and an operatic tone, Walker makes obvious the outright absurdity of the filibuster’s quest. Just like the gritty Italian Spaghetti Westerns that revolutionized the style, Walker doesn’t shy clear of depicting the depth of violence (enthusiasts of Sam Peckinpah may really feel at house right here, too). It’s now not precisely a western (it doesn’t happen within the American West, for one), however it’s a minimum of western-adjacent on the subject of taste and tone. Walker bunkers up in Nicaragua, arbitrarily domineering over the land just like the corrupt authority figures in For a Fistful of Greenbacks or Deadwoods Al Swearengen.

Walker himself can’t be taken critically—and the way may he be, with the humorless self-seriousness that he oozes from each recited line? Early within the movie, all through Walker’s home feud at the subject of Manifest Future (he believes in it, she does now not), the drama is juxtaposed with the didactic soundtrack: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is being performed on a comically out-of-tune piano whilst a tone-deaf violinist accompanies. Again within the room, Walker and Ellen argue within the tone of a soapy melodrama. “You realize I despise—I des-pise—slavery,” Walker shouts, with a gloriously hammy supply from Harris. If he method it, he best kinda method it. This argument can’t be taken critically, and neither can he. Harris, an improbable actor, disappears into this blank-faced position with complete dedication. Here is a man nearly void of human emotion that however acts greater than lifestyles.

Past Walker’s clearly delusional trust in manifest future, the motivating issue on the core of the person’s Nicaraguan rise up is inconspicuous: capital. Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle), a filthy-stinkin’-rich American multimillionaire who constructed his fortune throughout the water buying and selling and railroad industries, desires to safe his rights to a transport course connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific, and Walker’s simply the fellow to assist. Together with his absolute failure of an try to incite a Mexican rise up sending him again to the States together with his tail between his legs, Walker’s confirmed himself to be a faithful parishioner within the Church of American Imperialism. Short of to unfold the tactics of American democracy and capitalism throughout as a lot of the continent as conceivable, Walker is of a breed daring sufficient to set out deep into Nicaragua to help Vanderbilt together with his request.

Thus, Walker makes inseparable the ideas of imperialism and financial acquire. “Do you imagine in democracy, Walker? Common suffrage?” Vanderbilt propositions him. “Greater than my very own lifestyles,” Walker replies with an ecclesiastical solemnity. Hidden in the back of the curtain of the titular personality’s obvious trust in bettering the country of Nicaragua is the darkish reality: any person someplace could make a hell of some huge cash through Walker being there; taking keep an eye on of the land, govt, and folks as a way to permit subject material items to be transported extra simply. It is a quest that is inherently preposterous in its nature, however William Walker accepts the duty as though the destiny of the arena had been at stake.

When Walker starts his keep in Nicaragua with a suite of floor regulations (“No over the top consuming, no seduction, no swearing in public”), the imperialists savagely head within the route of the sheep pen. Are they males or beasts? Can their urges be managed? Is that this Nicaraguan tour simply a possibility to delve into utter savagery—a bitterly ironic concept for the reason that their said purpose was once to ship the “civilized” entrée of democracy to the folk. On their technique to “free up” Managua, the military encounters an Englishman sitting peacefully ahead of an easel, content material to seize the herbal wonderful thing about the rustic on his canvas, and he asks the lads the place they’re going. “We’re liberatin’ the rustic for democracy,” certainly one of them proudly recites in a thick southern drawl. “How very odd,” the Englishman replies, “you should be American citizens.” It is a zingy little funny story that additional cements the movie's number one level.

When the military enters Managua, rise up forces open fireplace on Walker and his males. Many die brutal deaths, together with the military’s drummer (Richard Edson), whom Walker had for my part promised would stay totally secure underneath his command. In the meantime, wearing all black (a picture that may be recalled many years later with Harris’s Emmy-nominated position in HBO’s Westworld), Walker walks fearlessly throughout the skirmish as though he's some invincible T-1000. He’s too blindly assured in his god-given proper to be there to have any worry of gunfire. With the monetary backing of the imperialist Vanderbilt and his God supporting his white-American quest to triumph over the land, no hurt can come to him. The entire thing is performed off with an absurd humorousness, with Walker speaking casually to an best friend as the encompassing males are changed into ribbons of flesh.

It is a short-lived reign that is destined to fail. After figuring out that the financial system of his Nicaragua is collapsing, Walker suggests implementing slavery upon the country. The black individuals of his troupe go out in disgust. Didn’t Walker previous plead for his spouse to imagine he “detested” slavery? Is he shedding his thoughts? Or has he at all times been off his rocker? The movie suggests the gap between the 2 issues, on the subject of imperialism, to be minimum at absolute best. Positive, Walker’s delusions of grandeur and his affinity for homicide accentuate because the movie progresses, however they however stay unswerving to his absurd trust in manifest future. He is at all times adopted a shoddy ethical compass: His erratic, reckless conduct is permitted, if now not strengthened, through the imperialistic ideals with which he operates.

Including to the a couple of layers of absurdity is the inclusion of intentional anachronisms. This 1800s-set flick options appearances of such merchandise and items as Nutrition Coke (invented in 1982), Zippo lighters (1933), and a fight helicopter (Nineteen Fifties on the earliest), amongst a number of others. In a single scene, characters learn problems with Newsweek and Other people magazines in a blatant kind of clownish humor that makes obvious the fictional and satirical nature of the movie. Because the movie culminates in its blood-soaked finale, fresh army era accompanies the deus ex machina of the opposing troops that arrive within the nick of time to sway the plot and finish Walker’s hellish reign. Those bits are moderately humorous—just like the climactic movie-set brawl of Blazing Saddles, gleefully defying common sensehowever additionally they serve the aim of showcasing the nightmarish, absurd high quality of Walker’s savage expedition.

The inclusion of anachronisms additionally creates a undying modernity in Walker’s story. That the tale in query happens within the Nineteenth Century is best a part of the tale. Walker’s cynical dropping of imperialism’s patriotic veneer is also became within the route of historical past, however that’s to not say that the movie intends to keep there. Shot on location in Nicaragua all through the Contra Warfare of the 80s, the movie makes use of those fashionable props to turn that imperialism has all however vanished from fashionable American politics. As a result, this distinctively ancient movie concurrently turns into a blistering complaint of present affairs. Positive, it is cartoonish and humorous to look Nineteenth-century mercenaries consuming Nutrition Coke, however it is usually more or less profound. How tremendously have issues truly modified within the hundred-plus years since Walker's reign of energy?

The punk-rock ethos of Cox's movie (reality: The Conflict‘s Joe Strummer wrote and carried out the film's ranking) units out to make use of this absurdist humor to scorn imperialism of each the previous and provide. Walker could also be a condemnation of the best way that ancient motion pictures about morally-questionable characters have a tendency to be handled. Too continuously are those other people’ cruelty or inhumanity lost sight of in want in their virtues…if one may even use that phrase. Within the arms of some other artist, Walker could have turn out to be a eulogy, a sanctification of the titular personality, however Cox has little interest in glamorizing William Walker. In his movie, Walker is a scoundrel, a maniac, an outright psychopath whose tendency in opposition to violence is as unwarranted as it's preposterous. Historic accuracy and common sense have little room right here. What’s extra essential is that the savage nature of Walker’s vicious marketing campaign is portrayed to the best extent.

After the bloody climax, as soon as the credit roll, Walker items the viewer with a sequence of day-to-day information clips reduce between the scuzzy static of a tv. Reagan talks in regards to the Contra Warfare, helicopters thunder over Nicaragua, and our bodies lay hospitalized and most likely even useless. It is a sobering aftermath to a in large part comical movie, the unpleasant reality in the back of Walker‘s snide visage. Cox is telling us that imperialism is not humorous—it is frightening—however it is lovely rattling absurd.