‘The Last of the Mohicans’ Would Be Impossible to Make Today

It’s generally a safe bet that the book is better than the movie, but there are some exceptions.  One of the most notable is The Last of the Mohicans (the other is Jaws). 


The Last of the Mohicans is a great film, but it particularly stands out in the barren creative wasteland of our modern woke era.  Watching it again, I was stunned at how well it has held up and convinced that something like it could never be made today.



What’s That?  Moral Complexity?

As the opening credits explain, The Last of the Mohicans takes place in 1757, the third year of what we Americans call the French and Indian War, but everyone else calls the Seven Years War (to the delight of lazy history students).  On the one side you have the British and American colonists along with their Mohawk Indian allies.  On the other there are the French, their colonists and their Huron Indian allies. 


Wait, you mean the Indians aren’t all on the same righteous anti-racist side?  Yeah, welcome to reality.  There is short scene near the beginning where the leader of the Mohawks lays it out:  his tribe has no quarrel with the French and trades with them, but now the French are bringing other tribes onto their lands, so they will join the British and fight the French. 


The cast also defies modern stereotypes.  Sure, we’ve got to prim and proper British ladies Cora and Alice Munro (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May, respectively.  There is vigorous debate over who is hotter – I’m on Team Cora).  There’s also Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), who is the classic arrogant prick of British officer who also wants to marry Cora.  One of the early plot points is that Heyward (and the rest of the British) are so racist that they can’t actually tell the tribes of Indians apart, so he allows himself, the girls, and a detachment of troops to be led into an ambush by a Huron impersonating a Mohawk.



This was orchestrated by Wes Studi’s iconic Magua, one of the greatest villains of all time.  Magua is a man obsessed with vengeance against the Munro family and he will stop at nothing to wipe them out.


Happily, just when it looks like Magua’s going to win, three wandering hunters show up in the nick of time: Chingachgook (Indian activist Russel Means), his son Uncas (Eric Schweig) and his adopted son Hawkeye, also known as Nathaniel (Daniel Day Lewis).  Chingachgook and Uncas are Mohicans, and the last of their people (hence the title).  They have no interest in joining the war, but agree to help the girls reach Fort William Henry, where their father is the commander.



Today’s writers would totally obsess on the sex and ethnicity of the characters, reducing each of them to a box on a diversity chartThe Last of the Mohicans does the opposite, developing each of them as an individual.  The film also accurately shows that diversity – true diversity – has always been a feature of American life.  European and indigenous people certainly fought, but they also traded, collaborated and intermarried, building a society unique in the world in its openness to others.


In another shocking departure from present practice, the characters are also dynamic and complex.  Character development – it used to be thing.



Tomahawk-Fu Fighting

Above all else, this is an action film, with all manner of gloriously choreographed violence.  What’s more – it’s entirely live action.  Only eight years later, Gladiator totally transformed period movies through the use of CGI, but in 1992, that wasn’t an option.  The scope of this movie is epic, and to recreate the siege of Fort William Henry, Mann spent $6 million to build an actual fort.


Illustrations of the battles of this period make it look slow and dull, as troops laboriously load and fire their muskets, but there was another side of battle – knife, sword and tomahawk.  (Chingachgook has a custom war club because he’s that cool.)  The film goes to great length to showcase these tools of destruction with special emphasis on Hawkeye’s Pennsylvania rifle.  I ought to do a Geek Guns entry on it, and I may if I can get access to one.


History buffs will relish the detail of the period artillery, and the siege of Fort William Henry is epic.  As for the hand-to-hand fighting, Mann’s folks took it to the next level, showcasing just how vicious those little axes can be.



Again with the Meta-symbolism

Beyond the love stories and conflict, The Last of the Mohicans is about the end of an era.  Less than 20 years after the events shown in the film, the colonies will declare their independence, and in another generation the frontier will have shifted to the Mississippi valley and beyond.  The Mohicans are soon going to be extinct, as will many of the other Eastern tribes.  Even Hawkeye and those like him will run out of places to explore and roam.


That message has never been more poignant than it is today.  The time when this movie was made may as well be as distant as the French and Indian War.   Even though it has a huge cast of American Indian actors – and even the involvement of the American Indian Movement – it would still be branded as racist.  Non-white people must now be shown to have no agency – the fact of their skin color defines all they are and all they can ever be.


There’s also the issue of Cora.  Madeleine Stowe is brilliant, strong and independent, but still a creature of her time.  She’s also into guys, which is now problematic.


A modern version of the film would have to feature Mary Sue Cora, herself sporting a Mohawk haircut and carving a bloody path through the Huron warriors while her beta-orbiter followers watch and cheer.  She’d no doubt be a better tracker than Uncas, a better marksman than Hawkeye, a better tactician than Major Heyward because she is so Stunning and Brave.



But who wants to watch that?  Far more interesting is a woman who has realistic limitations, someone with whom we can identify and therefore respect when she shows courage in the face of danger.


Yes, this is a love story, has just a whiff of Jane Austen about it, but it is so macho you can almost smell the gun powder and smoke on the actors.  It’s got a great soundtrack and it’s haunting and evocative. 


Like Top Gun, it was of an era where movies had appeal to men and women. Unlike Top Gun, I don’t think anything like it can happen now.

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A.H. Lloyd

Best-selling author and curmudgeon. Retired senior NCO. Read my other insights at www.ahlloyd.com and buy my brilliant books.