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Friday, July 3, 2015

Mrs. Allie French, Steam Trains & Faithless Israelites

Mrs. Allie French steps off the train in Appaloosa.

Actress Renee Zellweger has played a number of important roles, but for me, three of her performances tower above all others. These include 1) her role of author Beatrix Potter in the biopic "Miss Potter;" 2) Her role of Novalyne Price, the woman author Robert E. Howard loved, in "The Whole Wide World," and 3) her role of Mrs. Allie French in Ed Harris' excellent Western "Appaloosa." In Allie French, she takes on a real complicated woman, and makes us feel for her. It's a wonder that someone so dedicated to the law and justice like Virgil Cole would take up with someone like Allie. But then, Allie is the first woman with whom he's tried to have a real relationship.

While reading Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett, I was initially puzzled by the need for the trains to stop for water. Steam locomotives burned coal, wood, or oil for their power, right? Wrong. Steam is produced from boiling water, and the combustible materials heat the boiler that makes the water boil that produces the steam. Right? After reading Terry Pratchett's Fantasy novel, it was interesting to watch "Appaloosa," and see a real nineteenth-century steam train chugging up a grade in New Mexico. When it stops beside a water tower, a metal spout swings down that will supply water to the engine. Cole puts away his volume of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and poems, and asks Hitch to help him survey their surroundings. The lawmen are transporting Randall Bragg, a rancher convicted of murder, to the place where he will be executed. As the lawmen step outside the carriage, two hired gunmen ride into sight. 

Between them rides Allie, whom they will shoot unless Cole releases his prisoner. So Cole ignores proper procedure, and lets Bragg go, even though he knows the gunmen won't release Allie. Yet Allie seems to view Cole's response as a sort of betrayal.

Cole and Hitch pursue the party, and track them down moments before the group are attacked by Indians. Cole sees enough in that brief glimpse to realize that Allie has gotten intimate with the head gunman. What is she thinking? Is she suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, or is something else going on here?

The two men help the others fight off the Indians, but as they are all in danger, Cole agrees to put off their differences until they reach their destination. Then he sidles up to Allie, and lets her lean into his back, but he can't look at her, not yet. 

Later that evening, she tells Cole that Hitch tried to kiss her, back on that day when Cole sent Hitch down to the building site of their new house. Cole's worked with Everett Hitch for too long to believe that. Still, he loves Allie, and when all the business with the Indians, Bragg, and the gunmen is over, he takes her back. He freely admits he's never had much business with women. Yet something in him loves Allie, and will forgive her anything. He continues to court her, and treat her tenderly. As for Allie, she seems to love Cole, and want to be with him all the time. Yet when he's not around, she feels an instinctive need to be with the man she deems to be in charge of the situation in that moment.

A familiar Old Testament theme is that the Israelites continually loose faith in God and worship the gods of other nations. After watching "Appaloosa" again recently, it struck me that Allie is like the Biblical Israelites: constantly afraid of what will happen next, and who will protect her when the next bad thing occurs. Fear drives her to actions she's not proud of. In comparison, Virgil Cole is like God. He loves Allie, and will always love her. His love for her is unconditional. It's called agape love. It's an ideal that all of us aspire to, but few, if any of us, truly live up to.

Dragon Dave

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