Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is unique in that the iconic movie is based off of the true story of outlaws Butch Cassidy, born George LaRoy Parker, and the Sundance Kid, born Harry Longbaugh. I had the good fortune of watching PBS’ documentary on the men just a few weeks ago. Brilliant timing. The film chronicles the history fairly accurately, but as one might expect, glosses over their very beginnings and perhaps the less exciting parts of their lives.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid captures a snapshot of American history in a thrilling and telling way. Condensing their story into a film just under two hours required the film to work over time inferring and bringing to life what life was like in the late 1800s Wild West. The film begins in sepia tone, looking aged and brown, as one might imagine the West to look–antiqued. The browns of the wood-built Western town and the dirt roads blend with the sepia tone to create a perfect depiction of a stereotypical frontier town. The film opens with Butch and Sundance smoking, drinking and gambling in a saloon, emblematic of Wild West happenings. Within the first few moments, a horse is seen pulling a wagon and Butch and Sundance look like the quintessential cowboys of the era.
Throughout the film, iconic images of the West are included, such as steam powered trains traveling across vast open space, huge bank vaults, debauchery in saloons and brothels, train robbing, riding horseback through open fields with canyons in the background, a Marshall urging townspeople to take action against the outlaws, and a chase scene on horses, just to name a few. Due to these images, and the panoramic scenes of the land, obviously the West, it is quite apparent that this film is indeed a Western.
The primary themes from the film include outlaws/bandits and the idea of making one’s own in a rather lawless world. Perhaps the iconicity of the West lies in the idea of it, and that it represents a way of life akin to Butch and Sundance’s where they live for ultimate freedom and adventure. The epitome of the West nowadays is Las Vegas, where one goes to lose their inhibitions, win money, have fun and go wild. Freedom. Americans have always yearned to make it on their own, from rags to riches, the American Dream, and all of those images associated with obtaining success through hard work on American soil. The West is no different–it represents the attitude that adventure and freedom lies beyond our hometowns, that success and riches is obtainable on one’s own terms.