Weird movie that I had heard about from some YouTubers I like. This film is probably most famous for producing the meme image of James Franco saying “first time” to a man about to be hanged.
So to summarize, this film is an anthology of westerns. There are six stories told here with no specific connection to one another.
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
The first is a darkly comical short about the titular character. He sings songs and gets into gunfights. And it is kinda funny, although I question the choice to have this short first, given it implies a tone for the rest of the shorts, but none are quite as comedic as this one in my opinion.
Second up is the James Franco short, about an attempted robber put to death, only to narrowly escape, then find himself put to death again on different, false charges. This seems like a surreal comic strip story, meant to make you question its use of irony and whether or not the character got what he deserved. Or perhaps you are simply meant to laugh at the absurdity.
This one is sad, and a bit drawn out. A traveling entertainer takes care of a man with no arms or legs, and attempts to make money using the man’s theatrics, and memorization of poetry. Although over time they lose more and more money, leading the entertainer to chose to replace him. The film suggests he drops him off a bridge, which is quite disturbing. I don’t know what I’m meant to feel after this, which may be the real goal. I don’t think it’s intended as dark humor, but maybe disturbing, sad or tragic.
“All Gold Canyon”
Fourth, we have a short about an old prospector digging for gold out in the wilderness. He spends days tracking down a massive payload, only to be ambushed by some kid who let him do all the work only to take it for himself. The prospector, however, yet lives, and gets back up and kills the kid, taking his gold and burying the boy. I think this was much more directly comedic, and the environment was gorgeous to look at.
“The Gal Who Got Rattled”
This one was my favorite, and it’s by far the most serious of them. A young woman and her brother travel on a caravan through the Oregon trail, where a supposed business partner is to meet them at its end. The brother dies, and the sister has no where left to go but forward. She approaches the leads of the caravan for advice, and over time, the younger guard begins to fall for her, eventually proposing.
The older of the two caravan guards finds the woman separated from the caravan one day, and as he goes out to retrieve her, they get ambushed by Native Americans. He hands her a pistol and tells her to shoot herself should it seem like he’s done for. He successfully fends off the Natives for a while, before getting ambushed by one. Before the Native could kill him, the caravan guard shoots him. But when he gets back, the woman had actually killed herself, believing him to be dead. The short ends as the caravan guard walks back to approach his comrade and tell him what happened.
This short felt like it could have been its own movie and doesn’t quite fit with the more ironic or comical tone of the other shorts. There’s much more emotion and tragedy here for me than there is elsewhere.
“The Mortal Remains”
This short is about five people in a coach heading towards a city. As they talk among one another, tensions rise, and two of the men reveal themselves to be “reapers” who tell stories and delight in watching their passengers “figure it out”. The short ends leaving you questioning if they were bounty hunters, or if the three passengers were being taken by death. Another ironic piece.
Overall it’s a mixed bag. I thought the fifth short was the best by far, and the others were all just kinda alright. They make me think of comics like The Farside, where the joke is sometimes just about the absurdity of the situation, and other times there’s something more to be said about life and its tragedies. 3/5 for most of it, though the fifth short is excellent on its own.