A closer look at…Slow West

Hey, it’s a new Film Blog feature!  I’ll now also be covering films which have recently been released on Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, or other popular on-demand services, or on DVD. This way, you can host a film club evening from the comfort of your own home, or catch up on hidden gems you might have missed the first time around.

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Slow West is rated 15 for strong violence. Available on DVD and Netflix.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop  An odd, atmospheric arthouse Western with a few surprises up its sleeve

Young Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has travelled all the way from Scotland to the American frontier to find the girl he loves: Rose (Caren Pistorius), who fled there with her father under shady circumstances. A helpless idealist in a country of hard, cynical men, Jay looks set to meet a violent end, and soon.

He is rescued by Silas (Michael Fassbender), who offers to protect him on his journey in exchange for money. But unbeknownst to Jay, Silas is hoping to kill Rose and her father and claim the bounty on their heads.

Our Take

Westerns seem to be the talk of the town right now, with The Revenant and The Hateful Eight generating – respectively – awards success and critical controversy. So it’s the perfect time to catch up on Slow West, an odd little indie from first-time writer-director John M. Maclean which garnered considerable acclaim last year.

I say ‘little indie’ – the film is hardly short on star-power, with Michael Fassbender and rising star Kodi Smit-Mcphee (The Road, Let Me In) in the lead roles. However, Slow West‘s willful weirdness has undoubtedly limited its mainstream appeal.

For much of the film’s duration I wasn’t sure whether I found the sparse, stylised dialogue and shaggy-dog diversions hypnotic or just irritating. But Slow West wove its spell on me eventually. The writing doesn’t always work, but the film has an atmosphere all its own, as well as some unforgettable visual moments. And Smit-Mcphee, as the gentle Jay, is something of a miracle.

© Lionsgate, 2015
© Lionsgate, 2015

Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy Slow West, and why, or why not? Are you a fan of the Western genre in general? What other films might you compare it to?
  • Do you agree with Jay’s assessment of Silas as ‘a lonely man’? How would you describe each of the two main characters, and how do they contrast?

I know why you need my help. You’re lonely. You’re a lonely man. – Jay

  • Did you feel emotionally involved in Jay’s journey? What difference – if any – did it make to you that we know Rose doesn’t love him in return? Do you think he finds any kind of peace or satisfaction at the end of his journey?
  • To what extent is Jay corrupted by Silas? Do you think he loses his innocence over the course of the story? What are some of the key turning points for him?
  • In voiceover, Silas tells us that he was changed by his encounter with Jay. What effect does Jay have on him, and why? What do you imagine happens to Silas after the credits roll?

Easy to see how you two crossed paths. One’s a falling angel, one’s a rising devil. – Payne (Ben Mendelsohn)

  • What are the main features of a Western, and how many of these are present in Slow West? What view does the film take of civilisation, and of human nature? Does it offer any twists on the classic Western formula?
  • How would you describe the film’s portrayal of violence? What role does violence play in the story of how America was founded – and what role does it play in American society now? What drives the characters in Slow West to commit violent acts?

What’s the point in dying if nobody knows you’re dead? Same goes for killing. – The Kid (Michael Whalley)

  • Is Slow West ultimately a cynical story, a sentimental story, or something in between? In your view, is it possible for hope and love to survive in a harsh world? If so, how?

Love is universal, like death. – Jay

© Lionsgate, 2015
© Lionsgate, 2015

Read More

Slow West: ‘Working with Michael Fassbender was like being in a band’

Way Out West: John Maclean on Slow West

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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