Film Friday: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

A cowboy spots a bank in the middle of nowhere. It is manned by an old timer who looks pretty harmless. There is no one else around, surely robbing this place will be a walk in the park. He wanders in, sure of his own success…

The tables turn, the powerful become weak, the hoodlum is upended. The tale twists. There are many moments where this happens in this movie of 6 individual stories from the old American west. And I have to confess to being a sucker for a delicious and unexpected turning of these tables. A happy cowboy walks into a bar, leaves his gun at the door and is then accosted by an armed bully. Yet, without a gun, he kills his enemy and walks out alive. How? Be prepared for a bit of bloodshed here…

Jesus loved tales with a twist. A bad boy insults his family and runs off for the wild life, yet in the end it is his ‘good’ and well-behaved brother who finds himself out in the cold and arguing with his father. A weak and penniless widow bashes on the door of a rich, powerful and heartless judge, and yet she wins and walks away with everything she came for; meanwhile a king throws the best party in town and invites the great and the good, yet it’s the poor and the rejected who end up feasting. A man gets beaten up and is left to bleed to death, no one passing by wants to get involved. Surely it’s the end for him. Yet he survives and lives to tell an extraordinary tale. How? Stories that remain in our heads, stories that both encourage and disturb at the same time. Stories that are not only stories, but tales about Life with a capital L. Tales about another way of living, another way of being, another kind of kingdom. And the biggest twist of all? It’s the king out there telling them, sitting by the gutter, not looking like any king ever looked before or after. A twist in the tale king. The most powerful monarch, dressed like anyone else, using the language of the street, yet with heaven buried deep within his words, actions, dying and living.

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