If you’re not new here, you know that Annemarie loves a ’90s action movie, missed out on most ’90s comedies and has very specific preferences when it comes to ’90s dramas. Will the tortured Brad Pitt period piece Legends of the Fall meet her standards? We had to find out.
AM, start us off — give us all the usual deets, and while you’re at it, tell us how young you managed to see only some, or forget most of, this movie.
A: Let’s take it back. I was 11, on my first flight since I was a baby, heading to Washington D.C. with my mom for spring break. I’d recently been allowed to watch Pretty Woman (although my dad fast-forwarded through all the sex scenes), so my mom said I could watch the also-R-rated in-flight movie: Legends of the Fall. I knew nothing of Brad Pitt or Anthony Hopkins, for that matter. I recall distinctly struggling with the headphones (as one does with airline-provided headphones), and missing out on some crucial early film plot developments as breakfast was also being served.
Now, what do I remember of this in-flight movie? Very little, except I wasn’t impressed, didn’t follow what was happening, and likely didn’t see the end of the thing (turbulence, probably?). Overall, let’s not pretend I had any clue what the hell was going on, and is a good argument for not letting 11-year-olds watch R-rated period dramas in the first place.
Rewatching (or really, watching properly for the first time) this now, I definitely followed the plot, I can fully appreciate the family drama, and Brad Pitt. Wow. Even though he spends much of the film in a crazy place, he’s owning this thing.
Let’s start with essentials. Brooke, fill us in on the main plot points. What importance does Native American culture play here? What about the Great War? And is this indeed Peak Brad Pitt?
B: The key is this: We meet the Ludlows on the eve of World War I. Samuel, the youngest, has brought his betrothed back to Montana to get to know his family. Alfred, the oldest (Aidan Quinn) is skulking around being the smartest guy in the room with no game or charm at all. Tristan (Brad Pitt) is the dashing wild one who just wants to hunt and ride horses and pal around with One Stab — a family friend who is also a badass elder of the Cree nation and a source of much knowledge. When the war breaks out, all three Ludlow brothers join up, each for their own reasons. When Samuel dies, the angst that fuels the rest of the film starts. We get a brother’s feud, a love quadrangle and a healthy dose of PTSD. Then there’s all the environmental and world drama of life after the great war.
In all, it’s a lot of angst and horses and poor life choices in the American West. Oh, and bootlegging and Brad Pitt’s butt. Which brings me around to your most important question: Yes, this is definitely Peak Brad Pitt.
Okay, AM. Now that we have the lay of the land, tell me what in this sweeping epic stuck with you, which Ludlow brother you would choose, and whether you agree with my mom’s many crying cues that I helpfully narrated during our viewing.
A: I guessed that this film won an Oscar for cinematography, and I was correct. That’s my main takeaway for the overall look of the film, aside from the story. It’s got that Big Moment Movie film thing going on, the type that you know the studios get excited about when it comes close to awards time. Rural Montana is breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved how close to nature the entire family is, not just for themselves, but for their native friends.
I think there’s really only one choice when it comes to Ludlow brothers. Samuel doesn’t really spark any passion, and Albert is kind of the worst. That does leave Tristan, even though as I said, he spends most of the movie in a state of PTSD-induced rage. He figured himself out enough to be a good husband to Isabel Two, even though that happiness was short lived.
I can’t really agree with the crying cues since I didn’t shed a tear myself, but my crying triggers don’t relate to the story here. And despite the aforementioned Oscar-caliber film, I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I’m sure your mom was/is. Brooke, break down the crying cues and then let me know if I’m a cold heartless person for not also weeping.
B: I’ll add one caveat on your behalf before I break this down. We watched this movie with the two most disruptive (if cute) pooches on the face of the earth. One was very into the horse content. The other is a horse. And I also had the plague and sounded like an absolute monster. AND I’m pretty sure I interrupted my own pick for a long conversation about a thing I needed to chat at you about, so immersion, not on your side.
My mom, on the other hand, watches this movie with great attention. For her, all of the angst and tears come down to Tristan and Susannah. Not Samuel’s tragic death, nor his terrible grief. But rather, the way in which he is wild and untamable. How Susannah loves him in spite of herself. How she loves him recklessly because it’s the only thing that feels real to her after the war. How she waits for him. And the agony that settles over her when she sees him after so many lost years.
My mom always summed it up thusly: “You can just feel her pain when she looks at him.” Because I grew up to be the annoying film person I am, I’ll extend her observation. She always says this when Susannah sees Tristan in her yard and again when she sees him in prison. Visually, these late-film encounters show us the literal barriers between them. I don’t think my mom wastes time on visual metaphors when this era Brad Pitt is on screen, but I find it quite a nice punctuation mark on their love story. File these crying cues under “impermanence, the one that got away.”
For my part, I think I love their story because so much of it is told through letters. And we get to experience the distance much in the way they do. My favorite bit of voiced-over written exchange?
“Tristan, I have nowhere to send this letter and no reason to believe you wish to receive it. I write it only for myself. And so I will hide it away along with all the things left unsaid and undone between us.”
Okay, AM. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, which can only mean one thing. It’s time for some final thoughts, and your favorite bit of voiceover, which I’m guessing will be from One Stab, cause he’s rad.
A: Ok, you’re absolutely correct that for the second time in my life, my viewing of Legends was interrupted and distracted. However, I think my practicality wins out over my sentimentality when it comes to doomed relationships. Also, I tend to watch things that have happy endings, so those seem much more realistic and resonate more emotionally for me than pining over beautiful Brad as he wanders the world. I get it, but I don’t feel it, if that makes any kind of sense.
While One Stab’s final line “It was a good death” is perfectly fitting to both Tristan’s and the movie’s end, I am partial to one of his other bon mots:
“It is hard to tell of happiness. Time goes by and we feel safe too soon.”
B: And really, what more can said than that? Oh right, just this: They should have called this movie “Brad Pitt and the Thousand-Yard Gaze.”
Next time: We’re checking back in with Kristin Cavallari and her life on the farm with the always sarcastic, Jay Cutler.
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