Heartbreak and Questioning via the William Tell Overture

I remember the first (and only) time I saw “The Long Ranger” (2013) remake. I was 16 and went with my Dad to see it in theaters a few days after it opened. I’d never seen any previous “Lone Ranger” shows or movies, or listened to the radio show, but we share a love of action movies and westerns and decided to make an afternoon of it.

I couldn’t tell you anything about the plot, other than that the movie was…lackluster at best, and racially insensitive at worst. You may remember the controversy, which stems from a larger issue of the portrayal and casting of Native American characters in media. For more on the issue of stereotypes, I recommend the documentary “Reel Injun” (2009), which looks at the repercussions of decades of negative portrayal of Native Americans in American film.

Native American communities are among those disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Please consider donating to funds dedicated to providing healthcare and support to Native communities: learn more here and here.

I hadn’t heard much of the controversy before seeing it (a side effects of growing up in a predominantly white, conservative bubble). The thing I remember most about the film was the music. The thing I couldn’t stop talking about was the music. Specifically, the finale—Hans Zimmer’s sampling of the William Tell Overture, a remaking of the classic “Lone Ranger” theme song.

Something about that music stirred my heart, and I remember sitting in the darkened theater, watching the credits with hot tears running down my face. I didn’t know why I was crying. I didn’t know why, every time since when I’ve listened to that song, tears have come to my eyes.

Now, I think I know.

When I listen to that song, specifically the bit in the middle, about four minutes in, when soaring horns and driving beats capture the thundering of horses’ hooves across a desert, my heartbeat quickens.

The music climbs and climbs, the strings and cymbals and horns conjuring danger and fear and sheer exhilaration, until, at around seven minutes, the melody soars and a lonesome horn rises above the rest, telling a mournful, bittersweet line. The strings commiserate, rising and falling as with the beating of a heart or the rhythm of breaths in and out.

I feel it in my chest. And all at once, I’m not sitting in a chair at my kitchen table writing this essay, surrounded by the mundanities of life and self-imposed deadlines and the uncertainty of our COVID-torn world.

Suddenly, I’m a lonely figure standing atop a craggy hill, staring out across a canyon. Mist covers the distant canyon floor, obscuring the thin ribbon of river that flows beneath. The sky is vast and endless and blue, darkening with each passing second. Behind me, miles behind, is a town. Perhaps I’ve just saved the inhabitants from a corrupt lawman, perhaps they’ve driven me out. I know it is time to leave.

I do not know what lies ahead. No one does. I take comfort in the sky, in the lonely canyon, in the hidden waters, in the distant scattering of trees. The freedom granted to me by the empty air, the lonely road.

I run. I always run. I run from the past, I run from the law, I run from myself.

I run to the place where the sky meets the earth, and, though I know I will never find it, still I run.

I am heartsick. I am bittersweet. I am grateful for the sky. I find solace in the air. I look upwards to the stars.

I know I am small, an insignificant speck of sand in a vast dessert. A single voice screaming against the wind.

I run.

Now, at 23, I know why I cried.

I believe it is possible to consume and be greatly moved by art, even when one doesn’t agree with the creator. Even as one is disgusted by the stereotypes and begins to question the themes and underlying messages of media. It would go against the purpose of art to ignore and suppress our natural reaction to it.

When I hear that song, though it’s off a soundtrack, I don’t think of the movie–I see my own daydream.

We must have these tough conversations with ourselves and with others about the media we consume, about whose voices were included in the making and whose were ignored or exploited. We must allow ourselves that first, instinctive reaction to the media, then later examine it and ask ourselves, ‘Why did I feel that way?’

Most importantly, we must find a way to lift the underrepresented and underappreciated voices, by consuming media made by those outside our bubble. It is possible to celebrate perspectives and voices without ignoring others.

Art is about challenging us to look at perspectives we hadn’t before considered. It’s about making us feel something, and then ask ourselves why.

We can’t punish ourselves for our gut reactions, whatever they are. We should instead question their validity, question what they’re based on, and decide whether or not they’re well-founded and should be acted upon.

We take our experiences, our thoughts, the sum of what we are, and pour them into art. To create it. To feel it in our bones. To love it, to hate it, to be challenged by it.

To create the world we wish to see.

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