In terms of violence, Ethan’s behavior and motivations are certainly and clearly framed by notions of masculine retribution. Arthur M. Eckstein clarifies this even further in his essay when he claims, based on the work of Octave Mannoni, that Ethan’s hatred of inter-ethnic relations between his niece and Comanches is perhaps informed by an incestuous desire for her. In this logic, Ethan sees more than a passing resemblance between Martha, the sister-in-law that he loves but cannot have, and the daughter Debbie.
…Scar is Ethan’s dark alter ego. A scene where the two big, violent, embittered men stand face-to-face and mimic each other is followed by one where Ford’s camera focuses in sharply on the medal from Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, once given to Ethan and which Ethan gave to Debbie but now worn proudly on Scar’s chest. That is, Scar here has completely taken Ethan’s place… Debbie is Martha; Scar is Ethan’s scar (Eckstein 202).
This issue runs quite deep. When Debbie hides out at the graveside of her grandmother as the Comanche raid on the Edwards homestead is about to begin, the tombstone indicates that the matriarch, Ethan’s mother, was killed by Comanches.
While for the moment this author will grant Eckstein such a psychological hypothesis, it will be seen in the next chapter how Mannoni proves to be problematic within a wider context of a discourse on colonialism.
Now Grist lays out a definition of screenwriter Paul Schrader’s notion of transcendental style, which Schrader elaborates upon in this video.
Schrader was critiquing the films of Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer when he formulated this notion and was fully cognizant of Ford’s films when he did so, therefore it would be highly inappropriate to try to suggest one can simply impose this notion on that director, particularly considering that the vast majority of Ford’s films were typical Classical Hollywood Cinema pictures and not like pictures the aforementioned three international directors created. Yet at the same time, one can ask if THE SEACRHERS loosely fits within this criteria, particularly since Schrader later canonized the film (Schrader 49).
Does THE SEARCHERS open with a representation of the common, everyday occurrences that Schrader describes as “banal”? It would seem the opening section, culminating with the entrance of the deputized Texas Rangers who alert Ethan to the theft of Lars Jorgensen’s cattle, is not akin to the expressionism and realism of a Dreyer or Ozu. However, the entire opening is still essentially a drama of awkward manners. Ethan seems to appear from out of nowhere and greets his brother and sister-in-law without a word. From there, almost every social interaction is marked by awkwardness, discord, and a kind of anti-social element that is perhaps best symbolized by the Edwards’ dog which repeatedly barks at Ethan, marking him as an outsider. Perhaps this is the tautological conclusion of what the title designates him, for what is one who is searching if not he who cannot find peace and stasis?