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A 1994 film based on the 1979 novel by Jim Harrison. Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Julia Ormond. Is a Generational Saga about the lives and loves of the Ludlow clan. John Toll won the award for Best Cinematographer at that year's Oscars.
The film begins in the aftermath of the American Indian Wars. Colonel William Ludlow (Hopkins) had become disgusted with his own side's constant betrayal of any peace treaty or truce. Having just retired, the Colonel retires with his family and a few helping hands to a farm in remote Montana. He seeks peace and isolation. His wife Isabel Ludlow (Christina Pickles) doesn't like their new home and the couple separates. Their three sons stay with the father. Ludlow doesn't mind. He has company. His loyal friend One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis), and the Decker family of servants. It consists of husband Decker (Paul Desmond), his Cree wife Pet (Tantoo Cardinal), and their daughter Isabel Decker (Karina Lombard). The latter receives the nickname Isabel II to avoid confusion.
Time passes and the three boys turn into young men. With different personalities. The eldest Alfred (Aidan Quinn), has turned into a responsible young man, cautious by nature. Middle child Tristan (Pitt) has a tendency to wander alone in the nature around them, taking risks against wild animals. Samuel (Henry Thomas), the youngest, is bookish and the only one who seeks college education. He returns from Harvard with his fiancée Susannah Fincannon (Ormond). With both elder brothers finding themselves falling for their prospective sister-in-law.
The drama of three brothers in love with the same woman has to be interrupted. In 1914, World War One begins. Samuel believes it is a just war and wants to fight it. Since the United States aren't involved yet, the young man volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His brothers had always thought him too naive to survive on his own. They decide to join him in the Force, mostly to keep an eye on him. Susannah will have to wait until their return to marry. The scene shifts to the battlefields of the War. All three brothers are taking extraordinary risks. But it is Samuel who pays for it with his life. Tristan who witnesses his death without being able to help takes it hard. He gains a new habit of scalping deceased enemies. Leading the commanding officers to give him an early discharge.
Sometime later, back in Montana, Alfred and Tristan separately return home. Alfred immediately proposes to Susannah ... who rejects him. Instead the moody Tristan is the one attracting her. They start a sexual relationship. A jealous Alfred criticizes them before leaving to find his own destiny. The new relationship is doomed from the start. Tristan suffers from guilt over the death of Samuel and the self-exile of Alfred. His inner demons lead him to end the relationship and leave to wander the Earth. Susannah is left behind in the farm with the increasingly infirm Colonel.
A decade passes. By the mid 1920s, Alfred has become a congressman, with several business interests on the side. In order to better serve his interests, Alfred has found himself allying with bootleggers and gangsters. He has even convinced Susannah to marry him, only because she can't stand seeing the old farm deteriorate around her from neglect. Tristan returns a bit too late to get the girl. But instead falls for his childhood friend Isabel II. They marry and have a couple of brats. To support his family, Tristan joins the bootlegging business.
Since there are several rival operations, some of them use enforcers to threaten their opponents. A Dirty Cop send on such a mission accidentally kills Isabel II. With both Ludlow brothers seeking rather bloody vengeance afterward. Susannah has picked the wrong time to win Tristan again. He wants nothing to do with her, resulting in her suicide a little later. There is no time to grieve for her. The Colonel, Alfred and Tristan have to join forces for a while against people gunning for them. Since there are several corpses around, including a local sheriff, they quickly figure that the police would need someone to blame. Tristan agrees to take the blame and become a fugitive from the law, figuring he has nothing to lose. In exchange Alfred will have to take care of his children.
The scene shifts to 1963. Gravestones in a rundown cemetery are all that remains from every member of the Ludlow family. Everyone that is except Tristan. He has spend thirty years living in the woods. Now he has to face his final battle, a grizzly bear. He fought one before, but when he was considerably younger. The film ends with Tristan trying to use a knife against it and a narrator informs us "It was a good death."
The film was both a critical and box office hit. It earned $160,638,883 in the worldwide market. With almost 67 million in the United States market, it was its 17th most successful film that year. The creators hoped that it would receive several awards, but it ended up overshadowed by more prominent productions.
- Badass Grandpa / Cool Old Guy: Ludlow, after recovering from his stroke.
- Beard of Sorrow: Brad Pitt doesn't shave when he's depressed.
- Big No: When Tristan failed to save Samuel from being killed by Kaiser soldiers, which leads to his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- He lets out several when he sees that Isabel II has been shot.
- Big Yes: Alfred screamed this during his argument with Tristan.
Alfred: "Damn you, Tristan. You will marry her."
- Bishonen: Brad at his prettiest.
- Break the Cutie: Tristan and Susannah
- Canucks With Chinooks: The Canadian Expeditionary Force and some of its battles are rather prominently featured.
- Crapsack World: None of the characters lead particularly happy lives, even when not considering the one who committed suicide out of despair.
- Death Is Dramatic: Tristan's final encounter with the bear at the end of the film. Also most of the other deaths scattered throughout.
- Deadly Distant Finale: Tristan is killed by a bear in 1963, after outliving the rest of his loved ones.
- Disposable Woman: Isabel II doesn't get much screentime until her death. And even the sole purpose of that appears to be to send Tristan off the deep end again
- Driven to Suicide: Tristan was apparently a bit too harsh when dismissing Susannah.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Two battles with bears, one lethal to the sole surviving protagonist.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: This is how the younger O'Banion brother met his end.
- Important Haircut: Susannah hacks off her hair prior to committing suicide.
- The Irish Mob: The O'Banions, the only group of bootleggers prominently depicted, are Irish.
- Karmic Death: Tristan is killed by the bear he maimed.
- Love Confession: Alfred confessed his love for Susannah in a rather awkward situation.
- May-December Romance: Isabel II and Tristan, although it's more May-September. She's young enough to be his little sister rather than his daughter
- The Mourning After
- Please Don't Leave Me: As Tristan was leaving the Ludlow Ranch to find himself, Susannah begged him to stay. Despite her best efforts, Tristan was adamant. She responded, "I Will Wait for You. Even if it takes forever."
- Precocious Crush: Isabel II to Tristan.
- Removed From the Picture: After Tristan went away for many years without any communication, Alfred managed to marry Susannah after years of unrequited love. When Tristan came back, that was the beginning of Susannah's emotional descent which ended with her being Driven to Suicide.
- The Roaring Twenties: Part of the Prohibition-related chapters.
- Sanity Slippage:
- Tristan pulling a knife on Susannah when he woke up.
- When Tristan beat the racist bartender with his own billy club after he refused to serve One Stab.
- Scenery Gorn: Trenches littered with decaying fallen soldiers during World War One.
- Scenery Porn: From the Ludlow ranch to the African Safari.
- The Sixties: The final scene takes place in 1963, though you'd never know it.
- Snow Means Death: They buried Samuel's heart during the winter.
- Spurned Into Suicide: Susannah.
- Tragedy: Most of Tristan's loved ones died tragically while he outlived them.
- Tragic Dream: Susannah wanted to bear Tristan's children when they were still together. Unfortunately for her, Isabel II filled that role. Despite what her letter says regarding her fond wishes for the birth of Tristan's children, she was in reality utterly devastated.
- Victorious Childhood Friend: Isabel II marries one of the three guys that grew up with her.
- World War One