May 30

“You see this man? His name is One Stab. He’s a venerated elder of the Cree nation. He’s counted coup on hundreds of his enemies. He’s our friend and he’s thirsty” – Tristan Ludlow

If you’re a man and you haven’t seen Legends of The Fall, then you need to go ahead and fix that.

Legends of The Fall on the surface is a love story that many of you will write off wrongly as a chick flick due to it not having AK-47 and Assault Rifles but trust me, it is a movie for the boys. We nominated Legends of the Fall as a manly movie because of 3 things: the story – which is about the strength in brotherhood / Family, the indomitable human spirit (Tristan) and finally the Native American warrior known as One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis).

The movie details the events of a family led by Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), a veteran of the Indian Wars and his sons Alfred (Aidan Quinn), Samuel (Henry Thomas) and Tristan (Brad Pitt). The brothers are tight but very different, Alfred being studious and lawful with an eye for politics, Tristan being a wild-child, raised by his father’s best friend (and ex-nemesis) “One Stab” of the Cree nation, and Samuel the youngest. Along with the family lives Decker (Paul Desmond) and Pet (Tantoo Cardinal) an outlaw mixed couple, Decker being a white man and Pet being Native American are hiding away under the watchful eye of the Colonel along with their young daughter named Isabel Two – named after the Colonel’s estranged wife Isabel.

A Woman To Sever A Brotherhood

One day Samuel brings his new fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) home to meet his family.  Of course every one of them took to liking her being that a woman was a rare sight for them up in the mountains. The couple happily settles in with the Ludlows but soon World War 1 occurs and Samuel (wanting to be like his father) says that he is enlisting. Alfred does the same in order to earn his honor and Tristan goes along with them in order to watch over his baby brother. The war doesn’t bide well for Samuel and he is shot and killed which leads Tristan to take revenge by crossing enemy lines and collecting scalps from numerous Germans. While Tristan learned this ritual from One Stab, his superiors saw it as lunacy and discharged him honorably to return home with his brother. Tristan, following the old Cree custom of removing the heart to set the soul free, cuts out Sam’s heart and places it in a box.

When Tristan gets home, the sadness of his lost brother and the confusion of it all, leads him to have sex with Susannah. Of course she had always held eyes for Tristan even when his brother was alive and Alfred was making advances on her. The act happened quickly and passionately with Tristan using her as a diversion to forget his brother’s loss and Susannah fooling herself into thinking that Tristan loved her. Not soon after does Alfred return from the war, wounded but decorated as a commander and he being in love with Susannah tries to force Tristan to marry her. Alfred yells at Tristan for sleeping with her and immediately pushes up on her to marry him despite everything (Alfred was kind of a loser for this). When Tristan vanishes (as he was prone to do) without telling anyone for years, Susannah finally breaks down and marries Alfred and the two move away to the city where he pursues his political dreams.

Isabel Two and Tristan’s Revenge

Years later Tristan returns bearing gifts and finds that his father who was always a strong man, had suffered a severe stroke and had lost the ability to speak. It was a brutal scene that Sir Anthony Hopkins made very real to us viewers (this is one of the moments that will choke you up). He hugs his son and welcomes him back and Tristan finds that Isabel Two (Karina Lombard) who had always said that she was meant to marry Tristan, was now a beautiful young 20 yr old woman. He marries her and it breaks Susannah’s heart.

Ranch life is not working out financially so to make money for the family, Tristan takes advantage of prohibition and starts selling bootleg whiskey in town. This angers his brother Alfred who is running for a seat in politics but this is the least of the troubles that Tristan’s new work has caused. His operation was in direct conflict with the Irish mob and they threaten him for crossing their territory but of course Tristan ignores them. A few years after Isabela Two bears Tristan a beautiful son (to the jealous eye of Susannah who couldn’t give Alfred a child), The Irish Mob shoots her dead while they were riding back home and sends the Native in Tristan to go full-on war mode…

… In other words Tristan turns into One Stab…

The scenes depicting Tristan exacting revenge on those boys were some of the more memorable of the movie as they would cut away from Tristan’s guerilla warfare to One Stab (now raising Tristan’s own boy) putting war paint on the child and the two of them singing war chants into the night. Tristan brings hell on the Irish and returns home to hug his son and see his wife to a peaceful burial.

The Return of Alfred and Family

In the final scene, a posse of supposed law men rides up to the ranch of the Colonel to ask for Tristan to being him in for the murders. The broken Colonel emerges from the house, shotgun in hand letting them know it was not about to happen. A gun fight breaks out and Tristan, One Stab, the Colonel and Decker hold off the men until hope is lost and they are saved by none other than Alfred the politician, wielding a rifle as if he had never stepped foot off his father’s ranch. It was fucking beautiful. Susannah (the woman that had caused the rift amongst the brothers) had taken her own life and the family stood strong in the end, having revenged the killers and back together again despite the painful losses.

One Stab does a war dance wanting to take scalps but the kills had belonged to Alfred. The closing scene shows an old, white bearded Tristan fighting (yes hand to hand) a bear whose finger he had removed as a kid during one of Stab’s warrior rituals. It was an epic ending to an epic movie – the indomitable spirit of Tristan, a warrior who was born to the wrong race in the wrong time period.

Legends of The Fall is a manly movie, and one of those that will never get old to this author.

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  • I’m a woman whose never seen it. But I’m fixing that. Netflix next in queue.

    • You’ll love it but I warn you, every woman I know that has seen this movie has cried – this includes my mother who never, ever cries. I’d love to hear what you think of it once you’ve seen it.

      • Guest

        I’m a woman who watched this and didn’t cry, mostly because I was too busy laughing at the cheesyness. In my opinion it was so overacted, or underacted– still not sure. I wanted to like it, but the plot felt flat 🙁 I still love Anthony Hopkins though! He’s a boss!

      • David

        Maybe you need to mature more before you can fully appreciate it…or maybe you just prefer fantasy comic book movies.

  • Tried to post my comment here.. but ended up posting it on FB. Will try again:

    Watching.. though not for the first time. As it turns out.. I’ve seen this before but forgot.

    You said: “… In other words Tristan turns into One Stab…” Love this!! He’s a stone killer acting like the DC sniper & Rambo right now.. Love One Stab. He’s the Archangel! And actually… the movie is really aaaall about HIM. Tristan marrying Isabel Two was the right thing to do at the right time. Susanna?… shoulda killed herself! That’s what she gets for not going home when Samuel went off to war – like a real lady woulda done! A real woman with sense, would not have gone to a ranch full of men… as a ‘finance’ -in the 1st place.. Idiot! Also loved intensely this line: “You see this man? His name is One Stab. He’s a venerated elder of the Cree nation. He’s counted coup on hundreds of his enemies. He’s our friend and he’s thirsty” I will dream about One Stab tonight! LOL. But it pisses me off that they all loved Susanna so. Don’t see why? She thinks everything is about her. WTF? Maybe in those days.. it’s just the way things happened. See vagina with a pretty face and long hair.. in a pretty hat – (Oops she’s cutting it off! ‘cause she thinks it‘s about her -and it aint.)– marry it.

    In all.. Loved it. Loved the ending. I can see your point about this being a manly movie.. The primal battle cries of the native in you all… get’s thoroughly exploited in this movie. But never have I seen or would imagine in real life, any of ya’ll protecting or defending the One Stab way. Unless you were on active duty in some covert operation for the government and there was -a chance to lay claim to personal honor and acclaim.

    It is a beautiful movie.. aesthetically.. And I’m enjoying the abundance of testosterone.. for Tristan.. “It was a good death.“ But .. when was I supposed to cry?

    • Lol great synopsis, crying normally occurs once Tristan returns home and sees the normally strong Colonel broken from his stroke and also when Alfred comes back out of nowhere at the end. The movie is definitely about Stab and the parts that were missing from the book was the Colonel’s reflection on how Tristan being raised so closely by his friend practically made him more Stab’s son than his own. Now in terms of men going after the killers the way Tristan did, he is one of a kind. He was like a wild spirit with no rules outside of the ones that Stab instilled in him, so the warrior way is blood begets blood as you saw on the battlefield when Sam died.

      I think the Susanna situation was a combination of her enjoying the attention so much and the boys having never experienced the company of a lady outside of their mother (the country girls don’t count here). She had 3 men, one of which she wanted but couldn’t have, another who worshiped the ground she walked on and then the man she actually loved. When he died she took it as an advantage to get at Tristan who was the one she wanted all along. She got what she deserved.

      I really appreciated the fact that they used real First Nation people for the parts of One Stab and Pet. Having watched enough Westerns you have to appreciate some authenticity like that.

      • Emma

        “She got what she deserved” What the…? Tristan took advantage of her, he didn’t love yet yet he did what he did. Susanna wasn’t infatuated with Tristan or considered him some kind of price, she actually loved him. Alfred was right all along. Tristan, presented as some heroic figure here, was selfish and irresponsible.

        “Susannah (the woman that had caused the rift amongst the brothers)” Did you watch the same film I did? cause it really seems like you did not. As One Stab says, “she was like the water that freezes inside a rock and breaks it apart. It was no more her fault than it is the fault of the water when the rock shatters.”

      • “Tristan, presented as some heroic figure here, was selfish and irresponsible.”

        No, it’s my opinion. I could assert the same of you making the woman out in the movie to be some sort of innocent, romantic, figure. She destroyed the relationship between three brothers. However you want to spin that, it is a terrible thing.

      • Tigerlily618

        Man this is a tough crowd. In defense of Susannah… first let’s remember she was an orphan, and she met Samuel in college. They don’t really tell us how long the boys were away at war. Let’s say a year or two. So the Ludlow Ranch had become her home and her family and she loves it there. When Samuel died, she was heartbroken. As a woman in 1915, to go back east and start a new life. that would not mean a career, it would mean the party circuit with everyone in society pressuring her to find a husband – absolutely the last thing you can imagine when you’re grieving your fiancee. So I don’t really blame her for staying.

        As for “destroying” the brothers relationship, she never intended to do that. “College girls” in 1915 are not anything like college girls today. There’s no TV, movies, Oprah or Cosmo to teach them to be savvy and wily in the ways of men. She didn’t have any experience with attraction, jealousy or desire. She could barely manage her own emotions, much less have the foresight to understand how her presence would impact the brothers.

        As for Tristan, the trauma of having his brother die in his arms is basically a recipe for serious PTSD, at a time when they had no idea what that even was. When you bury someone you love who died too young, in the aftermath, you crave other people who knew them and loved them. Tristan falling into Susannah’s arms when they were both grieving is not callous or malicious, it’s just human. As for Alfred, his jealousy and rage over their affair was as much about his own guilt for being attracted to Samuel’s girl as it was about “not getting the girl”. And these human complications are what I love about this film. People write it off as “melodrama” but there’s a lot that’s pretty true to human behavior in it.

      • Since reading the book, I have a whole new appreciation for the film which did so much more with fleshing out the characters and adding that complex element with Susannah. It’s not that I hate her, or Alfred, it’s just that we get to watch the crazy situation and it’s frustrating. Alfred redeemed himself in that final scene, which is always tough for me to watch (only second to Tristan coming home to find his normally invincible dad in the stat he was in). Still one of my favorite movies, and as I’ve matured, so has my appreciation for it.

      • Tigerlily618

        I hear you. When I first watched it years ago I was practically screaming “OMG Susannah let it go!” But as you say, with age you come to appreciate more deeply the humanity of the characters. For Susannah, life had forced her to let go of her parents, her fiancee, her hope of a child… it made her fragile. The pull of Tristan was too powerful for her – she just didn’t have the emotion resources to let him go. Tragic.

        I also find compassion for Alfred. He worked so hard and played by the rules, yet he couldn’t ever get what he wanted either. In a way, he is the brother most like his father. Doing his duty, idealistic, morally judgmental, outspoken and unbending. Ironically, its these very qualities that his father dislikes most in Alfred. Col. Ludlow forgives Tristan everything, yet forgives Alfred nothing. Is it any wonder he walked away? He just couldn’t win. (again, same as his father did). It’s an interesting turn of phrase that you say Alfred “redeemed” himself. I feel Alfred was always loyal to his family, fiercely so. That final scene was simply when they got to see it proven.

      • Great analysis, and you’re absolutely right about Alfred.

      • Tigerlily618

        Thanks 🙂 sorry… just watched it again last night and got swept away.

  • April

    There are a few discrepancies in your story.
    For one, Alfred came home from the war first with Samuel’s heart in a box. Susannah stayed at the Ludlow home to appease Mr. Ludlow. After some time Alfred finally reviled to Susannah that he loved her and even though he knew she didn’t love him, he was sure she could learn to. Just when it seemed as though things between Alfred and Susannah were evolving, here comes Tristan. He and Susannah sleep together and Alfred feels Tristan did it just to spite him. Tristan ensures Alfred that he will marry Susannah if she’ll have him. Alfred moves to the city. Tristan and Susannah work the ranch together. One day Tristan is packing his horse to leave and Susannah asks when he will return. He tells her in a few months and Susannah assures him she’ll wait for him forever. She and Tristan write each other while she stays at the ranch awaiting his return. One day she receives a letter from Tristan saying all they had was dead…marry another. Alfred comes from the city to tell his father he was running for office and he sees Susannah crying on the way out. She shows Alfred the letter and he hugs her. He tells her she deserves happiness and that he still loves her. The two marry.

    Also, Isabel 2 and Tristan had two children: Samuel Decker Ludlow and an infant girl. Also, Tristan buried his wife first, then he went to jail, then he got his revenge.

    You are correct as to why One Stab did not take scalps, however, the kills were not Alfreds alone.

    I don’t believe Tristan slept with Susannah because he was confused about anything but I do believe he took total advantage of her. She loved him but he didn’t love her. She didn’t realize it until he married and had children with Isabel 2. When she visited Tristan in jail after the murder of Isabel 2 she had hope. She confessed she wanted Isabel 2 to die. Tristan told her to go home to her husband. At that point she knew there was absolutely no hope that she and Tristan would ever be together again. She went mad and shot herself.

  • Bravo–“Legends of the Fall” has become a legendary film (and curiously rather underappreciated). It is indeed a “manly” film in every way interlaced with romance from a genre long ago very well portrayed by the director.

  • Moshulu

    One of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, and I’m 64 years old!!!

  • Michelle Love

    You only mention Triston’s son but Triston and Isabela had two kids.

  • ryaan Asady

    loved the film. this is a mans film if i ever saw one. it just broke my heart when Isabel two died. she and Tristan were so happy and perfect for each other. in fact i rather loved that tristan and isabel two ended up with each other. Susannah and tristan would never have worked out no matter how much she tried to delude herself into thinking she can. she was always meant for Samuel and she knew that but her obsession with tristan ended up killing her in the end.