2018: Revising the Revisionist Western – The Sisters Brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs & Damsel


To really understand the Western genre, one needs to trail back to the lands of how usual westerns were made. Akira Kurosawa – Who is often known as the real austere who gave soul to the western genre also set them apart by questioning the very fabric of morality. The 60s however, saw a makeshift in the genre when filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, and Robert Altman pounced on the opportunity to revitalize the western genre entirely. Revisionist Westerns were born out of nowhere.

In recent years, directors have delved into the Western genre with a completely different outlook. They look into it from a perspective of showing universal themes like redemption, frustrations and even rightly so – The Economic disbalance that the world is suffering from. The whole idea of a western has been turned up on its head and so really bold and intriguing spin on the Western genre have graced the indie circuit in general.


Looking back at 2018 – A year that will be known for a lot of things,  there’s a definite co-running theme in the westerns. While most westerns of yesteryears focused entirely on a plot that either turned into a scavenger hunt or a look into interpersonal conflicts that had a gunfight. The westerns of the year focused on how traveling through the lands and mountains in the west could be a tiring drive. It also focused on an adventure that questioned the moral fiber of the characters that found themselves in situations that were mere dilemmas. The following three films conjure together to revise the revisionist western in a way that pushes the boundaries within the genre while also complimenting each other as distinct counterparts:

3. The Sisters Brothers | Director: Jacques Audiard

In spite of their outright feminine surname, the Charlie Sister’s are not sissies. They are a duo that goes around killing bounties that are being offered and served up to them by their so-called master. As they move on their latest quest to track down a Chemist who has supposedly found a formula to filter old gold from the wild-west riverine, unexpected suffering comes their way.

While Jacques Audiard’s Western does have the usual troops of a western, it subverts most of them with an uncanny understanding of character motivations for economic balance. The Charlie Sisters are portrayed in light of ruthless killer who just kills everything that stands in their – Goons, competition and even personal dread that can bring them down. However, they are also haunted by memories of their own childhood. The elder brother is obviously more mature but he is constantly indulged in fighting his loneliness with a piece of cloth from his beloved.


Charlie and Eli are tracking down their bounty with the help of John Morris (played superbly by Jake Gyllenhaal) and while their instant frame of mind is always triggered by greed, Audiard always gives them enough depth to show their inclination towards freedom from their own shadows. Death looms over the two quarreling brothers and the film almost touches greatness but it’s the tone balancing act that gets things out of hand and leaves this brilliantly sorted Western horse opera into slithering grounds.


2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs | Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

The Coens did what has never been done to Westerns ever before – Making an anthology out of it. These little tales served their special brand of humor and grim investigation of morally complex themes in the right amount. Brimmed with enough humor to keep your spirits intact and enough dark, ghastly dilemmas of critical human behavior, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs was a mixed bag of goodies but it was a bag that was worth carrying through a dust storm.


Brilliantly shot aesthetic that serve a cineplex screening more than the actual fate of going out guns blazing on the online portal – Netflix, this new Coen film serves 6 different deliciously versatile stories that trampled over the western genre while slightly revisioning them to form a cruel core that talks about the bloody violence that governs the power struggle in the unforgiving wild west.

Dolled over as the content of a book, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is essentially loaded with tons of on the nose humor and magic realism to suit the Coen Brother’s narrative. They manage to essentially entertain and cruelly investigate how the power struggle in the west in such a slippery slope.



1. Damsel | Director: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner

At the center of this wacky and eccentric Zellner brothers joint is a woman who needs no saving. After driving a weirdly adorable narrative in Kumiko, the treasure hunter, the director duos completely revised the typical western with a dash of low-brow humor and an even more wacky twist to its titular motivations. Starting and ending with notes that would playfully engage you with its deadpan theatrics, Damsel is a film of quiet beauty.

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It talks about unrequited love and timeless love – Both of which need no salivating agent. But with some strangely peculiar characters, the directors inject the Western genre with a delicious and original premise that would suffice those who are willing to invest their time and hearts into it.


Talking about justice and lovelorn glories, the film envisions in Robert Pattinson to play out the innocence and eventual madness of this horse-opera. Also, did I mention the absolutely adorable miniature horse that is named Butterscotch? The film is peppered with subversive provocation that is both handled impeccably by Cinematographer Adam Stone gorgeous cinematography and Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and the Zellers brilliant display of humor. This is the kind of inventiveness that makes people look into Westerns with a clearer more bleaker vision.

IMDb Link: The Sisters Brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Damsel


Shikhar Verma

Getting fat with the wife. Absolutely loves the all-consuming, indulgent world of cinema.