David Von Ancken’s only feature film, ‘Seraphim Falls,’ is a revisionist Western tale set after the Civil War, during late 1868. It follows the story of Gideon, a Union officer during his heyday, who finds himself the target of a manhunt led by Colonel Morsman Carver, his Civil War arch-nemesis. Carver holds Gideon responsible for a traumatic war crime. And he refuses to relax and give up the chase till he has earned his vengeance. However, Gideon, despite being wounded, tries and manages to stay a step ahead of his ruthless pursuers. Eventually, his luck does run out, leading him and his lifelong enemy to finally meet in an unavoidable showdown.
The 2006 film focuses on the chase through its revenge and retribution themes and underlying anti-war sentiment. It has talented actors Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan essaying the titular roles of Carver and Gideon, respectively. The handling of such delicate topics in abject detail during a volatile time in American history has left fans to wonder whether the story of ‘Seraphim Falls,’ draws inspiration from a real-life incident or is a well-documented work of fiction.
Seraphim Falls is a Fictional Tale that Explores the Realistic Theme of Revenge
No, ‘Seraphim Falls’ is not based on a real story, but it is the writing of David Von Ancken and Abby Everett Jaques that gives it a realistic spin. Following the sick and exhausted yet determined to survive against all odds Gideon, as he is seamlessly pursued, the film highlights Carver’s hunger for retributive justice. As Gideon manages to overcome all obstacles while being completely battered and bruised, Carver is seen following his every step, resolute on his end goal. While Carver comes off as the bad guy in the earlier part of the film, the progression of the storyline eventually reveals the real reason behind his relentless pursuit.
However, while he seeks to get revenge, Gideon wishes to be left alone to drown in his guilt, making it difficult to not sympathize with him. The thought-provoking narrative handles redemption, revenge, the handling of guilt, and human violence in the backdrop of visually stunning cinematography in the American West. As intense action sequences play out, audiences are left captivated throughout the nerve-wracking chase. Exploring the aftermath of the American Civil War, the story traces the long-lasting after-effects of the conflict that was. A character-driver narrative, it also shows how the war had impacted the mental well-being of the lives of the characters.
While highlighting the gritty Old West, ‘Seraphim Falls’ does not back down from showing the hardships and violence of the turbulent era either. The unique storytelling gives a fresh new take on the traditional Western genre while highlighting the indomitable human spirit to fight for what’s right. One of the key focuses that director David Von Ancken is able to do is blur the line between the protagonist and antagonist by showcasing the complexities of both characters in equal measures. Empathy plays a poignant part in dealing with both characters, even as one struggles to forgive while the other strives to forget. Around the end of their cat-and-mouse game, the film takes a solemn turn.
Gideon and Carver both individually encounter symbolic lonely figures who seem to have been awaiting their arrival. And both give unexpected yet vaguely Satanic bargains. The film’s climactic finale, which is extremely emotionally charged and intense, emphasizes the humane need to heal old wounds by letting go. Director David Von Ancken was involved in a lot of research before he ultimately began to pen the script for the movie. In a conversation with Cinematic Happiness Under Development (CHUD), David talked about the prominent Western influences he took note of while helming ‘Seraphim Falls.’ He said, “When Sergio Leone was working with Clint. Once Upon a Time in the West.”
The filmmaker added, “Some of Clint’s early movies like High Plains Drifter and Outlaw Josey Wales. These are movies I watched in a drive-in in upstate New York as a kid. Even Jeremiah Johnson, with Redford. They have a quietness to them and a moral center with these strong yet complicated characters who have to sort things out for themselves.” He further added that he was intent on crafting “a simple, allegorical, anti-war story themed story that we’re never going to beat the audience over the head with but it’s there, and it’s there consciously.”
While the director was able to execute the vision he had for the Western film, it was the performance of the ensemble, specifically of the legends Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, that made it more compelling. Taking all this into account, it is natural that the film had a profound impact on the audience who can’t help but gauge whom to call the villain and whom to consider the hero. Driven by a gripping narrative sprinkled with a gritty charm, the film taps into the rustic sentiment quite well. However, even though it has a handful of realistic elements in place, we infer that ‘Seraphim Falls’ is simply a very well-made realistic fictional narrative with no base in reality.
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