Strange Way of Life: Are Jake and Silva Based on Real People?

Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘Strange Way of Life’ is a realistic Western short that reconstructs several of the genre’s norms and conventions. Through a conflict faced by a sheriff and rancher named Jake and Silva respectively, the narrative delves into the intricate relationship between the two men. Even though they are unignorably grounded, Almodóvar didn’t create his protagonists based on real people. Similarly, their heartening saga doesn’t have roots in reality. The filmmaker was inspired by several Westerns that defined the genre and offered handfuls of remarkable characters to create the two men in love. Their tale then ends with a response to a film the Spanish auteur couldn’t make!

Finding Jake and Silva in Westerns

The origin of ‘Strange Way of Life’ is a scene Pedro Almodóvar wrote about two men having a conversation after a night of intimacy. The filmmaker, who used to write such set pieces to integrate them into his screenplays, then expanded the scene to a narrative that revolves around Jake and Silva’s tumultuous relationship. As a fan of the Westerns, Almodóvar identified the lack of queer stories in the genre, which inspired him to conceive one with the sheriff and the rancher as the protagonists.

“I’m a big fan of the genre, but I think this is territory that is not explored by Hollywood. Curiously, it’s a genre full of male characters. […] But in a genre that has given us so many classics, I think we still have a lot of queer Westerns that could be made,” Almodóvar told The Hollywood Reporter. The filmmaker created Jake and Silva by expanding the characters in the movies of John Sturges, especially Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn-led ‘Last Train from Gun Hill.’ “Just think, Anthony Quinn goes to visit Kirk Douglas, now imagine if they were gay,” Almodóvar told A.frame about the inspiration behind his protagonists.

Another significant inspiration was Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 epic revisionist Western ‘The Wild Bunch.’ “In my mind, these two characters [Jake and Silva] are from a Sam Peckinpah movie. Like, they escaped from ‘The Wild Bunch,’” Almodóvar added. Jake and Silva’s celebration of love after shooting at wine barrels with three prostitutes was based on the Peckinpah film. The short is the fulfillment of the director’s wish to make an American Western that resembles Howard Hawks’ ‘El Dorado’ or ‘Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz’ as well. Almodóvar also wanted to show the intimacy that has existed between characters in Westerns for decades through Jake and Silva.

Henry Fonda’s Clay Blaisedell and Anthony Quinn’s Tom Morgan in Edward Dmytryk’s 1959 ‘Warlock’ are there among these aforementioned characters. “There is an Edward Dmytryk film, Warlock, and the protagonists are Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn, and they are sort of a couple. Their relationship is absolutely a very queer relationship — it’s never made explicit, but the film makes no sense without understanding the fact that these two men have a very close relationship,” the filmmaker added in the same THR interview.

Before Ang Lee helmed ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ Almodóvar was approached to adapt Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name. However, he couldn’t make it as he believed that he wouldn’t get the creative freedom to direct the Western as he wanted. Through Jake and Silva, the Spanish filmmaker answers a question the 2005 film raises. “In ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ there is a sequence where Jake Gyllenhaal asks Heath Ledger’s character why they don’t rent a ranch and start living together and all that. And Heath Ledger said, ‘What can two men do on a ranch together?’ As if it was a really absurd thing he was asking. In the multiverse of universes, 18 years after, Pedro Pascal answers that question. In my movie, there is an answer,” Almodóvar added to A.frame.

Traces of Jake and Silva can be found in the protagonists of these Westerns that inspired Almodóvar. The murder investigation in the short film, which holds together the two characters, reminds us of the countless lawmen and their pursuit of justice we have seen in these classic movies!

Read More: Strange Way of Life: Where Was Pedro Almodóvar’s Movie Filmed?