The Spirit of the Wild West in ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’ – by George William

By: George William

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was one of the early movies produced by DreamWorks and released in 2002. It has been one of my favorite films since I watched it years ago.

The title is very apt in its description of what the film is about. A wild stallion in the Cimarron region around the time of what is considered the “Wild West” which is about 1870-1900. This stallion while not actually being voiced like in most children’s films, does have an internal dialogue or narrates the film and that is voiced by Matt Damon.

The film starts off with “Spirit” being born and has a montage aging him quickly to be the head of the herd. What starts the story is he sees something strange in the distance one night and goes to investigate—and it turns out to be people. Conflict happens, he ends up being captured, and the rest of the film is about him trying to get back home.

The reason why I am writing a review for a movie that was released back in 2002 is that I was watching it the other week with my wife and we walked away with the feeling that the story was giving two different messages.

My wife feels that the message of the film was trying to say that, “progress is evil, White people are evil, nature is good, Indians are good.” She does have a point, “Spirit” is sold to an Army outpost, which shows all their horses sad and depressed, it is seen as a good thing when he doesn’t let the Army break him. Later on, he’s on a train line and destroys it because it’s headed to his home. She also thinks that all the White people are portrayed badly and only the Indians are portrayed in a positive light.

I can see where she is coming from on some of this, but I disagree. I think the story is telling you two things. 1) At the most basic level, it’s a hero’s journey. Akin to the Odyssey in that he leaves his home, and is trying to get back. There is a period in the middle where he is happy and satisfied, but not completely. 2) That it is quite simply about the spirit of the west.

The stallion and everything else is just a stand-in, a medium to tell the story, like cars or toys or ants. I feel this is most obvious with two lines. In the opening narration, Matt Damon says that “the story of the west was written on the back of a horse, but it has never been told from the heart of one.” And towards the end where an Indian character names the stallion, “Spirit, who could never be broken.”

In my eyes, that is what the movie is about. The spirit of the west, freedom, exploration, new horizons, and frontiers. This spirit has not, will not, and cannot be broken. It’s just changed—changed from the Age of Discovery to the Wild West—from the Wild West to space. Now it’s just waiting, sitting, bubbling under civilization, waiting for the next opportunity to go forth and be free.

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