Although it is clear that director Michael Mann seeks to present viewers with a more culturally sensitive interpretation of colonial wartime Indian and colonist relations in the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans”, there are a number of biases that are so ingrained in our culture that they are almost difficult to detect immediately within the film. Most prominent among these colorings is the almost inescapable tendency to either romanticize Native Americans in a variety of ways or to make the viewer engage in the task of discerning between the “good and bad Indians.”
There are other important themes in “The Last of the Mohicans” that deserve discussion along the lines of stereotypes of Indians. Throughout the film “The Last of the Mohicans” there are the tension between the idea of the civilized versus the savage Indian that is quite prevalent and because of these reasons, the correct historical representations (in terms of clothing, weapons, etc.) are overshadowed by the more philosophical questions of traditional representations and ways of viewing Indians, especially on the part of the non-Native person. In general, while there are only a few errors in aesthetic representation of the two main groups, the Mohicans and the Hurons, the more subtle themes that remind us of the old Western “cowboys and Indians” games are still present. The final result is that the viewer of “The Last of the Mohicans” might have a better understanding of the way these Native peoples really appeared or talked, but the same persistent stereotypes are still present.
It is impossible to ignore the blatant romanticism behind Mann’s portrayal of not only some of the Native Americans in the film (most notably those associated with the more “white-like” Mohicans) but of the very setting. From the beginning of the film “The Last of the Mohicans” by the director Michael Mannand throughout it, the viewer is constantly given the notion that the earth was untouched and perfect. The opening scene reveals vast shots of a perfect wilderness that is unspoiled by civilization, even though if it were to be truly depicted, there would be signs (from the view from above) of the existence of the Mohicans and related Delaware tribes.
For instance, “Burning was an important tool for clearing and improving the land for cornfields, as well as for opening the under story of the forest to encourage the growth of grasses and berries which attracted game” (Dunn 2000, 26). From so far on high the wilderness around this small group as well as the other Delaware tribes around it would not be completely untouched. For many centuries the act of burning areas within a confined geographical region left large patches of scorched earth and thus one cannot help but think the Eden-like representation of this vast perfect landscape is, at least in some ways, stereotypical. Furthermore, as a side note to this fact, the idealization of a perfect savage wilderness is further explored when the scene settles in on the three remaining Mohicans who are “one with nature” throughout their hunt.
There is nothing about this scene in “The Last of the Mohicans” that is completely “savage” but instead, it seems to be a romanticized notion of the hunt. When the deer is shot and killed, it is historically and culturally accurate that a prayer is made for the deer since the Mohicans and related tribes attributed great power to the animal world, but it is worth remarking on the fact that this act is the opening of the film “The Last of the Mohicans” and thus immediately informs its viewers that these are “good” (versus savage or “bad” Indians.) The reverence for nature, especially on the part of the three Mohicans is certainly played up and even, to some degree, used to make them appear as the good guys from the first moments of the film. Later, as we see the Hurons and their “savage” acts of war and brutality, this more sensitive opening scene causes the viewer to make an immediate contrast between what we would consider good and bad Indians. In effect then, we are much like the original colonists as the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” forces us to choose sides and in effect, enact war through our feelings against the “bad Indians” such as Magua.