The Western is one of the oldest film genres out there; it has existed throughout the 20th century and well into the 21st, and during this time, the genre has gone through several different periods of abandonment and revival.
Subsequently the Western seems to be one of the genres that has changed the most over the years. Yet despite this, the soul of the genre has very much remained the same regardless of the form that it has taken, and it certainly seems to be taking an interesting new form.
In recent years, there appears to have been something of a slight resurgence in the Western genre with films like Django: Unchained and True Grit. While these films have been commercial and critical successes, they haven’t been able to spark a complete revival of the traditional Western as a genre.
One only needs to look at the failure that was Disney’s reboot of The Lone Ranger to see that audiences just aren’t that interested in Westerns anymore, this resurgence is little more than the genre popping its head above the water to remind the world that it still exists.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom for Westerns though. Like any genre, there are numerous sub-genres that have branched out from the initial premise, and at the moment one sub-genre is booming: The Neo-Western.
Neo-Westerns, such as No Country for Old Men, take the initial premise of the Western as well as several of the genre’s most iconic motifs, and place them within the context of modern-day life. The end result is that it makes the entire endeavour all the more relevant, and thus more relatable to contemporary audience.
Breaking Bad is another perfect example of this, witnessing the rags-to-riches story of a dying rancher with anti-heroic tendencies attempting to provide for his family in 19th Century, rural Arizona is all well and good, but the same story set in 21st century Albuquerque will have much more appeal, as the characters and struggles are substantially more recognisable to the average individual.
The world has moved a long way since the Western genre’s humble beginnings way back in 1903, and if the genre is to survive it must also evolve along with it. Although, traditional Westerns do appear to be taking a leaf out of the Neo-Western’s book; approaching contemporary topics but situating them in a more traditional environment. Take The Homesman for example, it addresses the societal pressures of women at the time, as well as reflecting the debate over the same issue that is happening to this day, adding a greater sense of relevance, something that may well be needed if the genre hopes to continue.