The Bottom Line: "The way that_you_wander is the_way_that you choose. The day_that you tarry is the_day that you lose. Sunshine or thunder, a man_will always_wonder Where the_fair_wind_blows ..." ~John Rubinstein & Tim McIntire
I always enjoyed the movie Jeremiah Johnson for its pure simplicity and the depth Robert Redford gave to the main character. However, on further study, I have found that several of the characters portrayed in the movie were actual people and the Jeremiah role was a morph of several men present at the time in the life of Crazy Woman. Crazy Woman had settled in Wolf Tail Valley and after her family was destroyed by Indian attack, she went over the bend. Johnson assured her she would come to no more harm because the Indians now feared her because she had become ‘touched'. In the movie, Crazy Woman had a surviving son, Caleb, who she gave to Johnson so he could rescue him.
Johnson, according to Indian and pioneer folk lore, is an amalgamation of three men that avenged Crazy Woman; Liver Eatin Johnson, Del Gue, and Anton Sepulveda. It is also written that the wife of Liver Eatin Johnson, who was pregnant, was killed by a Blackfoot raiding party while Johnson was out trapping. This resulted in the vendetta that is portrayed in the movie by Jeremiah, where he seeks out the offending tribe and kills individuals off. They, in turn, seek Jeremiah to avenge the deaths of their fellow warriors. In the movie this is quite a drawn out session, although speeded up on film, which obviously covered several months. In the end, I believe the Indians believed Jeremiah was as touched as Crazy Woman.
Jeremiah was a simple man that took on the solitary life to escape the Mexican War. A trapper takes him in and gives him training for survival in the wilderness. Along the way he manages to gain not only Caleb from Crazy Woman but also Swan, as a gift from a chieftain. We never really see any interaction, romantically, between Jeremiah and Swan but after a time feel, through their actions, that they have consummated their relationship. All the while, Caleb remains silent, as he has from the day Jeremiah found him on the grounds of his ruined homestead with his mother, Crazy Woman. In fact, I can't remember Caleb saying one word during the film.
Being silent didn't mean Caleb didn't have a relationship with both Jeremiah and Swan. His looks, demeanor, and actions all spoke of a great dedication bordering on love for these two parental figureheads in his life. In the same vein, Jeremiah took on the persona, although reluctantly, of husband and father. His original intention was to become one with nature yet, somehow, civilization, albeit small, found him again.
Overall this was a beautiful film. The scenery, sometimes quite stark, was wonderful, filmed in Utah. Interaction between the characters was well done, mostly through gestures and unspoken glances. There was a bit of a language barrier between Jeremiah and Swan, to say nothing of the mute boy. In fact, when approached later in the film by a group of soldiers, Jeremiah was stunned into silence because it had been so long since he had heard spoken words from someone beside himself.
This was an outstanding performance by Robert Redford in the lead role. He showed depth of character, ranging from frustration to pure grief. As well, the part of Bear Claw, played by Will Greer, provided humor to an otherwise painful film. Without Bear Claw's direction, Jeremiah would have probably starved or been killed off by Indians or wildlife early on. Delle Bolton gave a wonderful performance as Swan, simplistic and dedicated, while Josh Albee gave Caleb a silent voice through expressions and attitude.
Jeremiah Johnson was directed by Sydney Pollack, receiving two nominations; one win. It carries a general rating of 16+, mainly, I assume, because of the Indian attacks and wildlife attacks.