Viggo Mortensen's 'The Dead Don't Hurt' Movie Review: A Western From A Different Point of View

Viggo Mortensen stars, direct and writes Western film, The Dead Don't Hurt

Viggo Mortensen takes the romance out of the Wild West in his sophomoric directorial effort, THE DEAD DON’T HURT. Westerns typically feature men as heroes or outlaws, and women are relegated to prostitutes or wives. Mortensen presents a different point of view from an independent woman's perspective (Vicky Krieps) and also the immigrant experience.

The American West is a brutal landscape for men and women, but more so for women in THE DEAD DON’T HURT which primarily follows Vivienne (Krieps), the daughter of French immigrants, and Holger Olsen (Mortensen), a Danish immigrant.

Written and directed by Mortensen, the story takes place in two timelines, sometimes three. We're introduced to Holger as he buries a woman we assume is his wife. We meet a couple of the town folk after a violent shootout outside a saloon. After roughly fifteen minutes, the setting switches to the past where we meet Vivienne. The confusing transition is partly due to not recognizing the woman. Then we go back even further to Vivienne's childhood which adds to the confusion of whose story is being told. The back-and-forth timelines are a bit jarring at first but eventually, they blend in. 

When we first meet Vivienne, the character is not immediately likable because of her demeanor. She's unpleasant company during a dinner date with a well-off man who you presume is her husband because of the awkwardness and level of disgust with him. Soon we learn she doesn't conform to what is expected of women of that period and her independent spirit puts her at odds with society.

Dead Don't Hurt star Vicky Krieps

Vivienne meets her match in Holger who admires the strong-willed woman and her nonconforming ways. Their romance is the most endearing part of the story, but when Holger leaves to join the Northern army during the Civil War. Vivienne is left behind, but she’s more than capable of taking care of herself until tragedy strikes yet she perseveres.

The American West is a beautiful setting and the cinematography by Marcel Zysking is drenched in warm colors, not quite sepia but gives the illusion of it.

Mortensen delivers a visually stunning but violent portrait of the American West, from the female gaze and the immigrant experience. Another rarity in Westerns is the lack of perspective from the immigrant in search of the American dream. The two main characters are not native to America as their accents suggest. Mexicans are often portrayed as "bad hombres" in Westerns but Mortensen who speaks fluent Spanish includes a sympathetic Mexican piano player who is also subjected to violence.  

THE DEAD DON'T HURT is now playing in movie theaters.

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