I’ve gone to see the new Lone Ranger movie twice now. Enjoyed it both times. Despite the title, the movie is only loosely about the Lone Ranger; it’s a totally new and different take on Tonto, starring Johnny Depp.
In this new film, Depp is no Jay Silverheels cloned ‘Tonto.’ He portrays Tonto as a Native American self-exiled shaman on a vengeance quest, and plays the character with familiar Johnny Depp signature Jack Sparrow wit and prat-fall humor. The Lone Ranger in the new film, played by Armie Hammer, is Tonto’s side-kick, played as a hopelessly idealistic dreamer luckier than he is savvy and less intelligent than his horse.
Now, that’s revisionist history, or said another way, it’s meddling with MY illusions of “yesteryear.” The Lone Ranger episodes I remember as a boy in the early 1950s, starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, were about ‘white’ hats vs ‘black’ hats, a Masked Man whose mask never hid his virtue, consummate skill, dauntless courage, and get-the-bad-guy-savvy. So you can imagine my sense of “Time out!” upon watching the new Lone Ranger played as an oafish character.
Truth is, I quite like the new Tonto. What’s not to love about Depp’s version that brings to the Tonto character gifted comedic slap-stick ‘timing’ worthy of Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops at exciting moments in the film– not to mention unforgettable costuming?
Still, the film surprised me by my strong reactions: surprised me by revealing how important, how influential, how ’sacred’ boyhood heroes are to me. I don’t want them messed with or ‘revised’ or discounted. I want them hallowed in the Temple of Vanished Yesterdays. They are mine to varnish or remove.
And, of course, that’s where my heroes remain. My Lone Ranger is what I make of him; he’s what resonates in my heart with reference to ‘white hats’ and ‘black hats,’ with reference to virtue, old and new.
The narration-device in the film for re-telling the Lone Ranger tale is the Depp character as an aged Tonto manikin in a wild west carnival exhibit who magically comes to life. The ‘magic’ that awakens the still-life Indian in the exhibit is a Lone Ranger look-alike-wanna-be little boy wearing mask and a white hat and pair of holstered cap pistols. At the end of the film, having heard the wizened Tonto’s story, the kid asks whether the Lone Ranger story about truth, justice, and nature out of balance is true. The “Noble Savage” tosses a silver bullet to the boy, and says, “It’s up to you.”
And that’s as it must be. Truth is up to us. It dwells within and behind, beneath and above, the days of our lives. But we must mine it like fine silver.
In the end the Lone Ranger myth is about the very personal, homemade, ‘inside’ work of mining and making our own ’silver bullets’ effective against the demons we face. It’s up to us.
That’s true of fashioning The Good Life.
It’s true of making — NOT “finding” — happiness.
It’s true of that illusive magic between Scotties and their people.
It’s up to us.
So, ride on, Lone Ranger. “High, ho … Silver! Away!”
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine