Geronimo (1993)

Film review: Geronimo (1993), directed by Roger Young

geronimo1993Geronimo is a biopic of the Apache Native American who came to be known by that name. The film begins in the early 1900s, with some kind of parade, where the old Geronimo (Jimmy Herman) is going to be a guest. The night before, he tells the story of his life to Juh (Michael Greyeyes).

We meet a young man who is in love with a beautiful girl, and in order for him to get her as a wife, her father says he requires the sum of eight horses – something seen as nigh impossible. The young man, however, says he’ll bring twice that, no problem. The girl is upset with him, because now they’re never going to marry in a million years, but what happens? Sixteen horses, coming right up!

They live happily together for a few years, and the adult Geronimo (Joseph Runningfox), goes to a Mexican town to trade, along with others from his tribe. They come back to find their camp on fire, and their families massacred by Mexican soldiers. The soldiers were actually not meant to attack anyone, especially not there, they were meant to keep Sonora safe, and the camp wasn’t in Sonora – they just made a pre-emtive strike.

Geronimo and the survivors strike back, and that’s when he gets the name Geronimo – and the reputation that ordinary bullets won’t kill him. And so begins a compelling and touching story of fighting for what’s right.

I was born and grew up in Sweden, so the Native American culture is more than a little alien to me. The main education about Native Americans came from reading Lucky Luke comics, cowboy films (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood-based in our household, those actors being my dad’s favourites) and, perhaps a bit more realistic (and that’s saying a lot), Dr. Quinn – Medicine Woman. So it’s definitely refreshing to learn something actually historically accurate, for once! Well, at least I read somewhere that this is meant to be a historically accurate portrayal of Geronimo. Someone who’d definitely know for sure is my friend Avalon, who has a blog where she often writes about Native American films, actors and traditions. Well worth a read!

When I was about 11 or 12, we did a project in school, about the United States. We went to some kind of exhibition in Gothenburg and we could buy postcards there, of old photographs. One of the ones I got, because it spoke to me somehow, was of Geronimo.

Perhaps because I had just watched Hunger the same day as I saw this film, it was easy to draw on similarities between Geronimo’s fight for his people, and that of the Irish people’s fight against the British. And perhaps that’s what really drew me in.

Not only a man who loses his family members, and one wife after the other, but a man who is willing to fight to put it right so that others won’t have to suffer the same as he has. It’s admirable. And it’s horrifying to think that so many people have had to go through all that as well. They were not kind times. And to think the so-called “civilised people” of European descent were more savage than the so-called “savages” they were fighting. Cultural diversity? Living side by side, in peace? Why on earth would anyone want such a thing?

Geronimo is a touching film and I’m glad I saw it, so I could learn more about Native Americans and their history. Cowboy films often make them out to be the bad guys, but really, the reality was something else. It’s a well acted film, perhaps a bit slow at times, but everything doesn’t have to be about constant action all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to watch something that takes its time to explain the story, especially when it does so really well.

4 out of 5 bullets that can’t kill.

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