The Searchers begins with Martha opening a door to the desert outside, her silhouette framed in the center of the doorway. The film ends with the same door being closed to shut Ethan out of the lives of those inhabitants. His mission concluded, he is needed no longer. Throughout the film, the characters must contend with the dangers that lie outside the home, as well as try and figure out where they are and are not welcome. This image of the doorway in the beginning of the film shows the immense possibility and danger that awaits outside the door. At the end, it represents a return to the open road, a return to adventure.
The conflict of the film is set into motion when young Debbie goes to hide out at her grandmother's grave, but is apprehended by the malevolent Comanche chief, Scar. The young girl crouches in the moonlight, when an ominous shadow covers her, foreshadowing the conflict that lies ahead.
The grand vistas of Monument Valley were John Ford’s favorite location for shooting westerns. The Searchers was just one of many films he shot there. The film features many awe-inspiring shots of the magnificent Western landscape. Large rock formations dwarf all who walk among them, suggesting that the human actions that take place are tiny in comparison to the dangers and mystique of the expanse of the West.
When Ethan and Marty are invited into Scar's tent, he shows them the scalps that he has taken from victims over the years. Holding the stick from which the scalps hang is the adult Debbie, played by Natalie Wood, her expression suggesting both acceptance of her fate as well as fear. It is a striking image because Ethan and Marty have imagined that Debbie is in dire need of rescuing, but her expression would suggest that she has acclimated well to life among the Comanche.
The Searchers Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Searchers is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.