Whether it’s John Wayne films or Chevrolet ads, Monument Valley has been immortalized in the American imagination as a symbol of this nation’s vast potential. “The Taking,” a new documentary directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, examines the site’s complicated position as a representation of the Old West despite being located on Navajo land.
In the film, images and clips of movies, TV shows and advertising campaigns that have traditionally featured Monument Valley are accompanied by voice-overs that explain how white cowboys have been viewed as heroes and Native Americans as aggressors, obscuring a history of genocide and oppression.
The film argues that perhaps no one has been more central to this effort than the director John Ford, who used the region as the backdrop for his western movies, with the dramatic landscape evoking and perpetuating ideals of freedom and liberation central to his stories of rugged cowboys and villainous “Indians.”
Obscured in this myth making is the reality of the Navajo people, many of whom still live in the region without running water or access to stable incomes. “The Taking” is successful in demonstrating the way in which Monument Valley has become a canvas onto which the public can superimpose their own ideas and myths. But had it included more current images of the region and the realities of the Navajo people, it may have been more effective in replacing these myths, going beyond film analysis to altering imagination.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes. In theaters.