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Last Of The Mohicans


By James Fenimore Cooper
The book " Last of the Mohicans" by James Fenimore Cooper
was very different from the movie Last of the Mohicans in
terms of the storyline. However, I feel that the producer
and director of this movie did a good job of preserving
Cooper's original vision of the classic American man
surviving in the wilderness, while possibly presenting it
better than the book originally did and in a more
believable fashion to a late twentieth century reader. 

The makers of the movie, "Last of the Mohicans" preserved
Cooper's central ideas and themes very well; the most
important of which is the question, what makes a man? Very
few books that I have read contain such a clear sense of
what a man should be as "Last of the Mohicans". Cooper
portrays the hero, Hawkeye, as brave, independent, and
skillful in the ways of the woods. He is a tracker, he can
hit a target with a bullet from any distance, he can fight
the evil Iroquois Indians without batting so much as an

The makers of the movie take great pains to preserve these
facets of Hawkeye, but then go beyond what Cooper
originally laid down as the basis for his hero's character.
In the book, Hawkeye displays very little feeling and the
reader has very little empathy with him, even though he is
the hero. In the movie, however, there is a great romance
between Hawkeye and Cora that does not exist in the book.
This romance adds a more human side to Hawkeye's character;
it shows his caring side beyond all the hero-woodsman
qualities--in other words, the non-Rambo, late twentieth
century version of a hero. Every hero should have a woman
at his side, and the makers of the movie, realizing this,
transfer Cora from Uncas' side to Hawkeye's. This I think
was a wise choice because it gave the viewer more things in
common with the hero and thus made Hawkeye a more human
hero and therefore more comprehensible to the late
twentieth century viewer.
One thing the makers of the movie attempted to keep was the
vision portrayed in the book of sweeping landscapes,
gigantic trees, dark forests, crashing waterfalls, and
other impressive features of nature. This again was a wise
choice, seeing as how part of Cooper's vision was the
goodness and power of nature. However, once again I think
the film presented this facet better than the book did,
although this time it was not due to a feature Cooper left
out but instead was simply due to the fact that film
presents such features in a more vivid, more appealing way
than pages of descriptive passage. (This again may be the
bias of a late twentieth century viewer/reader, as we are
used to having our images presented in a graphic, immediate
way, rather than allowing our imaginations to conjure up
pictures from the written word.)
The movie left out one character that was originally in the
book; David Gamut, the psalmist. Of all the characters in
the boo, I felt that his was best developed by Cooper. 
Almost all of the others were cardboard characters with no
depth. Gamut, however, is at the beginning portrayed as
anything but a hero He is gawky, doesn't believe in killing
other men (even Indians), and is something of what we would
today call a nerd. However, he goes through many "trials by
fire" and in the end is shaped into Cooper's version of the
American man. David Gamut amused me as the story went along
and his presence certainly lightened things up compared to
the constant sense of foreboding that pervades the book.
However, the movie makers sadly left out this character
altogether. Though David Gamut was not an important part of
Cooper's vision, he still played a part in it. He developed
throughout the book from a wimpy coward to one who took up
arms in the final battle, placing his life in God's hands
and throwing caution to the wind. I cannot see a reason for
removing t his character other than the producers possibly
wishing to remove all semblance of comedy from the movie
and thus make it a very serious film. I think that this is
not a valid reason, because t his character added much more
to the story than just a few jokes. If I had been the
director, I would have included t his character, perhaps
even embellished it in the same manner as Hawkeye.
Another alteration the movie made from the book was in the
character of Cora. In the book, Cora is much braver and
less delicate than her sister, Alice. For this she is
"punished" in that she dies in the end. While this is not a
central theme in the book, Cooper makes it clear that
women, or "females" as he insists on calling them, should
remain docile and conform to the standards men set for
them. In the movie, the makers reverse this idea. Cora is
again portrayed as stepping beyond the boundaries of
acceptable female behavior at that point in history. In
fact, the moviemakers take Cora farther "out of bounds"
than Cooper did. She carries a pistol, and even shoots an
Indian to keep herself and her sister safe. However, in
behaving this way, she is transformed into a character that
more closely resembles a late twentieth century ideal of
the independent, self-sufficient woman, probably to make
her more sympathetic to today's movie audience. Instead of
being "punished" she ends up with Daniel Day-Lewis!
Cora's sister Alice goes around with eyes blank, mouth
agape, looking like some delicate piece of china that
someone is throwing rocks at. She cannot believe her eyes,
and so simply detaches herself from the world around her.
This happens in both the movie and the book, although in
the movie, instead of falling in love with Duncan Heyward,
the gentleman in the story, she shows some interest in
Uncas, though this is not made clear. In the end, when
Magua, the evil antagonist, kills Uncas and Alice is
presented with the choice of being Magua's wife or killing
herself, she chooses death. Cooper's original intent was to
have Cora killed for being "impudent," while Alice remained
docile and alive. Instead, the makers of the movie
transform even the wimpy Alice into a character of strength
and independence (the late twentieth century ideal), as
shown in her final act of suicide. Cora, also strong and
blessed with the ability to think for herself throughout
the film, survives. These changes added a lot to the
characters of both Cora and Alice, who in the book were
stick figures, "females" who did virtually nothing but
needed to be saved. This again reinforces my opinion that
the movie retains Cooper's vision and presents it better
than Cooper did himself. 



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