“The Last of the Mohicans” – Director’s Definitive Cut (1992) starring Daniel Day-Lewis

British Officer: You call yourself a patriot, and loyal subject to the Crown?

Hawkeye: I do not call myself subject to much at all.

In what is now upstate NY in 1757, the last members of a Native American tribe, the Mohicans- Uncas (Eric Schweig), his father Chingachgook (Russel Means- an activist in his first movie) and his adopted white brother Hawkeye AKA Nathaniel Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis)- live in peace alongside British colonists. They hunt a deer and bring it to the (log-cabin) home of their friends- the Cameron family. The two daughters of a British colonel named Munro (Maurice Roeves)- Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice (Jodhi May- at just 16 y.o.)- travel from London to visit their father. In Boston, they’re met by their friend, Major Duncan Heyward (Steve Waddinton), who wants to marry Cora. They didn’t realize that it this was a dangerous time to come to this region, b/c their father’s letters were intercepted. When Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Col. Munro’s traitorous scout, Magua (Wes Studi- a scene-stealer), Hawkeye and Uncas go to rescue them in the crossfire of the French and Indian War.

Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.

Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

The screenplay was written by Michael Mann (who also directed) and Christopher Crowe; it was adapted in part from The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826), a novel by James Fenimore Cooper, as well as the 1936 film adaptation The Last of the Mohicans. DDL (who is a Method actor) lived in the forests (North Carolina- where this film was shot) where his character might have lived, hunting and fishing for several months. The shoot employed more than 900 Native Americans from all over the US, mostly from the Cherokee tribes. Schweig (just 25 y.o.) is of Inuit and German heritage from Canada. Means (then age 55) was chosen my Mann for his role, though not a professional actor! He was of Ogala/Lakota Sioux heritage and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Duncan: You there, Scout! We must rest soon, the women are tired.

Magua: No, two leagues, better water. We stop there.

Duncan: No, we’ll stop in the glade just ahead. When the ladies are rested, we will proceed. Do you understand?

Magua: [speaking Huron] Magua understands that the white man is a dog to his women. When they are tired, he puts down his tomahawk to feed their laziness.

Duncan: Excuse me, what did you say?

Magua: Magua say… he understand the English very well.

Magua (who is a compelling villian w/ an interesting backstory) explains to Gen. Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) that his village was burned and children killed by English soldiers. He was taken a slave by a Mohawk warrior who fought for Col. Munro (Grey Hair). Magua’s wife believed he was dead, so she became the the wife of another man. To gain his freedom, Magua became “blood brothers” w/ the Mohawk, though he “stayed Huron in his heart.” He believes his “heart will be whole again when the Grey Hair and his seed are dead.”

Cora: l don’t know what to say, Duncan. l truly wish they did, but my feelings don’t – don’t go beyond friendship. Don’t you see?

Duncan: Respect and friendship. lsn’t that a reasonable basis for a man and a woman to be married? And all else may grow in time?

Cora: Some say that’s the way of it.

On my recent re-watch (I hadn’t seen this since H.S. ELA class), I noticed the (quiet) feminism of Cora. She (gently) refuses to marry Duncan b/c she doesn’t love him; she is protective of the (more fragile) Alice (even talking a pistol from a dead soldier for protection); she helps in the infirmary at the fort; and stands up for Hawkeye (before he is imprisoned for “sedition”). Also, you have to admit that Stow and DDL look great together and have sizzling chemistry! One of the best things about this movie is its music, incl. the love theme (which was inspired by a then-modern Irish song that Mann’s wife liked).

Cora Munro: Why were those people living in this defenseless place?

Hawkeye: After seven years indentured service in Virginia, they headed out here ’cause the frontier’s the only land available to poor people. Out here, they’re beholden to none. Not living by another’s leave.

Though there is the romance between Cora and Hawkeye, this movie is also bring to mind the ideals of Romanticism, where man’s most spiritual attribute was his imagination, nature was imbued w/ the divine, and the best life was stepping to one’s personal drummer. While Duncan stands for British imperialism (the old world), Hawkeye represents American individualism (the new world). Cora admits to Hawkeye that this frontier is very “stirring” to her, perhaps revealing that she’s ready for something new in her life (love).

[1] The love story I liked better was the one played in the background, an story that is absent, yet strongly felt throughout the movie. I am referring to the love story between Eric Schweig’s character, Uncas and Alice Munro, played by Jodhi May. It is the subtleness and the overtone-nature of the love that builds in us a sense of involvement.

Wes Studi is probably the fiercest villain I have seen on screen. His mere presence builds an acute level of intimidation. The character portrayal is flawless, and the casting done is excellent.

[2] “The Last of the Mohicans” was one of the most popular and acclaimed films of 1992. Its vision of early America, as it was during the French and Indian War, is captured in its utter brutality and beauty, complete with the many driving ambitions and clashing cultures of everyone involved.

This movie has a bit of everything, including action, romance, war, and passionate drama.

[3] Yes, there are many battle scenes, great reenactment of the scenery of the novel, and villains in all camps that provide the stormy progress of the novel. But it is in the quiet moments where Chingachgook speaks about the Great Spirit, the sanctity of nature, and his waiting to join the Great Council in the sky as the last of the Mohicans that the film’s power is best communicated. The acting is very fine and the cinematography is splendid.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

2 thoughts on ““The Last of the Mohicans” – Director’s Definitive Cut (1992) starring Daniel Day-Lewis

  1. I could not get myself through Fenimore Cooper in HS (we did “Deerslayer”) and just the thought of watching a film adaptation of his stuff makes my mouth fill with acid. People are always citing this film as evidence for DDL’s artistry and I can pretty much guarantee I will never watch it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh my HS ELA did read this- but just the advanced class. I’m NOT sure, but I think movie is different than book; for ex: Cora is called “the dark child of Munro” b/c her mother was Black (as some readers commented)!

      Liked by 2 people

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