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SUBJECTS — U.S./1865 - 1913; Literature/Myths of the Western Genre;
Literary Devices: theme & characterization; Cinema;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Coming of Age; Illness (Serious);
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring.
Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama, 1976, 100 minutes; Color.
It's 1901 in Carson City, Missouri, formerly a frontier village but now a bustling town. J.B. Books, a notorious but aging gunfighter, is very ill and rides into town for his last few months. Books meets and befriends a young boy and his mother and arranges a way to die with his boots on. This classic Western explores the end of the viability of the Western hero as a role model.
For U.S. history classes, this film provides a picture of life at the beginning of the 20th century and a platform for assignments relating to the closing of the frontier and the passing of a way of life. The movie also provides an opportunity for students to exercise many skills required by the English Language Arts curriculum. As part of the Western genre, it acknowledges the end of the myth of the Western hero as a viable model for modern society. Finally, students will benefit from learning about nuances of character, the courage it takes to face death and the struggle of a young man in his efforts to balance respect for a hero against the violence the hero represents. Students will benefit from learning about how much more there is to an individual than his reputation suggests.
The Teachwithmovies.com Learning Guide to The Shootist provides teachers with the background and discussion questions to highlight the themes of the movie.
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The Shootist shows the end of the myth of the Western Hero, also called "The American Adam".
Learning Guide Excerpt
To give you a sense of how our Learning Guides can be used by teachers to develop lesson plans, and by parents to supplement school curriculum or for homeschooling, we have set out below a discussion question from the Learning Guide to The Shootist.
As the initiate in the film, Gillom learns a lot from Books. What was the most important thing that he learned?
Suggested Response: Gillom was skilled with a gun before he met Books. This was shown during the target practice scene. Gillom understands what Books is doing by entering the saloon and encountering the men from his past. When Gillom enters the bar, Books lies dying, brought down by a cheap shot. Although Gillom has grown fond of the old man and retaliates against the bartender who shot Books in the back, Gillom sees that the ethic of the gunfighter represented by Books is no longer viable. By leaving the bar without taking any credit for killing the man who shot Books, Gillom ends the pattern of gunfighter competition. This signals the end of the gunfighter era and the myth of the Western hero.
The Learning Guide to the film The Shootist contains sections on Benefits of the Movie, Possible Problems, Helpful Background, Discussion Questions, Links to the Internet, and Bridges to Reading. The Discussion Questions are divided into three categories: Subject Matter, Social-Emotional Learning, and Moral-Ethical Emphasis.
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