RIDE WITH THE DEVIL
A Note From The Director
I grew up in Taiwan, where older people always complained that kids are becoming Americanized: they
don't follow tradition, and so we are losing our culture. As I got the chance to go around a large part of the world with my films, I would hear the same complaints. It seems so much of the world is becoming Americanized.
When I read Daniel Woodrell's book Woe to Live On, which we based "Ride With The Devil" on, I realized that the American Civil War was, in a way, where it all started. It was where the Yankees won not only territory but, in a sense, a victory for a whole way of life and of thinking.
The Yankee invasion and victory not only had a surface meaning (Yankees prevail, militarily and economically) but also an internal meaning. It changed everyone. Everyone is equal, everyone has the right to fulfill himself: this is the Yankee principle. Now we must study ourselves, our personalities, in order to know how best to be fulfilled. This is all very modern, and so is the new social order based on that. We learn to respect other people's freedom, too, even as we lose a certain connection to tradition.
This is what the Civil War means to me.. .and I think it means this as well to the young men in "Ride with the Devil," who are also non-Yankees. The Civil War was not only a physical war — blood and guts — but also a personal war, one which led to the new world that we are living in today: the world of democracy and capitalism.
The story starts with the Southern boys' point of view, the perspective of those who will lose to the Yankees. But then it gradually shifts to focus on the points of view of the two outsiders (the German immigrant and the black slave) as well as of the young woman. Through them, we come to
experience the changes that freedom will bring. It is their emancipation that the film comes to be about, and their coming of age. So, as a Taiwanese, I can identify with the Southerners as the Yankees change their way of life forever.. .but I also identify, more strongly, with these outsiders who grasp at freedom and fight for it.
Before the Civil War, the Kansas/Missouri border was the frontier of America. The border was not just between North and South, but between the settled country and the wild, wild West. Yet today it is the center of the country. The Big Muddy River that divided the two frontier states was where Mark Twain sailed his steamboat and created a purely American literature. So, our story is about the very heart of America, even as this heart was — and still so often is — torn apart by racial and other conflicts. Even as America seems to conquer the world with the promise of freedom, it has still not fully conquered itself, or achieved its own freedom. This ongoing struggle and hope is expressed through the film.
- Ang Lee
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