Saw 3:10 to Yuma last night, the James Mangold remake from a couple of years ago. I'm still trying to catch up on what looked from my perspective like a fantastic slate of movies in Fall '07 that seemed to take forever to get to Japan, where I was...
Anyway, it's an excellent film, one of the best modern Westerns I can think of. But I wasn't sure why Evans needed to die at the end. Maybe I missed something, but the arc of his character seemed complete, and cautiously triumphant; according to the myth-logic of the Western, and the way this film in particular seemed to be proceeding, I felt that earned Evans a happy ending. Hmm.
Now, I'm not the staunchest defender of Hollywood's happy ending machine, but neither am I one of those who distrusts a happy ending. Hollywood's insistence on happy endings is a fixation on one kind of myth, the myth that Everything'll Turn Out Alright: Optimism, which sells in this country, but which as we all know isn't Realism. But to resolutely avoid happy endings is to insist that Nothing'll Turn Out Alright: Pessimism, which is as much a myth as Optimism. The fact is that in life nothing turns out either alright or not alright, because nothing turns out: life doesn't end: you don't know how things end until you're dead, and even then, your story may be over but somebody else's goes on. But art requires endings, and these inevitably sort out into happy endings or not-happy endings. My point is, both are artificial, because endings themselves are artificial. Artificial in the sense of being full of artifice - products of art.
So I don't look specifically for either a happy ending or a sad ending (although I like the feel-good impact of a good heroic triumph as much as the next guy); I just look for an ending that fits the art. I'm not sure Evans's death fits 3:10 to Yuma. But again, maybe I'm missing something.