The book, Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper was very different from the movie Last of the Mohicans in terms of the story line. 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. 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?
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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 eyelash. The makers of the movie take great pains to preserve these facts of Hawkeye. 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 show s 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. 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 in common 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. Due to the fact that film presents such features in a more vivid, more appealing way than pages of descriptive words. One thing the makers of the movie left out that was originally in the book was the character of David Gamut, the psalmist.
Of all the characters in the book I felt 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 softy. However, he goes through many “trials by fire” and in the end is shaped into Cooper’s version of the American man. However, the movie makers sadly left out his character altogether. Though David Gamut was not an important part of Cooper’s vision, he still played apart 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 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 this is a stupid reason, because his character added much more to the story than a few jokes, and had I been the director I would have included 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 of Cooper in the book, he makes it clear that women, or “females” as he insists on calling them, should remain tame 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 amazed, looking like some delicate piece of china that someone is throwing rocks at.
She cannot believe her eyes, and so she 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 man 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 tame and alive.
Instead the makers of the movie transform even the wimpy Alice into a character of strength and independence as shown in her final act of suicide. Cora, also strong and blessed with the ability to think for herself throughout the film, survives. If 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 be saved and because of this again reinforces my opinion that the movie retains Cooper’s vision and present sit better than Cooper did himself.