The Homesman works as both an entertaining western as well as a subtle commentary on a dark moment in our American history, specifically how the West was won, when settlers stole the land outright from Native Americans and justified their cruelty with Christianity. We took what we wanted with little regard for what was there before. The immoral behavior of a supposedly moral people is a shameful part of our American story we don’t often tell. The film uses the heartless treatment of women as its backdrop, with Native Americans cast as a savage specter to be feared. The truth is that much of what the pioneers needed to fear was the brutality they brought with them.
The Homesman is an intricately designed film, unpredictable in its execution and refusing to conform to genre expectations. If anything, it comments on familiar tropes of western films with cold rebuke. Laced with sardonic humor but primarily stark and tragic, The Homesman proves Jones has become a formidable director. Exploring a topic close to his heart, the evils of our own imperialist past and the echoes of that evil which haunts our history today, Jones delivers a sensitive exploration of the plight of the downtrodden, particularly from the vantage of women — an angle most Hollywood films have all but abandoned. The Homesman is about our past, the crimes committed under the cloak of manifest, but it is also about the little told story of what those events did to the women who either tried to settle a homestead on their own, or else were taken there as young brides and meant to provide children and wifely duties for men.