The heart of Texas holds a bright shining star, but what if it is really a black hole? When considering the grim side of Western films, this seems perfectly reasonable. Anti-heroes readily populate our cultural perception of the cowboy. It would follow then that at least some of those cowboys are super goth. While falling outside of cinematic mythology, there is some convincing evidence for this when the beloved Man In Black, Johnny Cash himself, upstaged goth legends Nine Inch Nails by delivering the definitive version of “Hurt.”
Most film cowboys are familiar with pain. Life is rough on the frontiers of purgatory. The line between being tough and being a masochist is as vague as knowing the difference between predestination and self-determination. There is a reason every Western has at least one saloon scene. Cowboys got to drown out the pain with another, self-inflicted one. What sets aside a true goth though is not just being aware of that self-inflicted harm, but embracing it and transcending it to become something else. Even the simple choice of wearing all black, be it as a goth or a beatnik or an anti-hero cowboy, sets one aside from society. The perspectives and aspirations of the person in all black are publicly denoted as not quite the same as everyone else. For Django in Django (1966), this is no exception.
Django approaches town in about as goth a manner as possible. Not only in all black, but dragging a coffin behind him. While many action protagonists could be described as spirits of death, Django is something else. He isn’t just there to bring death (although he certainly does), he is at one with death itself. When asked if someone is inside the coffin, he says it is himself, “Yeah, and his name is Django.” This is already as goth as it gets, but then things go to an entirely other level when he opens the coffin and reveals a fictionalized version of the belt-fed Maxim machine gun. As far as instruments of death go, this one is boastful in its intimidating size; nearly as big as a person. Django is in the coffin. He is dead. A gun is in the coffin. Django is a gun. The gun is dead. The living bring murder. The dead bring death directly to the living.
During the first act of Django, the titular character’s goal is kept mysterious. Once it is revealed though, it feels like Django has transformed into an entirely different person. He has a plan for rounding up a small army, robbing a treasury, and ultimately getting his non-dead life back. Upon revealing this plan, he begins dressing in brown instead of black. He wants to abandon his goth ways and become like everyone else. In part, this evokes sympathy from the viewer, but we’ve also seen what humanity is like in Django’s world already, and it isn’t so admirable. One of Django’s more goth-hero pursuits up until this point has been defending the rights of women; especially sex workers. Multiple times he puts himself in harm’s way to do so. These are actions that fly in the face of the commonplace misogyny of the world around him. There is a gentleness and romanticism in this position of the goth hero that we see in another film decades later, The Crow (1994). Django’s fall now is denoted in how he becomes like everyone else. Not only wearing brown but also turning a blind eye when his temporary heist partner slaps a woman. Django then goes even further down this road away from goth by putting all the sex workers in harm’s way by loading them up as an offering to those he wishes to steal from. A Trojan horse for the horny. Django has truly fallen in his attempt to disconnect from the goth spirit of death.
Eric Draven, the goth hero of The Crow, never falls in the way Django does, but his weakness is the same. For Draven, literally a spirit raised from the grave by unknown forces taking the form of a crow, the power of embodying death itself is partially to be used for vengeance, but more significantly to defend women and their incredible capacity for love. While most of the death Draven brings is in the name of avenging his own violated and slain girlfriend, two other moments flesh out his philosophy of ethics deeper. The first comes when he loads a shotgun full of wedding rings, stolen from the hands of dead women by Draven’s current target. Draven uses this wedding ring gun to blow up the pawnshop that profits from the suffering of the women who once wore these symbols of love. The other is when he spares the life of a drug addict and tells her to embrace motherhood. Much like the world Django lives in, all men in the urban ghost town of The Crow abuse women. To be goth, for Draven, is one and the same as being a
feminist. Draven never steers off course from this, as Django does, but in the end, his weakness is the same – both Draven and Django must remain connected to death. Without this connection, they are no longer goth and no longer themselves. Without this connection, they would perish. Myca, one of the two big-bads of The Crow, realizes this when contemplating the crow that always accompanies Draven, “The crow is his link between the land of the living and the realm of the dead.” She determines, correctly, that if one were to sever Draven’s connection to the dead, he could be defeated. Django, by severing his own connection to the dead in a Hail Mary move to return to the land of the living, defeats himself. In other words, both characters would fail if they don’t remain goth.
Everything goes wrong for Django once he fully is disconnected from goth-ness. His new passion becomes money and all the gold he has acquired sinks into the quicksand. His new romantic parter also sinks in the sand. Django’s previous ability to defend women from tragic fates is gone. Then, his hands are mutilated so that he can no longer shoot a gun. The gun from the coffin which, in his own words, contained himself – he can no longer fire the gun that is himself. Embracing his role as the embodiment of death; goth-ness by becoming one with guns themselves seems like a road cut off from him now. Django finds a way to prevail though and becomes reconnected with death by doing the most goth thing of the entire film: since his hands no longer work, he presses his gun against a tombstone and lets the grave itself push the trigger. The dead once again bring death directly to the living, and Django’s Hot Topic membership card is reinstated.
The goth archetype may be more commonly associated with giving funerals to ladybugs accidentally stepped upon, but vengeance, wrath, and battle are not necessarily in antithesis to this. The complimentary sorrow of knowing one’s own fate as a badass is as melancholy as can be in both The Crow and Django. Besides, reserving goth-ness for only a select few isn’t the “open-hearted to the world” stance that really makes sense for the poetically black-clad. What really is important, is our culture needs to find a clever word for Himbos with eyeliner on. If there is something better than Grimbos, shout it like a fallen angel scorning heaven.