The Lone Ranger has to be the least cathartic, borderline morbid, and yet, simultaneously, the most mature and challenging film Disney has produced in years—not to mention the best film I have seen, thus far, this summer.
It’s a film that is hard to enjoy, and rightly so. It presents the viewer with thematic content that, if paid attention to, threatens to confront us with the full intensity of capitalist nihilism. We are challenged to pay attention to the criminality of capitalism and its colonialist-cum-globalising aspirations, along with, importantly, its relativising and “unbalancing” of society, law, and ecology.
It is not without its problems. It is a vast, sprawling affair that feels a little recycled in terms of plot. Characters go undeveloped, the narrative makes inductive leaps, and has a peculiar non-linear presentation—going beyond its being presented, in part, via flashbacks—that feels like an unnecessary and lost artistic feature.
Yet, The Lone Ranger succeeds, on the whole, because while it contains the obligatory laughs and explosions, the titular character and his sidekick are warm, welcoming, and quite clearly lost—and who among us is not lost? They invite us to take the world they inhabit seriously—because its problems are serious in nature.
They are faced with a problem that threatens profoundly, waiting to become traumatising—capitalism. We live after this problem has developed a full head of steam and now ushers us toward oblivion. It is clear we live after and so share their problem—we are undeniably traumatised by and seem unable to escape capitalism’s sheer destructive and relativising capacity.
The politics of our time leave us disenfranchised and mistrustful of its laws, powers, intentions, and motivations—we cannot but feel it cannot and will not deliver, at least not for us. In this sense, we could do worse than take heed of the message The Lone Ranger leaves us with. That is, we need a justice that comes from outside the law; a justice that evokes the promise of a new sociality; a justice that privileges the forgotten, the oppressed, the alienated—those who constitute, what we might call, a demimonde. (We see the emergence of this in the white man who symbolically kills himself/has been killed as he becomes kemosabe of the Native; the grotesquerie and burlesque show that follows the railroad; the “Chinamen” who are slaves to a mine; the Native Americans dispossessed of their land. In all this oppression, alienation, and marginalisation are the seeds of communities that threaten to, and do, rise up against the elite of white men who have created and maintain these various forms of oppression.)
In the name of this justice we must “Never take off the mask”—which is an act that embraces ones own death—because concern for this justice carries with it the risk of reprisal from those capitalists who find it expedient to call injustice “justice,” and chaos “order.” This representation and embodying of a new justice is a counter-political act that makes us something of outlaws as we step out of and feel the self-evidence of the dominant narrative slip.
In all of this, The Lone Ranger does not get ahead of itself, as it knows this call is work, that the conditions in which it is issued are bleak; it continuously points out that “Something is wrong,” all the while refusing to know exactly what to do—or at least how to do it. It only ever goes so far as to present needed critique and make tentative connections that suggest a needed and new sociality and political economy. For all this, we owe it our attention.
The Lone Ranger is far from perfect but these seeds of political and economic critique are accounted for in the tone of this film, as it eschews simple, popcorn answers and moralisms that we so often get presented with. The Lone Ranger internalises and thinks through the nihilism that pervades our times: it does not offer a rounded hero who solves the problem, it barely produces a solution. What it leaves us with is the chance that, while chaos dissolves and brings to an end, it need not be the end; we can act and let the chaos become chaosmos, become fertile ground for a new we-know-not-what.