Log Line

A likeable Old West bank robber and his partner attempt to preserve their lives and freedom in light of pursuit by lawmen who seek their death for robbing a train.

Overview

Medium: Film

Writer(s): William Goldman

Director(s): George Roy Hill

Production Co.(s): Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Campanile Productions; Newman-Foreman Company

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the main character, Butch, and his friend, Sundance, are a pair of likeable Old West bank robbers whose careers go awry when they decide to branch out into train robbery and decide to rob the same train twice, thinking that the company that owns the train will not expect the second try. Not only does the second robbery go wrong, but the first one prompts the train company to hire a crack troop of freelance lawmen to hunt them down and kill them.

From that point forward, the story centers on their attempt to keep possession of their lives and freedom (their condition of value) in light of the threat represented by the team of relentless lawmen. They employ various strategies to do so, including fleeing their pursuers, seeking support from a girlfriend, escaping to another country, and even going straight—none of which quite work. And when they return to robbery as a way to make ends meet, they are found out and forced into an ultimate confrontation.

Because Butch and Sundance are good-hearted, likeable men who do not seek to cause intentional harm to other people, we-the-audience are apt to hope for their success in keeping alive and free from their pursuers, who represent the long arm of a powerful corporation. In a philosophical sense, in fact, their story can be said to represent the fight for freedom against control. And its proposition may be stated as:

  • One should attempt to keep his freedom against the threat of its extinction, because success in the attempt will preserve his prospect of surviving and living a satisfying life.

This statement of the proposition elevates their story of personal survival to one that affirms the value of freedom itself.

In a freeze frame that saves us from having to witness the complete annihilation of Butch and Sundance, the storytellers make clear that the pair does not survive. In other words, they fail to win out against the forces of control. And because we-the-audience like them, we are left disappointed in their failure. As a result, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a fail/disappointed story.

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