Revenge & Reckoning in Tombstone

~ a short essay on the legendary cinema of Tombstone (1993).


Oh make no mistake. It’s not revenge he’s after. It’s a reckonin’

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are a pair of legends out of the heart of the Wild West. The 1993 Western action-adventure picture Tombstone clasps them together as die hard companions wielding mean fast revolvers in a savage world in need of heroes. And c’mon – who doesn’t fuckin’ love Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer?

Can you find a better delivery?

Tombstone is a pulpy Western tale. Stupidly Romantic notions of vigilante justice, a side-storied music-swelling romance blooms between the lead mustachio and a traveling bohemian actress-poet, the heat-checking jokester quips from out of the mouth of an erudite gentleman “lunger” who plays Chopin and is utterly undefeated in poker.

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, in this 90s film, are able to live up to — and certainly exceed — their legendary status as righteous cowboy gunslingers from a lost age. They are essentially Wild West superheroes.

More than anything, Tombstone’s storytelling — about revengin’ and reckonin’ — is crystallized through the lens of the masculine. Gruff gunslingers coming out of retirement — and out of the deathly pall of mortality’s constrict — deal swift judgment to a roaming band of soulless murderers in the meteoric town of Tombstone, Arizona. This is Peak masculinity, a sacred tome for the Dudes Rock movement, with a cast of studly “killers all the way down” — Russell, Kilmer, Elliot, Paxton, Biehn, Boothe, Lang, Zane, O’Quinn, Church, Rooker, Priestly, Stallone, Thornton, Corbett, Victor, Heston, MITCHUM.

In my humble opinion, Tombstone, with Earp and Holliday as its paragon faces, is a foundational cinematic text for The Divine Masculine archetype.

Guns and blood, a cycle of dueling warfare against lawless raiders fit for nothing but murder and chaos — yes. Competition and the masculine urge to destroy before you can build. It’s all here, toxic to modernity or no — men like Earp, Holliday, Ringo, Curly Bill, {Plainview} — they built the world as we see it today.

Wyatt Earp: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?
Doc Holliday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.
Wyatt Earp: What does he need?
Doc Holliday: Revenge.
Wyatt Earp: For what?
Doc Holliday: Bein’ born.

But there is also right-hearted brotherhood between the Earp boys, former peacekeepers looking to settle down with their wives and earn a life free from violence on the frontier.

The truer brotherhood lay between Wyatt and Doc, two men that couldn’t be more different — the oak and the gambling, drinking, whoring, sickly joker of a man. They share a penchant for the dramatic (Wyatt with force and Doc with wit), and for gunslinging (though Doc is a gun kata savant whereas Wyatt is simply fearless).

They share a love of righteous battle. And of each other.

Turkey Creek Jack Johnson: Doc, you oughta be in bed, what the hell you doin this for anyway?
Doc Holliday: Wyatt Earp is my friend.
Turkey Creek Jack Johnson: Hell, I got lots of friends.
Doc Holliday: I don’t.

Throughout, in conversations with his aloof wife, the wanderlusty starling, with Doc, Wyatt ponders the meaning of his life. Is it just to make an ‘honest living,’ raise a family, stay out of trouble? For men like Wyatt Earp such a life no doubt feels lesser, like something is missing. Settling down in Tombstone with his gun holstered and his hands dealing cards in hot rooms instead of hot death to villains in the desert feels like an escape from the truth of him.

A life without soul, without true love and possible death, without a confrontation against the destiny he could summon with his own focused strength of will alone, feels like nothing but ruined potential.

Wyatt Earp lived to be a ripe 80 years old, with a life led where he could painstakingly build his legacy — whereas Doc Holliday died in a bed in his ‘prime’ years, at a young 36. Tombstone’s final scene between them palpably understands the heartfelt struggle between the two men parting ways before they’re truly ready to.

Doc Holliday: What did you ever want?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There’s no normal life, Wyatt, it’s just life. Get on with it.
Wyatt Earp: Don’t know how.
Doc Holliday: Sure you do. Say goodbye to me. Go grab that spirited actress and make her your own. Take that beauty from it, don’t look back. Live every second. Live right on to the end. Live Wyatt. Live for me. Wyatt, if you were ever my friend — if ya ever had even the slightest of feelin’ for me, leave now. Leave now… Please.
Wyatt Earp: Thanks for always being there, Doc

Yeah, Dudes rock. Dudes reckon. Dudes be there for each other. {😭} ~