Thanksgiving, as a holiday has some urban legends clinging to it. Historical inaccuracies distort our perceptions of Thanksgiving, the pilgrims (more accurately puritans), native Americans and 17th century life in New England. I’m not going to make an attempt to lay these inaccuracies to rest, because I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t there and I don’t know (even though I may look old enough to have sailed on the Mayflower and some days I feel old enough). Also, many able authors have explained the Thanksgiving myths much better than I ever could. What I would like to present are some films and movies which give what I believe based on research, to be a more accurate depiction of life in the early 1600’s. These movies, most of which are based upon works of literature will help students of history to form a clearer understanding of the era we refer to in American history as the ‘colonial period’.
The Scarlet Letter 1995:
Nathaniel Hawthorne was the most haunted of the transcendentalist authors. He grieved over his puritan ancestors harsh cruelty and rigid intolerance. This is one of his best works. Gary Oldham and Robert Duvall both give tour de force performances as Rev. Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. There are two steamy scenes and one nude male rump scene, so preview before showing in class.
The Last of the Mohicans:
(James Fenimore Cooper-book)Good book to movie adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic story of the French and Indian War.
The True Story of the Mayflower (2006) Highly rated historical drama. Available from local lending libraries.
(1985- Al Pacino, Dexter Fletcher) This movie has a low IMDB rating, but my husband and I found it one of the best movies to show what the American Revolution was like for the common man,not blinded by red,white and blue fever.
The Crucible -1996:
While not completely accurate historically, The Crucible does give a reasonable view of the Salem witch trials from the inside out. Stellar performances, also.
Light in the Forest (Conrad Richter):
Lovely story about a white boy raised by Native Americans and returned to his family as a young man. He must choose between duty to family and his love and loyalty as True Son, to his tribe. The movie is dated and Disney-fied. The book is more credible.
A Warrior’s Tale (1994) Another Disney- fied movie, it’s still a good story about native Americans and colonial interaction. Adam Beach is an amazing actor.
Not strictly about the native Americans and colonials, this is an important movie to help us never forget the atrocities that was wrought in this country through slavery. We must never forget the inhumanity that some of those ‘founding fathers’ whom we ceaselessly hail, were capable of wreaking on their fellow man. Very graphic scenes of brutality.
(Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken) Now don’t laugh. The reason that I include this film in my list of Thanksgiving movies, is that the novelist Washington Irving gave us one of the best birds-eye views of life in 17th century Hudson Valley area. This movie contains elements of the supernatural and while it may seem that these are just cheap Hollywood theatrics, they actually reflect the superstitious nature of many New Englanders. North America was a wild untamed land and puritans brought with them many fears which they wove into their eerie tales. (see also Leather-stocking Tales of Hawthorne and Rip VanWinkle)
These films will help students form a better rounded view of the historical background surrounding Thanksgiving.