Proverbs As The Motif In '3:10 To Yuma'?

"You're so sure that your crew's comin' to get you?" - Dan Evans
"Sure as God's vengeance, they're comin" - Ben Wade

"All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart" - Ben Wade quoting Proverbs 21:2.

Christianity Today recently reviewed the religious and moral aspects of James Mangold's new movie '3:10 to Yuma'. The review states in part:

'3:10 To Yuma' is a very modern western. This is a film that strives for and achieves a deeper inquiry into moral psychology. On one level it's about gunfights, spurs, and saloon showdowns, but on another it's a film about the fuzzy lines between right, wrong, and the law in an altogether lawless frontier land.

Director James Mangold deals with the personal quest for honor and redemption. Dan Evans is down on his luck, about to lose his ranch to the Southern Pacific suits who are bringing the railroad to the tiny town of Bisbee. Seeking to redeem himself financially and in the eyes of his adolescent son Will Evans stumbles upon a major chance to prove himself. The notorious outlaw, Ben Wade has just been captured. Hoping to rid the region once and for all of this infamous scourge to the railroad's safety, a Southern Pacific businessman offers to handsomely reward any man who will join the posse to safely transport Wade to prison. Evans jumps at the opportunity, but the task is easier said than done. It's a three-day journey to the town of Contention, where Wade is to be put on the 3:10 train to the Federal Court in Yuma. And it promises to be a perilous journey fraught with hostile Indians, railroad ruffians, as well as the violent gang of outlaws determined to free their leader, Wade, before he is put on the train to Yuma.

As the fateful journey plays out, bullets fly and blood is spilt. The posse finds Wade to be deadly even when bound and gun-less. As the body count grows Evans becomes determined to be the last man standing with Wade—the man who successfully delivers the criminal to the law in Yuma.

Wade seems to respect Evans as a morally upright family man driven only by a desire to protect his land and dignity. Likewise, Evans seems uninterested in destroying Wade. If not for the circumstances of their meeting, they might have been friends. Ben Wade is a self-described rotten-to-the-core villain who is as enchanted with his own mythology as everyone else is fearful of it. He is a holster-bearing Hannibal Lecter—minus the cannibalism. Like Lecter, Wade works on his victims primarily psychologically. He's deadly with his gun ("the hand of God"), but his words are even deadlier.

Like many of cinema's most psychologically toxic antagonists, Wade is well read and adroit at quoting Bible verses to tease his foes. Apparently he read the Bible cover to cover only once but he quotes it like a preacher. His motto seems to be Proverbs 21:2: "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." Wade takes from this verse a twisted justification for his own wayward actions—apparently believing that since God is ultimately the only judge of right and wrong, man has no mandate but to do what is right in his own eyes.

Wade's odd brand of moral relativism makes him an interesting character—especially in the film's final moments, when his mythologized shell begins to crack. Evans' motivations become more ambiguous as the film goes on. Is it really about the reward money or serving justice? Or is it a pride issue? Some deeper psychological drive that makes him in the end not all that different from Wade? As he is forced to kill dozens of people and put his own family in grave danger, these questions become ever more pertinent. At what point does proving your honor become secondary to protecting yourself and the lives of your loved ones?

Much of the tension of the film comes from what we know is coming at 3:10. As the train's arrival becomes imminent, so too does the dread of an unavoidably nasty fight. Wade's gang catches up to Evans's posse in Contention and their second-in-command leader, Charlie Prince, unleashes a ruthless wrath. Prince, who is really the worst scoundrel in the bunch is a deliciously wicked character who steals most of the scenes he's in. Foster really captures the soulless, unruly spirit of the western outlaw.

Yuma portrays a West that is stark, barren, and morally ambiguous … very few characters are all good or all bad … everyone is a mixture (just as Evans and Wade are, in a way, two sides of the same coin) and everyone has an opportunity to change, to redeem whatever rotten past they came from.

Was Proverbs used as the motif in '3:10 To Yuma'?

Posted September 15, 2007


Joan Ferguson said...

This is a great movie! The best one I have seen this year and I would wager that Ben Foster who plays Charlie Prince will win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He was ‘evil’ in every sense of the word.

You got me looking at Proverbs 21!!

For Charlie Prince:

Verse10 The wicked man craves evil; his neighbor gets no mercy from him.

That’s him!


Andrew Wilson said...


Dan Evans (Jesus Christ?)… moral guy (tempted in the desert?)… moving to his obvious death (sacrifice?) … betrayed at the end by his companions (disciples?).

Ben Wade (criminal on the other cross) goes off to Yuma and presumably his hanging but whistles for his horse (and ends up in Paradise?).

More to this movie than Proverbs 21 methinks!


PRD said...

Seems to me that Proverbs 21 is unduly concerned with marriage to a shrew.

See verse 9 “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” and verse 19 “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife”.

Is this what made Charlie Prince into an arch villain? This quote is from the 1957 version of the movie

Charlie Prince: Any strangers come in town?

Hotel Proprietor-Bartender: Not since you went to sleep, sir.

Charlie Prince: I might as well go along. She won't come now.

Hotel Proprietor-Bartender: Who was you plannin' to meet?

Charlie Prince: My wife - she ran off with a travelin' man.

Hotel Proprietor-Bartender: She did?

Charlie Prince: That's why I've been sittin' up all night. I figgered he'd bring her here.

Hotel Proprietor-Bartender: Well, whaddaya know? Mine ran off, too. I wonder why they do that.

Charlie Prince: I don't know. I've always treated mine alright - never hit her too hard.


Jpan Ferguson said...

Ben Wade quotes Proverbs 13:13 at another point “He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded” but the significance of this slipped past me.


Michael N. Hull said...

Anyone notice that Ben Wade’s pistol has a crucifix on it?

What is the significance of that?

Are we supposed to get from the movie’s ending where he goes on another shooting spree before getting on the train that he has redeemed himself?


Brian McKay said...

MIchael, I didn’t see that though I recall seeing the gun butt with some sort of a design on it. You must have ‘cat’s eyes' to notice that one!


Elizabeth Murray said...

Well as a lifelong atheist I never thought anything would get me to start probing bible verses but this thread has stimulated my interest.

So since Proverbs 13 and Proverbs 21 seem to have played some role in this movie I took a look at Proverbs 13 and see that Verse 6 reads:

Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.

This leads me to wonder how Evans as the man of integrity was protected by his righteousness – he ends up dead – and Wade’s wickeness did not overthrow the ‘sinner' (him) – he whistles for his horse and presumably rides off happily into the sunset.

Reason rules!

Avid Reader said...

The film was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943 which probably explains the strong religious overtones in the movie.

Ever, DM

Pianoman said...

This fits the thesis!

A wicked man (Ben Wade) puts up a bold front, but an upright man (Dan Evans) gives thought to his ways.


Megan Zamprelly said...

I just saw the movie and all of your comments gave me a completely new insight into the film as I watched it. I agree that the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor should go to that wonderful piece of ruthlessness leading Wade’s recovery.