First Cow (2019) - full transcript

A skilled cook has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant also seeking his fortune. Soon the two collaborate on a successful business.

Hey! Leave it.

Leave it. Leave it.

Who's there?


I want some of that
buffalo steak for breakfast,

the fried cakes.

Finished all that back
at Colter's Hell.

How about that soda bread?

There's none of that
left either, I'm afraid.

You find anything
out there tonight?

Uh, mushrooms,

digger squirrel.

I had the squirrel,
but it got away.

Well, what's in the larder?

10 dry biscuits,
some jerky, salt.

Nothing else?


It's the Cookie's job
to improvise.

This is a land of abundance,
Mr. Figowitz,

and you are charged
with finding our vittles

until we reach Fort Tillikum.

- Hold up there, mister.
- You understand that, I'm sure.

Share the wealth!

He's drinking more
than his share!

Ah, damn it! That's wasting it.


Sons of bitches!


You all right?


Your cook has retired
for the night?

I don't think so.

You could call him here
for a moment.

I'm the cook.

I see.

I've been walking
for a long time.

I might stay here awhile.


You speak good English

for an Indian.

Uh, I'm not Indian.

I'm Chinese.

I didn't know there were
Chinese in these parts.

Everyone is here.

We all want that soft gold.

That's why you're here,
isn't it?

Trapped our share.

What's your name?


That's what they call me.

- You?
- Otis Figowitz.

They call me Cookie.

Good to meet you.

There are, uh, some men
chasing me,


Have you seen them?

Why are men chasing you?

I... might have killed
one of their friends.

Chenamus, my friend.

They called him a thief,

and then gutted him
from neck to loin.

I had a pistol.

I took a shot.
I got one in the neck,

and he came after me,

and I ran.

What happened to your clothes?

I stuffed them
into hollow trees,

threw my gun
in a creek and, uh...

Come on.

You can sleep here.

When we find that whore son,

he'll never set foot
in this shit forest.

Okay, so what I'm hearing,
there's about two days...

At the most. At the most.

Midday? No.

It was then after midday
when we get there.

Move out! We got directions.

North and west to Fort Tillikum,

about two days journey.

Hit the river, head downstream,

downriver at every branch.


and there's a murderer
in the woods,

so stay close.

The Russians said the elk
are gone this time of year.

And what else
did that Russian say?

Said the company is paying
three silver ingots

for every beaver pelt,
two copper for every muskrat.

And there's beer at the fort.

And other things.

- And women?
- More than one.

Keep on down the river
from here one more day.

Hungry as hell.

Cookie, find me some food.

Eat your damn hand.
We'll be there tomorrow.

I want food tonight,

or I'm taking it out
on this one.

I'm sick of looking at this one.

Can't wait to be done with him.

Can't wait
to never see him again.

When you get
your cut at the fort,

I'll be waiting for you
outside the gates,

waiting for you
with your sack full of silver.

- Leave him alone!
- No. No!

Fancy boots, lad.

Fancy boots.

He said she'd be there
in about... in 6 months.

How much do you want for this?


- It's a deal.
- Oysters!

Clams! Oysters! Clams!

Five twists, six twists,
half off.

Those look like
Jean-Baptiste's boots!

I think...

I like how it looks.
That's all.

- You like a flare.
- I believe.

Five twists, six twists,
half off.

Six twists, half off.

Six twists, six twists.

Flowers... the flowers
are different shaped.

- Maybe it was bodies.
- Still clusters

I'm telling you, it was up
somewhere on Snake River.

- Don't know nothing.
- That's true.

- Your body knows more than your brain.
- Hold tight.

Then they start
hitting each other in the head.

I'm getting to that.

Then, they start hitting
each other

- with.
- Got the whole ship?

- We got two on the ship.
- No blocking.

He was under Ruby.
Lived as a slave up there

for 3 years before he got free.

How was it, being a slave?

He didn't like it.

Uh, whiskey please.

- How much?
- Two.

You know what
it's like in there.

No way of knowing.

That's what I saw.

I'm telling you,
it's the first one,

first cow in the Territory.

Shipped it all the way up
to Saint Francisco.

Saint Luis Obispo.

I heard Saint Francisco.

I spoke to the ferryman,

and he was the one
bringing the cow.

You need to ask
the Chief Factor about that.

Chief Factor ordered
two cows and a calf,

and that's a true story,

but the other ones
died on the way.

What good is one cow
to anyone?

Cow needs a stud.

Chief Factor wants milk
in his tea

like a proper English gentleman.

Like a proper lady.

This ain't a place for cows.

God would have put cows here
if it was.

Ah, it's no place for
white men either then, huh?

Well, look who's here.

Brilliant William!

I need a few sunbeams, William.

Can you gather me up
a dozen sunbeams?

They're on the ground
just laying around everywhere.

- Any old beams will do.
- I'll have a beer.

Here's a question.

What does a tongue taste like?

Do you ever think about that?

I bet you have
some distinct opinions

about what your tongue
tastes like.

Am I right, William?

Oh, traders all...

Whatcha saying there,
Brilliant William?

Something brilliant ain't bad.

He's always good
for some clever opinions.

What's the difference
between a river and a lake?

You figure that one out yet?


I'm not bothering him.

I'm just asking him
an honest question.

What about the chicken
and the egg?

He knew for sure
it was a chicken

until he thought about it
from the egg's point of view.

That one really hurt
your old noggin.

Didn't it, William?

Yep. Yep.
I think that's how you got

this crack in your brain bone.

Willy, better do something,
or your head is going to blow.

You, watch him 'til I'm done.

Make some proper money, eh?

Coo, coo.

Coo, coo, coo.

Coo. Coo, coo, coo.

Hello, Cookie.

Thought I might find you
here sooner or later.

I never thought
I'd ever see you again.

I was lucky.

Those, uh, Russian villains,

they left the country
just after I left you.

Well, here I am,

free and easy,
right back where I was.

Uh, where are
all your kind friends?

Oh, they mostly went south,
some north.

But not you.

Not yet.

No one would have me.

And, uh, where are you
staying in the meantime?

I got a tent a mile that way,

uh, other side of the hill.

I've got a place
a mile thataway.

Mm, I've got
a bottle there, too.


Maybe you'd, uh,
like to come help me drink it.

Uh, of course, I would, but...

Oh. Well, leave him.

He's fine.

He's fine.

Well, you wait here.

All right?

Your daddy will be back soon.

- Damn it, James!
- Well, I put it there.

I've been in these parts
close to two years now.

I've thought about leaving
more than once,

but I sense opportunity here.

Ships coming in
and out every week.

More raw materials
than anywhere I've seen,

and I've been all over.

You've been everywhere.

I caught my first trade ship
to Canton when I was nine.

From there, I sailed to London,

Africa, saw the pyramids.

This is a land of riches,
I tell you.

I see something in this land
I haven't seen before.

Pretty much everywhere
has been touched by now.

But this is still new,

more nameless things around here

than you can shake an eel at.

Doesn't seem new to me,
seems old.


Everything is old
if you look at it that way.

History isn't here yet.

It's coming, but we got here
early this time.

Maybe this time,
we can be ready for it.

We can take it on our own terms.

It's not much to look at,
I know.

Here's to... something.

You make yourself easy.
I'll get a fire going.

Looks better already.

Relax. Sit. Sit.

Where are you from, Cookie?


- Hm, never been.
- Hmm...

It's fine.

I don't remember it much.

Not fine enough to stay, huh?

My mother died
when I was born,

and then my father died.

I had to move on to find work.

Well... I never stopped moving.

I had an idea once.
Furs are one thing,

but there's a precious oil
in the beavers, too.

That's worth something in China.

They use it for medicine
over there.

If a man could take a batch
of that precious beaver oil

on a ship to Canton,
he could make his fortune.

Why don't you?

Eh, oil is in the glands.

Glands never make it back
to the fort,

just rot away in the woods.

Anyway, I don't have
contacts in Canton.

I'm from the north.

They hate a Northerner there.

Worse than a white man to them.

What I'd really like is a farm.

Land south of here is wide-open.

The world wants filberts.

Or walnuts.

Or almonds.

Something you can
pick up and send,

but you can't just grow a tree.

It takes time.

It's the getting started
that's the puzzle.

No way for a poor man to start.

You need capital,

or you need
some kind of miracle.

You need leverage.

Or a crime.

I'd like to open
a hotel someday,

a place for travelers.

Or a bakery.

That's nice.

A hotel and a bakery,

with wild-huckleberry pies.

You could do that here.

Someplace warmer.

It has holes in it,

and it looks like
the face of a man.

It's just one black rock.

That's a weather stone.

It makes rain, they say.

They say it was
a powerful spirit once

and got turned into stone.

If anyone sits on it, it rains.

You really believe in that?

Uh... eh.

I believe different things
in different places.

Saw a cow today.


It wasn't far from
Chief Factor's house.

- In a meadow.
- Hm.

- I'd like some of that milk.
- I-I'm not a milk drinker.

It doesn't agree with me.

I wouldn't drink it.

I'd use it for cookies.

Or scones.

Nothing better
than buttermilk biscuits.

I'm tired of
this flour-and-water bread.

What else do you need
to make good biscuits, Cookie?

Oh, flour, some sugar,

salt, baking soda.

How long does it take
to milk a cow?

Not long.

- Make much noise?
- No.

Can cows give milk at night?

As long as she wasn't milked
after dinner.

I'll go up and keep an eye
on things from here.

Give me a lift.

If I see anything,
I'll, uh, give a call.

- All right.
- I'll do an owl.

I don't think
you can get up there.


How are you?

Didn't expect company
this late at night, did you?

Well, here we are.

Sorry about your husband.

I heard he didn't make it
all the way.

And your calf...

it's a terrible thing. Terrible.

But you got a nice place here.
You do.

You got a real nice
little place here, don't you?

How much do you think
someone would pay

for a biscuit like that?

I wish we had some honey.

A glass of whiskey
is two silver coins.

A pickle is three.

Men work out in the fort,

loaded with silver and shells
and company script.

I once saw a man spend
five good beaver pelts

on a broken fork.

I think we should
test the waters.

Next batch, Cookie,
we'll take to market.

I've heard a fortune
is made on this.

That seems dangerous.

So is anything worth doing.

I think they'd like
something sweeter.

Five twists,
six twists half off.

Six twists, half off.
Six twists, six twists.

Fresh Oily Cakes.

Best this side
of the Sandwich Islands.

Don't look like hardtack.
Or soda bread.

Look like some
kind of pancake.

It smells good. What's in it?

Secret ingredient.
Ancient Chinese secret.

How much?

Uh, five ingots
or the equal in trade.


Good lord! Give me another.

- That's 11, all right.
- Mmm.

I'll give you six ingots
for that last one.

Uh-uh. Mm, mm.

- Seven shells.
- Come on.

- Seven shells, one ingot.
- Wait, lads. Hold on.

Oily cake to this gentleman.

We'll have more tomorrow.

Made some oily cakes
with your milk.

They were very good.

Couldn't sell them fast enough.

A little honey, um,

or it was your milk
in the batter that did it.

Yeah, yeah.

What a good, sweet girl you are.

Hold my place.
I'll be right back.

- No cuts allowed.
- I was here.

He was saving my spot.

One is the limit.

I heard it from
the Chinaman himself.

First come,
first served, friends.

You ought to make
more next time.

Only so many
we can make in a day, friend.

They want
to keep them prices up.

They're not dumb.

Damn it.
What's in these things?

Tastes like something
my mama made.

That's our secret, boys.

Think of it
as a little taste of home.

We'll have more tomorrow.

Could buy an acre
in California for that.

It's a start, all right.

It won't last
much longer, though.

They'll get tired of it,

and there will be more
milk cows here soon.

We got a window here, Cookie.

This is too much
to keep in the house.

We need a bank.

What about the cottonwood tree?

There's a good hole in that.


Which side of the tree
has the most branches?

- Huh?
- The outside.


Hold one out today.

Chief Factor wants one.

He'll be here soon.

Don't you have work to do?

I don't need two shadows, do I?

Get busy.

Look alive, son.

I'm saving mine for later.

No one is giving him
50 shells.

That ain't worth 50 shells.

I've heard about your cakes.
I'd like to try one if I may.

How much?

For you, only 10 silver pieces.

A little cinnamon is nice.

I taste London in this cake.

A bakery I once knew
in South Kensington.


Where did you learn to do that?

I was indentured
to a baker in Boston, sir.

He taught me the trade.

- He was a good baker.
- Indeed, he was.

What was his name?

Barnaby Rose.

Never heard of him,

but I commend you, sir,

on these delicious
baked comestibles.

I hope you won't
be leaving too soon.

We have no plans.

Very, very good.

Hotel in Saint Francisco

is harder, more competition.

Eh, but more opportunity, too,

more people coming through.

If it's good idea,

we'll have enough
to go there soon.

We have enough to go now.

Enough to go
but not enough to start.



Another cup is
another dozen cakes.

That's another 60 silver pieces
at least.


Good evening.

Back again.

I-I'm entertaining, uh,
a small group next week.

Captain Ruby is coming for tea,

and I'm tired of all his jests

about the savagery
of life on the frontier.

Tell me.

Do you know what a clafoutis is?

- I do.
- Hmm...

And could you make one,
a-a good one?

He loves a clafoutis,
and, well, I...

I'd like to humiliate him.

Well, without fresh
raspberries or apricots,

I'm not sure.

Have you tried bilberry?

It's out of season, I believe.

We have plenty of blueberries
on the bush.

I-I would pay you handsomely

for a proper
blueberry clafoutis.

It's a simple enough recipe.

If blueberry is available,
I'm sure I can make one.


Saturday, then, a clafoutis,

and we'll be dining
at my residence.

You know its whereabouts?

Uh, uh, I think
I've passed by it

or I know of it.


The hotels in
Saint Francisco are grand.

We can't compete on that scale,

and regular travelers
need shelter, too.

A room with a bed, that's all,

a few rooms near the sea.

This is a dangerous game
we're playing here,

and Chief Factor
has a delicate palate.

He'll taste his milk
in there eventually.

We can't say no.

He'd be suspicious.

Where does he think
the milk is coming from?

Some people can't imagine
being stolen from.

Too strong.

Let's hope he's one of those.

How much will we charge, 20, 25?

That sounds like quite
a situation indeed,

and in the end, how...
How many lashes did you order?


A fine number, but for mutiny...

It was a memorable day
for that man.

it seems conservative.

More than 20 and
he would have been useless

for the remainder of the voyage.

- And he was a young hand?
- Mm, not so young.


Here is the rub, you see.

When one factors the loss of
labor from the punished hand

versus the gain of labor

from those hands
who witness the punishment,

a stricter punishment
can be the more advisable path.

Even a properly-rendered death

can be useful
in the ultimate accounting.

It is a highly-motivating
spectacle for the indolent,

let alone the mutinous.

Yes, fair enough, but...

some calculations
can never truly be made.

Now, there you
are wrong, Captain.

Any question that cannot

be calculated
is not worth the asking.

Ah. Here is our baker.

Uh, bring the clafoutis
in... in here, Cookie.

Show the captain.

Indeed, it is
a fine-looking cake, Mister...


And what brought you to the
Oregon Territory, Mr. Figowitz?

Oh, chance.

I hired on
with a trapping company.

- Ah, Ashley's men.
- No, a lesser crew.

They're trapping out
the whole map.

There won't be any pelts here
much longer.

I disagree.
The beaver here are endless.

Smart animals, the beaver.

When I got here,
the beaver were everywhere,

whole cities of beaver

living like people
in row houses in New York.

Well, in any case,

the fashions are changing
in Paris.

The beaver hat is on the wane.

The... The Chinese market
remains strong.

Beaver will always find a home.

It is too beautiful, too supple.

Hmm. Mm.


Wh-What he's saying is
that the men in Paris

favor new hats this season.

They no longer want beaver fur.

But... But I'm saying to him

that the beaver here
will last forever.

He's saying
he doesn't understand

why the white men
hunt so much beaver

and never eat the tail.

- The tail is delicious.
- Huh.

Well, maybe I will.

I'm sick to death
of salmon already.

You can tell him that.

Ah, here we are.

Chinese black tea, very subtle.

Uh, cream?

Enjoy the cream, Captain.

My cow gives so little.

She's a lonely girl, I fear.

- You have a cow?
- Yes. She's only been here

for a month or so,
sans husband, I'm afraid.

I'm hoping to find her
a mate within the year.

Would you like to see her?

Let... Let's take a walk.

Shall we?

Tell me, Captain,

what are the fashions in Paris
this year?


The ladies are moving away from
the Empire silhouette this year.

They're favoring fuller skirts
and, uh, visible corseting.

For the men, broad shoulders
and puffed sleeves,

trousers for smart day wear,

britches and cordon
in the country.

As for colors, canary yellow
and turkey red

are the colors du jour.

History moves so quickly
in Paris.

So quickly,
it wears itself out.

It never reaches here at all.

She seems well enough.


And yet she barely
produces a thing.

- What's her provenance?
- Oh, she's of a good line,

half Alderney
and half from Froment du Leon

from the province of Brittany.

She's a very fine cow.

Froment du Leon
from the province of Brittany.

The cow has got
better breeding than I do.

A royal cow.

Maybe we should halt
for a while.

I think the Captain
sensed something.

Hm. Now is our time.

Another cow is on the way.
And more cows after that.

- And Chief Factor is...
- Is a fool.

He misses everything
right under his nose.

Paris this, London that.

What kind of woman is he?

Men like us, Cookie,
we have to make our own way.

There are no Empire silhouettes
or colors du jour for us.

We have to take what we can
when the taking is good.

I know.

We'll sell a little longer,

and then we'll make
our way south.

We haven't even begun, Cookie.

Psst, psst, psst, psst, psst!

Come on back.

Come on back, you stupid cat!

Inside, before you get me
in trouble.


Are you all right?


- Can you move?
- Yeah. Yeah.

We got to go.

Someone in the meadow!

- What?
- Attackers all around!

- What?
- I woke the house! Get dressed.


God's sake, Thomas!

You there!

It would appear that someone
has been milking your cow.

Figowitz, the Chinaman.


No, no. Not home.

Which way?

The deer path is up
back up over there,

- but the river path is...
- Stealing my milk.

I'll kill him!

Shh! Do you hear that?

What's that? What's that?

There's one
crossing the river, sir!

We'll overtake him on foot!

Use the path downriver!

Lloyd, you hurry on,
and we'll... we'll follow!

Yes, sir!



I-Is this your canoe?
I need to go downriver.




I need to find my friend.

And also know where I am.

- Not even northwest.
- Ah, over here?

- He's probably got a mustache.
- Huh?

Aye, Johnny Hart.


The home is totally
abandoned, that one.

Heart, heart like
a red beating heart?

No, like,
uh, Hart like a deer.


Jon Hart...

a cheater by any spelling.

I've skunked him
every game, regardless.

He's not a worthy opponent.

He prefers to discard
just one card to the crib.

- One card?
- Aye. Abysmal.

It's an archaic rule,

but he prefers the old ways.


The guy a poor adversary is on
John Suckling's noble game.

Cribbage players are in
short supply in this hemisphere.


I've suffered for it daily.

Thought you were gone.

I thought you were

You're hurt?


It's not good here, Cookie.

It's not safe.

We have to go.

Get away from here.

We'll tell our stories later.

That's quite a scratch
on your head.

We'll clean it when we rest.

How about that?

There's a port
at the mouth of the river.

We will go downstream and
catch the first clipper south.

How about that?

Why is a baker like a beggar?


They both need bread.

You'll make it.

You just need
to stay on your feet.

This is, uh,
a good place to rest.

No one can see us here.

You lie there on the needles,

and I'll keep first watch.

We'll go soon.

I've got you.