Meek's Cutoff (2010) - full transcript

The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon team of three families has hired the mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a short cut, Meek leads the group on an unmarked path across the high plain desert, only to become lost in the dry rock and sage. Over the coming days, the emigrants must face the scourges of hunger, thirst and their own lack of faith in each other's instincts for survival. When a Native American wanderer crosses their path, the emigrants are torn between their trust in a guide who has proven himself unreliable and a man who has always been seen as the natural enemy.

[Water Running]

[Bird Chirping]

[Man Talking, Faint]



[Scraping Continues]


[Crickets Chirping]

"In the sweat of thy face
shalt thou eat bread...

till thou return
unto the ground,

for out of it
was thou taken,
for dust thou art,

and unto dust
shalt thou return.

And Adam called
his wife's name Eve,

because she was
the mother of all living.

Wish we had eggs.
Unto Adam, also
and unto his wife...

did the Lord God
make coats of skins
and clothed them.

And the Lord God said,
I don't remember what eggs are.

The man is become
as one of us,
to know good and evil,

and now, lest he
put forth his hand
and also take,

and take also
of the tree of life,
and eat, and live forever.'

Therefore, the Lord God
sent him forth from
the Garden of Eden,

to till the ground
from whence
that he was taken.

So he drove out the man
and he placed him at the
east of the Garden of Eden,

cherubim and a flaming sword
which turned every way,

to keep the way
of the tree of life."



Step up.



William. William.

[Man] He managed
to hightail it in there
just as fast as he could.

Figured he'd wait out
the storm.

But when he got inside,

it turned out there was
a big ol' grizzly bear
sleeping in there!

Joe faced himself
a dilemma.

Sure death outside...

and sure death inside.

- Well, what did he do?
- OI' Joe, he took
the quicker route.

He pulled out his gun,
he took a shot at the bear,

but it just made him mad!

She come at him,
claws a-swipin'
and teeth a-snappin',

and somehow—
somehowJoe managed
to get himself...

up on the back side
of the bear,

and he rolled
around the cave
like a buckin' bull!

And she took his scalp
clean off...

on the roof of the cave
that day.

But you know what?

He ate her in the end.


And ever since then...

he's worn his hair long.

You know why?

In deference
to the squeamish.

It was quite a fight, son.
It was quite a fight.

But there's no bears here!

Hell's full of bears, Jimmy.

But there's no bears here.

[Men Conversing, Faint]

What are they
talking about?

Were you told?

Your husband didn't say?

Not this time.

They're talking about
whether to hang Stephen Meek.

Gately argued that Meek...

has taken us off track
on purpose,

that he was hired...

to get rid
ofAmerican immigrants.

So the more of us come,
the more likely
the territory goes American.

It has a logic.

I suppose.

A broken one.

Mr. White wasn't swayed either.
He argued for more patience.

"We're at
the man's mercy now,"
he said.

"Meek's just
made a mistake is all.
He's just in over his head."

And then what?

We were just
getting into it again
when Meek himself showed up.

He'd been hiding above us
up there in the rocks
the whole time.

So that's where he was.

He strutted into the circle
with his gun in his hand.

"Well, you've found me," he said.
"Now go ahead with the killin'."

Everybody got real quiet.
It shut everybody up.

Frank Gately
is happy enough to hang a man
so long as he's not around.


Well, Meek got to talkin'.

Of course he did.

He says that we are
in Paiute country now.

He says that the Paiutes
are a fearsome tribe,

that they're nothing
like the Flatheads
on the main stem.

If we trust him
to do his job,

well, then he welcomed
anyone to gainsay him.

about our route.
Nothing about it.

"Seen the elephant,"
my eye.

Two weeks, he said,
and we'd be in the pass.

It's been over five
and we haven't even
seen a mountain yet.


What was the verdict?

We give
a few more days.

We never should have
left the main stem.

[Crickets Chirping]

Good morning,

Workin' like niggers
once again.


Maybe we're back
on known ground.

Oh, he was

Everyone has
some luck sometimes.

[Wagon Wheels


[Squeaking Continues]

Come on.

[Emily's Husband]
Made 10 miles today.

I'd say this is
the best shelter we've had
since morning.

The wind's not gonna
be kind tonight.

[Man #1]
It's early yet.

[Emily's Husband]
We won't push too hard.

[Man #1]
I say we keep on.

The going is easy
in these parts,

and we should make
the most of this ground
while we can.

[Man #2]
Seems to be more shelter
up ahead.

Well, I'd be careful now.

This country'll
play tricks on you.

That piece you see out there
might be— [Swallows Water]

A whole lot farther
than you think.

Guarantee it.

How far
would you say?

I wouldn't say.
I just know it'll be
farther than I think.

The thinness of the air
makes everything look
closer than it is.

There could be water

Possible, I reckon.

I say we keep on.

I think
I would agree.

All right.
Keep moving.

[Wheels Squeaking]




[Horse Blustering]


Come ho.


Well, we'll have
to water the animals
from our own supply tonight.

Can't go without
after a day like this.

Should've taken on more
at the river.



You need to eat.
You've been working
all day.

I'm fine for now.


Good evening,
Mrs. Tetherow.
Mr. White.

Uh, Glory, I brought
some bread to share.

That's much appreciated,

It's my pleasure.

I-I-I have stew too,
if you'd like it.

I know you would.


No, this is enough.
Thank you.


It's like my feet
have gloves,

like I can—
I can handle the ground
that I'm walking on.

I feel the sand.
I feel the dirt.
I feel the gravel.

I never slip. I never—
I don't— I never stumble.

I can follow
a trail in the dark
and never stray off the path.

I live with this world.
I'm not just in it,
is what I'm sayin'.

But to answer your question,
Gately, the beaver,
they're played out.

That's the truth.
That market's done and gone.

There's no fortune
to be had there anymore.
Your man Astor got it all.

[Man] We should have
made the trip earlier.
Waited too long.

No, you know, there—
there are plenty of fortunes
to be had.

I mean, the beaver, that's a—
That's just the first gift
of this land. You mark my words.

Will the territory
go American? That's
what I want to know.

Well, in my...
in my opinion, I-

Well, you know, it depends.

It depends on the fight...
in the Americans,

and in the English,
and in the Indians.

I'm led to believe
there's 250 Americans
in Oregon country.

There's seven more argonauts
comin' in a few weeks.
Maybe that'll tip the scales.

Where would you

Willamette Valley.

That's where my brotherJoe
put down stakes.

is taking hold there.

They got missionaries
in Champoeg.

Could have found God
in Virginia.

Well, if it's riches
you're after,
there's riches aplenty.

The land you're headed for
is a regular second Eden.

You won't want
for riches someday.

You'll just plunge your hands
into the ground.

Come to bed.


That was my mother's.

I know.

It's only weight now.

[Glass Shatters]


[Wagon Approaching]

He's gone.
I'm telling you.

He's abandoned us.
He'll move faster alone.
It's what I'd do.

No, it's not
what you'd do.

He saw the writing.

How much water
you reckon?

Two days, maybe three.

Ah. He's gone by now.

He's gone by now.

There we are.



Water ahead!

[Wagon Approaching]

It's alkaline!

It's alkaline.

Whoa. Whoa.

[Horse Blusters]

It's alkaline.

Can't water here.

Not even the animals.

Well, then?

What now?

we skirt around.

Go south
till we make it around.

How far is it around?

Well, we'll find out.

Shouldn't be too far.
The maps I've seen
don't record much of this.



We're not going
farther south.

Well, we can't keep west
unless you brought oars.

We're heading

Meet back
with the main stem
if we have to.

There's scarce grass
and water up north.

South is the best bet.

[Solomon Chuckling]
Well, there's nothing
where we came from either,

and there's nothing ahead,
so I'm saying north.

We'll move closer
to the Columbia.

That way
we can rejoin
the communication.

I— I see your thinking.

How many days
to the Columbia
from hereabouts?

Well, too many.

West is the goal.
The sooner we get moving
west, the better.

The quickest way west,
by my reckoning—


Mr. Gately,
do you have an opinion?

I think north too.

Well, I'm advising against that.

Now, I've been all through
this country, more or less.

By God, you contracted me
to get you to the Valley.
I will.

We understand that, Mr. Meek.
We understand.

But you work for us, Mr. Meek.
You'll be paid.

Just, uh,
we're not going around.
We're going north.

[Bridle Rattling]
Suit yourselves.

We'll do what we do.

Two shots if we find water.

[Men Clicking Tongues]



[Gasping, Panting]

Mrs. Tetherow,
look what we found!

What is it,



So he wore clothes?


Yes, some.

Paint on his face?


Uh, yes.

Was he carryin' a weapon?
A knife or a bow?

Uh... no.

No, I don't think so.

I'm not sure.
I was upset.

He-He had a— a scar
on his shoulder though.

Well, if he wore clothes,
he's no Digger.

They're hardly
more than animals.

We're too far south
for that anyway.
Might be Paiute.

Could be Nez Perce.

He could be Cayuse.
They're from the north.

It's far west for Blackfoot,
but that's possible.

And what does that mean?
[Meek Chuckles]

go help your mother.

Well, frankly, I'm amazed.

Mrs. Tetherow
saw this redskin
and lived to tell the tale.

I mean, you rarely see
hide nor hair of a hostile...

till he justjumps you
and cuts your throat.

They can disappear
in their own shadow.

They can hide under a wolf skin
so quiet, you step on 'em
before you know it.

And where one redskin is,
there's a dozen more
just lurkin' nearby.

And they're all armed by now.

And sometimes...

I mean, sometimes they wait
till they're fired on,
but most of ten they don't.

When they come
on a woman,

they kill her.

I mean, they'd never dream
of sparin' a woman.

So I'm guessin'
it's Cayuse.

On a horse
this far north.

I mean, they roam
all over the basin here,
all the way down to Mexico.

They pick up slaves
from the Klamaths.
They sell' em at Celilo.

We'll find out presently,
I reckon.

No fires tonight.

And double watch.

[Thomas] Dandy.

Hell's full of Indians,
my friends.

You were lucky tonight,

Don't want a blanket.

Don't make it worse.

Cold is the least
of my troubles.


It's only a few days north
to the Columbia
by my reckoning.

I been keepin' notes.

What if we don't
find water soon?
We will.

Your optimism.

I'm sorry.

Is he ignorant,

or is he
just plain evil?

That's my quandary.
It's impossible to know.

We can't know.

That's very comforting,
Mr. Tetherow.


we made our decision.

This is all gonna be
a bad dream soon.

It's gonna be
a story to tell.

I don't blame him
for not knowing.

I blame him
for saying he did.

That fool.

[Footsteps Outside]


Dry breakfast?

Might as well eat the dust.


Fine morning.

I'd like to know how.

Well, not too hot.
Plus smooth ground.
Could be a piece worse.

It's not today
that's weighing on me.

We'll follow
the land downhill.

The water's more likely
in the lower places.
[Solomon] That's fine.

[Wagon Wheels Squeaking]

Stay with us.

Broken axle.

I'm gonna bring
this wheel off.
All right.

[Grunts, Sighs]


Are those
our mountains,
Mr. Meek?

Oh, no. No, no.

We'll know
our mountains, Jimmy.

Hell's full of mountains.
Those aren't them.

What are they?

Well, they...

They're nameless,
I suppose.

We'll call 'em
Jimmy's Mountains.
What do you say to that?

I suppose so.

Jimmy's Mountains.

We get to
the Willamette Valley,

I'll tell
the cartographers.

We'll print it on the map.


I don't know,
Mr. Meek.

[Belches Quietly]

You never womaned, Mr. Meek?

Indeed I have.

Numerous times.

Squaws in these parts
start lookin' mighty white
after 20 years' time.

Oh, dear.

Sometimes I get the sense
you don't care for me much,
Mrs. Tetherow.

Oh, I have no feelings
one way or the other, Mr. Meek.

That's... [Chuckles]
That's just a kind way
of saying you don't like me.

I don't like where we are.

So, that's what you think,
that we're lost?

I'd say that seems
about the right word for it.
We're not lost.

We're not lost.
We're just finding our way.

I certainly hope so.

We gonna make all right.

Oh, you don't need to
patronize me, Mr. Meek.

Well, now I think you're
flirtin' with me, ma'am.

You don't know much
about women, do you,
Stephen Meek?

Why, I-I know...
somethin' or other.

[Sarcastic Giggle]
If you say so.

Well, I know women
are different from men.
I know that much.

I'll tell you the difference,
if you care to hear it.

[Emily Chuckles]
I don't doubt you will.


Women are created
on the principle of chaos-

the chaos of creation,
disorder, bringin' new things
into the world.

Men are created
on the principle
of destruction.

It's like cleansing,
ordering destruction.

You think I'm wrong,
you can tell me.

Chaos and destruction.
Those two genders
are always at it.

Chaos and destruction.

Well, I don't know.

I have to think about it.


Jimmy, I told you
not to wander.

I wasn't wandering,

- Ma, I—
- You were wandering.

If you wander again,
your father will tan you.

You found this?

Just down the gully.
There's lots.

More? How much more?

Enough to fill this bucket
more times than I can count.

Jimmy, you know
about exaggerating.

It's the neighbor
to a lie.




It's real, all right.

Válgame Dios.

The Lord has his plan,
I'd say.

Brought us here
by dark design.



let's get this done.

You can't drink gold.

Some timing.

[Wolf Whistle]

[Wagon Wheels

Am I right in understandin'...

that you
and Mrs. Tetherow
was recently hitched?

That's right.

Took you a while
to get settled down,
I'd say.

Must have
grown accustomed
to your freedom.

I was settled before.
She passed away.

I'm sorry to hear that.

You're a lucky man though.

Found yourself
a nice, young woman-

Jimmy, where are you?

Where are you?
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

I saw him!
I saw the Indian!

The one with the scar!
Which way, exactly?

Mr. Meek.
How far gone?

Not a quarter-mile.

And he saw you?
Oh, yes.

Good boy.

Jimmy! Come here!
You mustn't wander off.

Keep on this path north.
I'll be back when I got him.


I'll be back.

I'll be back!

Well, you heard them.

We'll keep moving.

They haven't been long.

It's not been long,


What's wrong, Sylvie?


Come here.


"Behold, him that
keepeth Israel shall
neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper.
The Lord is thy shade
upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not
smite thee."

[Sylvie Continues

[William Continues
Reading, Indistinct]

"The Lord is thy keeper.
The Lord is thy shade
upon thy right hand.

The sun
shall not smite thee."

[Continues Reading,


He's a quick one.

Might have gotten away
if it hadn't been
for Meek's eye.

Horse got away

Now, I know my word
isn't worth much
in these parts,

but in this case
I'm just as sure as sundown
we kill him now.

What do you think,

You brought him
for a reason.

He's from these parts.

He's healthy.

He knows where the water is.

That's my reasoning.

He's barely clothed.

He'd just as soon
die with us.

They don't think of life
the way we do.

That's documented fact.

I think we need him.

I don't like it,
but I see your logic.

Oh, my,
don't this beat all.

You know what I've seen
his heathen's brothers do?

Strip the flesh
clean off a man
while he's still breathin'.

I've seen 'em
cut a man's eyelids off...

and bury him
in the sand...

and leave him
just starin' at the sun.

You can feed 'em.
You can treat 'em to the
best fixings in your lodge.

They'll turn around— Boom!
Steal your horses.

We've come to
a terrible place.

What do you think?

We need water.
That much I know.

Yeah. I don't see
any other way.

Can't say I do either.

Well, let's take a vote.
Who says we keep him?


Got some pumpkins.

[Thomas] How do we get
our meaning across?
[Solomon] Hell if I know.


Where's water?
Do you know water?

[William] He doesn't
know the word "water."

Where's water?
Here. Drink. Drink.


He doesn't understand.

You know the word "water,"
you dumb son of a bitch!

[Speaking Native Language]

That's right, you mongrel.

Mr. Meek!
[Solomon] Get away.

You have no idea
what you're dealing with.

It ain't Main Street.

It ain't
the village green.




One now, for you.

One later.

Water. Us?




[Speaking Native Language]

That there is
the law of the land,
Mr. Meek.



I'll take
first watch.

That's fine.


Excuse me.

[Indian Speaking
Native Language]

[Meek] Blue Mountains
out that way, eventually.

His country.
About what you'd expect.

Native Language]

[Native Language]

He's a killer, ma'am.

Don't get too close.



Well, everything
the steers have is
one less thing for us.

Mr. Tetherow?

Yes, ma'am.

How much further
by your calculation?

Well, it's hard to say,
you know.

It's doubtful it's more
than a day's journey
from here.

The Indian, he wasn't
carrying anything,
so he can't have come far.

So we'll find water today.

It would be a day alone.

For us,
it could be today.
It could be tomorrow.


[Scraping Continues]

What are you doing, Emily?

I'm going to fix his boot.

You shouldn't.

Well, I don't like it
any more than you do.

But I want him
to owe me something.


[Scraping Continues]

It's a pin.

[Indian Speaks
Native Language]

For sewing.

That's nothing.

You can't even imagine
what we've done.

The cities we've built.

Oh, God, the stench.

[Insects Buzzing]

Hold on. Let me finish.


How far
do we have to go?

How far do we have to go?

How long?

A man-child.

How's your friend?


About the same
as the rest of us, I'd say.

Thirsty, hungry.

I was just onto telling
Mr. Gately here about the time...

I surprised
a band of Blackfeet...

down by the headwaters
of the Missouri.

It was quite a day.

See, our group was armed,

and theirs wasn't.

We pulled up, and they
all just dove into the water.

We lay there on the bank...

and shot 'em
when they come up for air.

Passed the whole afternoon
that way.

Just ducking
and diving and shooting.

It was a good ol' time.

Is this meant to bring me
over to something?
No, ma'am.

And I don't excuse
what we did there that day.

You know, playing games
with those men's lives.

I don't paint myself
as anything but a sinner.

But your friend there-

He's worse than a sinner
'cause he don't even know
he's sinning.

It's the Cayuse
we're talking about-
"The People of the Stones."

Even Indians despise these Indians.

They're slave traders.
They're welchers.
It's even worse.

Well, you could go
your own way anytime,
Mr. Meek.

Stephen Meek
does not shirk a fight.

If there's blood to be shed,
I'll be there.

I'll put in my share.

That's all I see.

[White Family]
♪ Nearer to Thee ♪

♪ Even though it be a cross ♪

♪ That raiseth me ♪

♪ Still, all my song shall be ♪

♪ Nearer, my God, to Thee ♪

♪ Nearer to Thee ♪

♪ Though
like the wanderer ♪♪

[Woman Whimpers]
Millie, stay back.

Mr. Gately.
Mr. Gately, what is it?

Mr. White, give me a hand.

[Millie Whimpering]
Here. Here.

Oh, my God,
I knew it.


[Millie Whimpers]

Oh. Look at this.

Here. This is what Millie
saw him leaving behind earlier.

[Speaks Native Language]
She saw this tonight
and she came out.

What is it?

We caught him
signaling to someone,
leaving word behind.

I caught him myself.
Look at this. Look at this.

It means something.
He's been making them
every step of the way.

- What does it mean?
- [Thomas]
Hell if I know.

But it means something
to somebody.

[Speaks Native Language]

It's a message.
Just look at it.

This is nothing. This is religion.

It's how they pray
to their gods.
[Thomas] No, it's a signal.

They're out there
looking for him, his kin,

and he's leading them
right along.

Open your eyes, Solomon.
God knows where
he's taking us.

He's been walking
up the ridges as if he's
looking for someone.

they're coming around.
After all we've done?

God knows what mischief
he's made already.

Millie, quiet down.

Let's hang him
from the wagon tongues tonight.

It's better late than never.

That's a message.

This is nothing.

There's no one out there.

They'd have
made themselves known by now.

Go back to bed.

This will all look different
in the light of day.

It's on your head,

That's fine.
Give it another day.

[Meek] Well, we'll get
that blanket of yours back
one way or another, friend.

Come ha. Come ha.

Come ha.

Come ha. Come ha.

It's a sign!

A sign! A sign!

Calm down, Millie.

They made it.

giving him orders!
It's nothing.

You'll see.
Step up.

We'll all see.
Come on.
Calm down.

Step up!

Please, Thomas.
Step up.

Please, I wanna go home.
Step up.

I wanna go home.
Step up.

[Speaking Native Language]

Whoa! Whoa!

[Native Language Continues]

What's he saying?
[Meek] Well, who knows?

He's saying we're close.
He's saying—

He's saying,
"Just over the hill.
Just over there."

It's a steep grade.

Can the wagons make it?

I don't see much choice.

Well, someone
could go on ahead.

It can't be far now.

They could come back
and let us know what's ahead.

No. We're together.

We're- We're all
in this the same.

Yeah, up to our necks.

We can make it all right.

Just go one wagon at a time.

[Wheels Clattering]

Tighten up.


Don't put yourself out, boy.

Go find some shade.
We'll come find you
when we're done.

All right.
Get back up.

[Horse Whinnies]


Ma, make some room
in the wagon.

We'll be needing
to take on some weight.
We'll make room too.

That's mighty white of you.
This was his plan all along.

It's just what he wanted.
calm down, please.

They're coming.

They're almost here!
Millie, calm down.

We'll make the crossing,

and on the other side,
we'll start fresh.

All you need is your-

All you need
is your strong back.

What's in this?

Yeah, we use that.

Hey! Hey!
Put that down!

That don't belong to you!

Have some respect!

Hey! I said
put that down, heathen!

I'm warning you. If you
don't put that down right now,
you're gonna be mighty sorry.

What does it matter? Just let him be.

Well, it's the principle
of the matter.

All right, that's it.
That's it.

You've taken us
just about as far
as you need to go.

End this game right now.

Put it away, Meek.
There's no need.

Oh, I see a need.

Well, you— so you got
some feeling in you after all.

I'd be wary.

[Hammer Cocks]


You people got no idea
what you're dealing
with here.

Well, neither do you, Mr. Meek.
You've proved that amply by now.

It seems like your woman
got some Indian blood in her,
Mr. Tetherow.

She's got something, all right.

Yeah, you think
this heathen's
as good as his word.

You got no idea
what he's fixing to do.
It could be—

Who knows
what's over that hill?

Could be water.

Could be an army
of heathens.

Could be.

Well, maybe you'd
like to wager.

Water or blood.

I'll leave the wagering
to men like you.

Don't think
you ain't wagering.

And you don't even know
what cards you got.

That's some pumpkins.

You a lucky savage, boy.

You got
a guardian angel here.

All in good time.

All in good time
the cards are gonna fall.

They're gonna fall real soon.

[Horse Whinnying]

[Coyote Howls]

Thank you.

Heavenly Father,
we thank you for this food...

and for the many mercies
you have blessed us with.

We ask that you continue
to protect us
on ourjourney...

and guide us
as it is thy will.

In Christ's name. Amen.


[Glory] I'm just thinking
of my father's pigs
back home.

All safe and warm
in their pens.


[Laughter Continues]



Oh, William, thank you.

What do you see out there?

Hard to say.

No, there's no saying,
is there?

Do you think
he's trustworthy?

The Indian?

I can't... say as I do.

I trust you is all.

But you're putting
your trust in him.

You're doubtful.

I have my doubts.

What are you thinking,


I just hope Meek hasn't
twisted you up, is all.



Whoa! Whoa!

Whoa, whoa!

[Speaking, Indistinct]

He won't drink.
I've tried every day,
but he refuses.

I don't know what to do.

Please. Please.

My darling, I know.

I know.

[Breathing Heavy]

I know,
I know, I know.

I know.

We're close, friend.
Stay with us.

You stay with us.

Please, please drink,
my darling. Please.

Please, William.

Drink some more.
Please, William.

Mrs. White, we're gonna
have to make some
more room in the wagon.

Of course.

stay with your father.

Oh, William.

Drink. There you go.

[Indian Speaking
Native Language]

[Native Language Continues]

[Chanting In Native Language]

[Chanting Stops]

[Wheels Clattering]

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!

Whoa! Whoa!

Mama, a tree can't live
without water. Can it?

Thomas, we can still go back.
We can try for the Columbia.

Millie, we're close.

That's just it. We're close,
but we don't know what to.

We've been through this.
We don't know, either way.

Thomas, please.
We still have a choice.

What about you, Mrs. White?

Which way
does your family prefer?

We stay the course.

We don't have a choice,
not that I see.


I'm taking my orders
from you now, Mr. Tetherow,

Mrs. Tetherow.

And we're all taking
our orders from him, I'd say.

We're all just
playing our parts now.

This was written
long before we got here.

I'm at your command.

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