That seems to be the question this film is asking. Do you come from the lush, green, civilised East, or the harsh, dry West? Are you rich or poor? Are you Anglo-Saxon or Hispanic? Are you male or female? What values do you uphold? What do you fight for?
In previous films (A Place In The Sun, Shane) George Stevens examined different aspects of the American myth. In Giant he brings the story up-to-date by showing Texas in transition - from dusty cow country to industrialised oil fields.
I'd like to highlight some scenes which are particularly striking here. First, the funeral of Angel Obregon. I disagree completely that this scene is overlong: it is vital to the themes of the film. Angel was a poor young Hispanic whose life was saved as a baby because Lesley Benedict cared enough to help others less fortunate than herself. Growing to manhood Angel gives his life for his country and is buried with full military honours, his parents presented with "the flag of our nation, which he defended so valiantly". This sacrifice is still not enough to win acceptance for his people as American citizens, as we see at the end of the film. Bick's fistfight in the diner (with a racial bigot called 'Sarge', presumably trading on his war record to help his business) is *not* an anticlimax or 'tacked on'. As Lesley says, it marks the point where Bick stands up for the rights of others against the Sarges and Jett Rinks of the world, upholding the American ideal where "all men are created equal".
Other scenes are less weighty, even comic. Rock Hudson lies beside his huge swimming pool and says: "Here at Reata we live pretty much as we always have." Later there is a party by the pool which is self-consciously 'Western' with its square-dancing provided by musicians in stylised and colourful 'cowboy' costume - both idealising and parodying the past. Compare this with the barbecue Lesley endures when she first arrives in Texas, with its baked calf's head in a bed of mesquite coals.
The film is also about change and unpredictability. People and circumstances change, and nothing works out quite how you expect (especially when your son becomes a doctor and makes an inter-racial marriage). I believe this is a great film and it contains great performances. Certainly Rock Hudson never did anything better and James Dean showed us he was far more than just a frustrated teenager, he was an awesome actor who should have had a wonderful career. There is a real drag in the middle of the film where Jett disppears and we get bogged down in Benedict family life, the drama of the film just dies.
In some ways James Dean's very presence obscures the true nature of the film as a whole. This isn't a 'James Dean film' (like 'Eden' and 'Rebel') it is much bigger and, in the issues and themes it addresses, more important.
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