When I first saw High Noon I somehow immediately connected to it. I must have been 13 years old. There was a growing disappointment in the eyes of Gary Cooper, his hanging arms, his walk, his skin and sweat soaked with tears of alcoholic hymns. I surely couldn’t understand why but when he kills all the bad guys in the end I felt that he had lost anyway. Something inside of him was killed instead. A fire. Now I understand better. I also sense that the reason for killing those guys is exactly that he had lost already. There was nothing to lose anymore.
Lost the star which he throws in the dirt of this soil that seems so far away, the dirt that is reflected in those avoided gazes of the people around him. It is the bitterness of a torn conviction buried under footsteps in the sand. Footsteps that will vanish when the rain comes. The tin star thrown to the ground in High Noon is one of those eternal shots in cinema and like the ending of Morocco, though in a completely different direction, it is the dust that keeps and hurts Gary Cooper. It is the dust that makes him disappear. He might be there but he is also gone. In High Noon there exists the body of someone who was betrayed by what he believed in most: Hearts and people, justice and the good.
The film shows many things you could believe in: Love, the church, marriage, friends, partners, guns, fear, justice. In the end a combination of fear, guns and love come to help Gary Cooper in the white despising, cold piety of someone called Grace. She needs – like so many – the sound of a gun to realize what is wrong. Her answer is an American one: She shoots back. So this Grace does what she does not believe in, thus saving the one who is betrayed by what he believed in. As far as shame goes, this is it.
There is a moving time in High Noon, one that gets closer. Instead aiming at a showdown the film is over once it is lunchtime. The showdown is just a coda like an escape out of frustration, it is the jump where nothing hurts anymore, the necessity to somehow go on. It is over when the showdown begins. There is a montage of almost frozen edginess at 12pm, it is the biblical rooster we hear crowing. Wrong and lost faces, expectation and guilt. Resignation when even the camera leaves Gary Cooper alone and moves up to save itself. The times comes closer in High Noon, it is a countdown to the point where time does not play any roll at all. In the end this might be a time counting down to the point of no hope.
Still, there is something like survival, a tiny light outlasting. It is a deception in this barren film, one which many go for because it feels better than accepting that it isn‘t there. We can find this ghost light not only in the weak, sick and young ones trying to help but also in this violated body which does not fall though it is dead. It is almost cruel when Gary Cooper survives, like the bitter realization that it is not over just because it is over. An actor who existed in Lubitsch knows about those brutalities.
No, you might say, High Noon is not that bleak. Gary Cooper holds on to himself and in the end he defeats the bad guys. Just the reason he does it is no longer valid, it is like a heating system installed in an abandoned house. Heating into nothingness.
(Maybe love will save him. With a gun.)