by Jack Nilan            EMail :

Magua the Hero

    Magua, the antagonist in the book and Last of the Mohicans movies evolved in each new installment until ultimately he became the hero of Michael Mann's 1992 movie.

In the novel, Magua was the villain. He is a Huron nicknamed Le Renard Subtil, or the Subtle Fox. He had been driven from his tribe for drunkenness and Colonel Munro helped enforce the punishment. Because of this Magua is driven to retaliate against him.

    In the 1936 movie version we have Magua in broken English explaining why he is out for revenge."Magua great warrior. Big white chief Monroe whip Magua like a dog." Magua is an antagonist whose motivation is purely one of revenge for the way he has been treated.

    When we get to 1992, Michael Mann does a very clever thing. He has Wes Studi portray Magua with a mean, angry look on his face so the audience can immediately find the antagonist for Hawkeye and the two good Indians, Chingachgook and Uncas. However, Magua's words show something deeper than his "savage" demeanor.

    The following dialogue between Montcalm and Magua help show Magua's motivations.
MAGUA: Magua took the hatchet to color it with blood. It is still bright. Only when it is red, then it will be buried.
MONTCALM: But so many suns have set since Le Renard struck the war post. Is he not tired?
MAGUA: Where is that sun?! It has gone behind the hill. It is dark and cold. It has set on his people, they are fooled and kill all the animals and sell all of their lands to enrich the European masters who are always greedy for more than they need. [threatening] And Le Subtil is the son of his tribe. There have been many clouds and many mountains. But now he has come to lead his nation.
MONTCALM: That Le Renard has the power to lead his people into the light, I know well.
[Magua grabs the hand of the French commander. Imperceptible surprise in Montcalm's eyes. Magua jams Montcalm's fingers to his chest.]
MAGUA: Does my father know that?
[MAGUA'S CHEST A deep indentation and scar.]
MONTCALM: That's where a lead bullet has torn you.
MAGUA: And this?
[Magua turns his naked back to Montcalm and puts Montcalm's hand on his back ... deep ridges of a scar a half inch wide.]
MONTCALM: My son has been sadly injured. Who did this?
MAGUA: [laughs; sardonic] Magua slept hard in the English wigwams. And the sticks left their mark ... [pause; for real] Magua's village and lodges were burnt. Magua's children were killed by the English. Magua was taken as a slave by the Mohawks who fought for the Grey Hair. Magua's wife believed he was dead and became the wife of another. The Grey Hair was the father of all this. [pause] In time Magua became blood-brother to Mohawk to become free. In his heart he always was Huron. And his heart will be whole again on the day when the Grey Hair and all his seed are dead!
    I think that Magua can be looked upon as a patriot, even a hero, in the 1992 version of Last of the Mohicans. His children were killed by the British. He was made a slave by the Mohawk. When he was finally freed he went back to his wife and she had married someone else.

   Michael Mann gives Magua a further chance to explain his motivations when he says to the Sachem :

" No. Huron serve no one. The French father believes he fooled Magua because he is so proud of his cleverness, he is blind. But it is the Huron path that Magua walks down, not the French one ... Now, Les Francais, also, fear Huron. That is good. When the Huron is strong from their fear, we will make the terms of trade with Les Francais. And we will trade as the white man trades. Take land from the Abnakes; fur from the Osage, Sauk & Fox. And make the Huron great. Over other tribes. No less than the whites, as strong as the whites."
When you look at it closely, the movie presents Magua as a warrior who is intent on defending his land and his people from invading forces. He is interested in getting revenge but he is also trying to make his tribe as powerful as his enemies.

   When Wes Studi was asked about his role as a villain in this movie he said: "As far as Magua in concerned, he is not the villain at all. He's acting on his own agenda with his own idea of what is right and what's accepted at the time. I always played the guy as being in the right as far as he's concerned. I played him as a good guy ... it was a matter of being at war and doing the absolute best to be the victor."

    Magua, like Scar from The Searchers, Ulzana and Geronimo, can be looked on as a heroic figure even though he also ended up on the losing side. History is written by the winners but I don't think we have to let them decide who the heroes are too.