Out across the desert they see a man approaching. The sun is bright and makes it hard for them to make out who it is. In the opening scene of The Searchers, the Edwards family is gathered together on the porch as Ethan rides in alone. He has been gone for years. His explanation of where he has been is vague, and he seems as rugged as the terrain he rode in from. At first glance the beautiful vast landscapes of the western may seem like nothing more than a backdrop or location for the action of the film; however, each specific setting serves as a reflection of the feelings or the mood of the characters.
In the opening scene, Ethan is getting reacquainted with the family. The ceiling boards in the house are just above Ethan's head. This makes him appear to be too big for the house, as if he doesn't belong there with the rest of the family. This gives the audience the impression that he won't remain there for too long. Not long after Ethan's arrival some of the neighbor's cattle are stolen. Ethan rides out with the rangers the next morning to find the stolen cattle. It was a long ride across the vast terrain. When the rangers come upon the dead cattle, they can't figure out why the Indians killed them. Ethan knows that they have been lured out, leaving their homes defenseless to the Indians. Ethan is more in tune with the ways of the desert life. The vast land once seemed beautiful, but is now a burden because the rangers will never make it back in time to stop the Indian attacks. The scene where the Indians attack the family happens just before dark, as they are settling into the house. This is where a family should feel safe but end up being killed and the two girls being abducted. When Martha was killed, Ethan's only link to the civilized world was cut off. Over several long years and snowy winters Ethan turns obsessive and more brutal. They are isolated from divination in their search. The only resolution that Ethan sees is to kill Scar, the Indian who abducted the girls, and his niece because she can no longer return to civilization after becoming Scar's squaw.