Where Twain and Buffalo Bill's writings deal with the emergence of the Anglo-American hero, John Ford deals with the manifestations of that hero in his film The Searchers. John Wayne, in his anti-heroic role as a bigot and intolerant, is a tragic, lonely, morally-ambiguous figure who is doomed to be an outsider. This film is the complex tale of a perilous, hate-ridden pursuit and pilgrimage of self-discovery by Ethan Edwards after a Comanche massacre on his family , while also exploring the theme of racial prejudice. It examines the inner chaos of a fiercely autonomous man obsessed with abhorrence and the need for retaliation , who searches for his two nieces among the Comanche tribe of Scar over a seven-year period.
The form of this film was both minimalist and grand; Ford's classic location was Monument Valley, Arizona, with wide shots of human figures against an overpowering wilderness. Ford didn't use a lot of close-ups, and had very little camera movement and minimal dialogue. Contentwise, on the other hand, this film was far from moderate or conservative in policy. Using several techniques such as framing, costumes, specific shots, and music, Ford continually probed the edges of frontiers, physical, psychological and philosophical. He set opposites into conflict: Order vs. Freedom, civilization vs. wilderness, families vs. outsiders, the spirit vs. the letter of the law, myth vs. fact. The theme of the movie is a universal crisis delivered and disguised as a local conflict; of the search for self-satisfaction, retribution on much larger scales, and the laying of the past to rest. .
Ford uses several instances of "framing" a scene in order to convey a particular feeling of space, whether it be the domestic or the isolated. For example, in the opening scene, the screen goes black and a title appears: "Texas 1868." The film begins with a cabin door opening onto the frontier wilderness.