the geek life

Cowboys and Aliens and… humming birds?

Tonight I went to see Cowboys & Aliens.

It is exactly what the title says: a movie about cowboys and aliens. I read a Time editorial where the author was singing the praises of literal movie titles, and I have to say I agree that sometimes it’s nice to have a movie that just says right up front what it’s about.

Anyway, the movie was very enjoyable. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig both make excellent cowboys and it’s fun to see them play off of each other. One thing I especially enjoyed was that Craig’s character consistently makes a point of keeping his hat on his head, despite tumbling into a lake, being blasted out of a cave, and falling off of things a fair few times. It reminded me of Indiana Jones and his hat… and of course, to have a very rugged Indy sitting beside him made it that much better. They really inhabited these characters and their reactions to (and interactions, such as they are, with) the aliens are believable; when the townsfolk first encounter the aliens, they ask the preacher what they are and he points out that they fit the description of demons pretty well, so that’s what they are for the rest of the movie– demons. No one ever says “alien” because that wasn’t a part of the vocabulary back then. Beings from outer space? Demons.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but I will say that a hummingbird appears in two scenes and while it kind of worked for me the first time, I wasn’t sure entirely what they were implying with it the second time. I’m sure they mean it metaphorically, but I don’t like their metaphor/connection. If you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

Second, in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie it’s mostly just an old-style Western (albeit a little rougher than, say, a John Wayne flick), and when the preacher character is introduced, he says what pretty much sums up the movie:

1. “Only two types of people get shot; criminals and victims. Which one are you?” and

2. “I’ve seen good men do bad things and I’ve seen bad men do good things.”

The movie is based around the question of the main character– is he a criminal or a victim? And a whole lot of bad men rising to do good things.

So yeah. I liked it. 🙂

[edit as of 8/14] Lots of people keep finding this post looking for the answer of what the hummingbird means, and as it’s now been 2 weeks since the movie’s been out I’ll tell you my thoughts here. The hummingbird represents his subconscious as he searches for the answers to his past. He follows the hummingbird to the truth and then remembers what happened to his girlfriend/wife and how to find the “demons” again. There is some implication that the alien woman could see it, too; I was sure she looked right at it, and she was therefore somehow connected to him for his little trip. If that is the case, it could represent any number of things. Here are some of my thoughts.

  • It is possible that the entire sequence after he takes the drugs is nothing but a huge drug trip. He’s still following the hummingbird and has either dreamed up the entire second half of the movie, or the second half of the movie is really happening but he’s seeing a different version of reality than everyone else (skewed by the drug).
  • The hummingbird might be directly connected to the woman. Somehow she recognizes him and that he knows how to find the aliens– either by the bracelet itself or by some other means– and the drug and his recollection could be tied to her (which is why she was holding him as he regained his memory). Another variation of this is that she became connected to him by holding him during the dream, and that she could then see what he saw, including the dream-hummingbird.
  • The hummingbird could represent his love for the woman who died. He followed the bird back to the house in his trance and re-experienced everything that happened to him up until the point he escaped from the aliens. Then when it’s all over and he goes back to the house for real, he “sees” the hummingbird because he has avenged his love and that has given him closure and contentment.

Any of these could be a way to interpret the hummingbird, or even a blend of all of them. I could be way off here, but somehow I don’t think so. And I don’t really like the inclusion of a device like a hallucinated hummingbird when we are otherwise meant to take the aliens seriously as real beings. By adding a dream animal it then makes the whole movie feel too much like a fake scenario. Yes, I know that it is most definitely a fiction, but the movie’s inner logic is all consistent… except for the hummingbird. And that bothers me.

13 thoughts on “Cowboys and Aliens and… humming birds?”

    1. I thought the hummingbird was supposed to be the girl, since she said she took a human form to fit in and was able to survive when her human body died the first time, it made since to me that the hummingbird was her spirit which also survived the explosion of the alien spacecraft.


      1. Ahh. I hadn’t thought of that, but I could see the connection. But then how did the hummingbird appear when she was still in human form? It’s interesting to think about, though.


  1. Have you realized that the color and brightness of Jake’s eyes change from scene to scene? Perhaps the parts when’s eyes are bright he is under the effects of the drug, or he is imagining.


  2. I think the hummingbird was his significant other’s spirit, not Ella’s spirit. The second appearance of the hummingbird was the resolution, since his loved one was not rescued.


  3. The addition of the hummingbird threw me off too since it was the only inconsistent thing in the movie. You could have taken it out and you wouldn’t have even noticed. It’s a cool symbolic addition, but it’s what keeps me from giving it a 10/10 rating 🙂


  4. Just thought I’d leave my 2 cents for anyone else who might venture here. In Native American Indian culture the hummingbird can symbolize many things; I’ve picked out 3 I believe are appropriate to the context of the movie.

    – Hummingbirds are known to be very ferocious fighters and defenders of their territory. Many times stronger than their small size would suggest.
    A comment was made in the move by Ella I believe where she said something like “we have one advantage, they underestimate you – we’re like insects to them”. In this case the hummingbird could represent humans and what we are capable of as a species.

    – Hummingbirds can also be used to symbolize devotion, life cycles, permanence and eternity.
    In this case, it could be as Gernie said and that the hummingbird was in fact Jake’s significant other, representing his/her devotion and the cycle of life.

    – Love and romance.
    There are many love and romance stories featuring the hummingbird.

    The other obvious possibility is that it’s simply his spirit guide/animal, which again can appear as a symbol of resurrection/love and romance etc.

    I personally believe it is a combination of the three. A symbol of Jake’s strength of character and fighting spirit, and as an extension of that a symbol of human species. Additionally I believe it represents the relationship between Jake and the girl and of his devotion, and that their love is eternal.

    Hope that helps clear things up – my interpretation still may not be correct, but I believe given the context of when we first saw the hummingbird (native american indian ritual) it was only fair to assume that its significance in the movie was derived from its significance to native american indian culture/beliefs. Perhaps though you could reword the passage where you said you would tell people the answer to the hummingbird significance – your answer isn’t really an answer but rather just another interpretation.. semantics I know, but I just rather people don’t read the first persons interpretation and assume its correct, i’d like for people to read through and pick out what makes sense to them.

    One question to leave you with.. what was up with the boat?


    1. Thanks for your thoughts! The thing about this post is that I never thought I’d get as many hits as I do for this one entry. I only have about three readers usually, so this post was for them. Behold the power of the internet, right? I really hope no one takes my own answer as the answer.

      But I’m glad it’s started a discussion. ^_^

      In terms of the boat, I’d have to watch the movie again. I haven’t seen it since I wrote this. Anyone else have thoughts?

      In a broad sense, a boat often represents the mind/subconscious as well, and drifting into a new area of thought.


      1. the boat was a Mississippi paddle wheel and had lots of gambling on board and there gold coins galore on the ship and the aliens were after the gold.


  5. If it’s possible for a creature to come back to life in flames how is it not possible that the hummingbird isn’t simply the spirit of his lover guiding him?


    1. Of course it is. But as I said in the original post, I didn’t like the obvious connection much (I assumed that his lover’s spirit was the implication). But an alien doing something alien makes more “sense” to me within the internal logic of the movie than a human doing something alien, especially since that was the only thing like it.


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