In an interesting twist of events, Far and Away effortlessly combines stunning visual splendor and an extremely simple plot to create a film that makes a historical fiction that’s fun to watch and easy to learn from.
Directed by Ron Howard, Far and Away follows the struggles of two Irish immigrants (one with a past in poverty and another with a past in luxury) who have come to America for land. Joseph and Shannon, played by American actors with convincing accents (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, respectively), start out with the guise of being brother and sister, but eventually find that they have a passionate and everlasting love for each other. After almost starving in the harsh Boson winter, they are separated and meet again by chance in Oklahoma, their ultimate destination. Inevitably, there is a rivalry between Joseph and Stephen, Shannon’s new beau for Shannon’s love, which Joseph wins (of course). Unfortunately, this results in Joseph’s death at the hands of an enraged Stephen. But, (spoiler alert!) Joseph magically regains consciousness as Shannon cries out her love for him to the heavens, and they end up getting a large chunk of land to call their own.
While shrouded in a strange mix of Western/Adventure/Romance/Historical fiction, Far and Away does tell a valuable lesson in the brutal conditions of immigrants upon arriving in the U.S. All of Shannon’s wealth is stolen from her by a con man and other impoverished people struggling for survival. They are forced to work in brutish conditions and save every penny they earn. There is a visible and dramatic change in Shannon’s character, as well as Joseph’s as he is finally able to make good money as a boxer.
Their living conditions are in a whore-house (and a kid-friendly one, thanks to Ron Howard) and Shannon’s work usually includes plucking chickens in a warehouse for basically no substantial amount of money. Even in a romance, their squalor is still extremely impactful. There is nothing desirable about their conditions until they reach Oklahoma and have the ability to stake out their own land. Finally, their destiny is in their own hands. However, the trials they must face before that are extremely poignant to those who have always believed America to be the land of equal opportunity. Far and Away is able to combine the aspects of a fun romance with actual historical facts that can take the audience out of the moment and into the stark realization that immigrants have had to work so much harder than those born in America for even less than we are given.
Though Far and Away has its faults in plot, this becomes an advantage, as such a kid-friendly show is able to teach people from a young age the actual struggle of immigrants. To have the power to both entertain and teach such an impressionable age is a rare thing, and Far and Away uses it well.