I understand what you're saying, Jeffrey, and I don't even think you're wrong, but I didn't like it. I think that you can also mourn a thing's passing without destroying it in the process. As I mentioned, I got the message in the first five minutes. And I thought it was clever. I loved the way so many scenes set up in a classic idealistic western way, only to be resolved in a completely unromantic but realistic and modern way. From the opening scene you mention with the plane to Kirk seeing Gena to the jailbreak, we are mourning how different things are from the way they used to be. An ending in which Kirk rides off into the sunset doesn't undo any of what happened before, it just allows the dream to continue in some fashion: the old has passed away and even some of the values that went along with it, but there is hope that there can still be resolution between the past and the present; that the two can somehow coexist, that there can be some compromise. To say that they can't is not a fact; it's a perspective. And one that I don't subscribe to. You say that Kirk cannot ride into the sunset; I say why not? It doesn't change the present or the direction in which society or films or whatever is going, but it does allow him to leave with some dignity instead of wet and delirious at the side of the road, the horse he's worked so hard to save dead not twenty feet away.
And then there's just my emotional response, pure and simple. I wanted Kirk to escape; I didn't want the horse to die. The ending made the rest of the film seem pointless. All that effort, all the suspense, all wasted. And it felt like director was leading us to believe he was going to make it, because there was about 6 minutes left in the film, and what bad thing could possibly happen in 6 minutes? Well, a kick in the balls and a punch in the throat, that's what. Thanks for nothin'. I can still hear the pathetic whinnying of that poor horse. It was like a lead weight in my gut.
I wasn't try to say Lonely wanted to mock western films, but it did, in my opinion, belittle them by allowing the protagonist such an inglorious ending. Maybe there wasn't as much cynicism behind it as I initially suggested, but I was fresh off watching the film and feeling emotionally raw.
The High Noon reference was about a western not being just a western but about something else as well. High Noon also (more subtly and effectively, I thought) used western stereotypes in a self-aware way to communicate something about modern society.
"Sometimes you need things to end badly to get your point across." Yes, sometimes you do. I just didn't think so in this case.
War Horse is an EXCELLENT example of a film that doesn't shy away from the bleakness of its subject matter and ends happily--or at least with some resolution. And you liked it, didn't you? There are plenty more examples. But there are people who don't like it for that very reason. People who think a film has to be bleak to make a point about suffering or death or whatever. And I also don't think every film has to have a happy ending. I'm just saying I don't like being smashed in the face, my kidney removed, and left in a bathtub full of ice covered in puke in the last five minutes of a film. I kind of resent it, if you hadn't noticed :).
I'm a huge Coen Brothers fan, but so far I have refused to watch Fargo again, because I felt like it did the same thing--too many punches in the gut. It made me feel queasy afterwards. And this coming from an avowed horror fan!