What makes this movie so weird/humorous is that it seems like it’s simultaneously anachronistic and totally realistic. For instance, Mrs. Miller’s entire characterization (speaking mannerisms, gross eating habits, etc.) is on one level totally true to how people actually are, but also seems out of place and overly dgaf-y for a film set at the turn of the century. It is as if Robert Altman decided to take the morals/social roles of 1970s America and displace them into a totally different setting, thereby alienating the audience just enough to see their culture from an outside perspective. It makes 1970s society a place of Otherness.

This is, of course, particularly effective with the character of McCabe. He is constantly at odds with the Western setting. His morals seem to be more those of the cowboy, the loner, as evidenced in the final sequence of the film where he faces the mercenaries on his own as the town people attempt to save the burning church. He is more in synch with the original idea/ideal of the West, and for that reason he cannot ever get close to anyone. This is complicated, however, by the totally anachronistic/realistic Mrs. Miller, who seems to be the one character that can help him fit into this 1970s-cum-1900s Western town community. It is her transcendence of/separateness from the alienating culture of the town that makes her appear “real” to McCabe, allowing him, for the first time, to try to fit in. In return, McCabe allows Mrs. Miller to be a woman with thoughts and feelings, rather than simply a badass brothel madame.

However, and this is the real tear-jerker of the film, it doesn’t work out. McCabe cannot step outside his lone gunman role, and Mrs. Miller is forced to stay as a one-dimensional version of femininity. It is an incredibly moving portrait of the trapped-ness of masculinity in the 1970s, punctuated by the coded-masculine genre of the film.