3:10 to Yuma and the Blessed Virgin Mary

A western full of cruel, blood-thirsty scoundrels blasting innocent people off of stagecoaches could be a great source of entertainment on a Friday night, but it isn’t a likely well from which to draw lessons about the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Unless it’s 3:10 to Yuma. Even without the Mariological implications, this 2007 remake starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe is one of the best westerns in film history. As a husband and a father I find it impossible not to watch it and come away with a renewed sense of purpose and a desire for self-sacrifice. The movie challenges the viewer to examine the relationship of evil to good, of justice to mercy, and of pride to humility. But it also has something to tell us about the Mother of God.

Mary (in case you didn’t realize it) has been a very busy woman for the past couple of centuries. At Tepeyac Hill in Mexico in 1531 she sparked the largest mass conversion in history (9 million souls in less than a decade), but beginning in the 19th century she radically increased the frequency of her appearances. In 1830 she gave the Miraculous Medal to a French nun, Catherine Laboure. In 1846, she appeared in France again as Our Lady of La Salette, conveying a deep sadness and pleading for the world’s repentance, a theme she would repeat as Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. Thousands of pilgrims in Portugal in 1917 fell to their knees as the sun changed colors and tumbled out of the sky, giving urgent emphasis to Mary’s call to frequent recitation of the Rosary and mortification on behalf of sinners. In Belgium in 1933 not one but two separate but strangely similar apparitions invited self-sacrifice on behalf of Jesus and Mary. Beginning in the early 1970s Our Lady manifested herself in Akita, Japan by way of a statue which wept, perspired, and eventually spoke, delivering messages of loving chastisement: “…if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity.” In the 1980s Mary appeared with similar messages to three adolescent girls in Rwanda. The rapport that she had with the visionaries was strikingly intimate and tender; in fact, many were at first scandalized because the visionaries were so informal with her—they called her “darling,” for instance, and (much more often than “mother”) “mama.”

This is only a brief sample of her appearances, a kind of “Greatest Hits, Volume 1.” The more one looks at the past century and a half the clearer it becomes that Mary is on a globe-spanning mission to draw modern people out of their sinful ways and into a closer relationship with her Son.

One could ask: why her? God obviously seems to think that our current wickedness is threatening our heavenly destiny, but why send Mary to deliver the message, and not St. Joseph, or St. Theresa of Avila, or St. Benedict, or any one of a million wonderful holy people who already intercede on our behalf in Heaven?

This is where 3:10 to Yuma comes in. Russell Crowe’s character, Ben Wade, is charming and charismatic but also very, very bad: a thief and a murderer in command of a vicious gang of like-minded thugs.  He has his own code of honor, regardless, and a few last burning embers of good which Christian Bale’s character eventually gets through to in the end. Before that happens, though, there’s a great scene where Ben Wade has been taken into custody by a crooked lawman played by Peter Fonda. At one point Fonda’s character, feeling cocky and cruel, accuses Ben Wade’s mother of being a diseased whore. Seconds later Wade gets loose. He grabs Peter Fonda and throws him off a high cliff to a bloody death. By way of explanation for his action Wade then murmurs: “Even bad men love their mamas.”

That is why, I think, God sends Mary to us. We might listen to her. It isn’t too much of a stretch, I hope, or excessively morbid, to compare us to a world full of selfish criminals. As we gallop ahead with plans to improve our lives through technology and bioengineering, culling the oldest and youngest members of our species, stripping off traditional religion, we resemble more and more a gang of hard-hearted scoundrels chasing down an Old West stagecoach for thrills and loot. Ordinary prophets might as well be wallpaper for people like us. But even bad men love their mamas.

Dan Lord


Dan Lord is the author of By the Downward Way (SalvO, 2014) and Choosing Joy (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). His articles have appeared in Crisis, National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency, and Fathers For Good and he is a national speaker on various topics. He blogs at That Strangest of Wars.

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  • Guesto

    movie full of sickening violence that should not be advertised here. A bunch of nuts waving their pricks, As George Carlin used to say.

  • Guesto, I agree that it is a violent movie.  But it is a violent movie that shows how authentic Christian ideals can survive and even thrive in the midst of such violence.  If we were to only engage in the culture when it was clean and tidy and gentle, lots of people who need to hear Christ’s message would be lost.  If Catholics don’t learn how to take the gold from Egypt in regards to popular culture, then we will have no one but ourselves to blame when our voice becomes irrelevant in public discourse.

    Plus, it has both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.  Double win.

  • Thank you for using your gift of making me laugh (in a good way).

  • chaco

    I heard that ! “…take the gold from Egypt…”.  It’s been said; “Give the Devil it’s due.” But I think we can give it far more than it’s due. It’s just a liar & a thief and any gain that someone claims from serving “Old hairy legs” is but a mere shadow of true love & beauty.” Kids can’t think abstractly like adults and should be protected from blatent evil until they can separate good from evil in a “mixed bag”. We need to RECLAIM STOLEN PROPERTY ie.; Joy  – pleasure – happiness – excitment  – strength – beauty etc., which all belong God – not to the faithless or lovers of sin. [ I do agree with Guesto when it comes to overt physical intimacy on the screen.  Such images should only be entertained with one’s spouse.]

  • chaco

    Ya gotta’ think this has something to do with why Fatima(1917 Revelation) put so much importance on consoling; “Making reparation” to Mama Mary’s Heart.(Heaven’s Peace Plan).

  • chris otsuki

    i think you have to make a lot of special pleading to make the case that this scene refers to Our Lady. every reference to mothers in modern movies does not refer to the Blessed Mother. perhaps it is there, but i’d need to see a lot more evidence from the film to buy this assertion.

    i admit i’m not the best guy to analyze this movie. it really went over my head in terms of its christian symbolism. (crucifix on the gun et al, the gun as a symbol of a curse and divine or karmic retribution) a friend of mine had to explain it to me.

    but i still feel the movie’s real point was the depiction of an idolatrous sense of obsession, more than anything else. ie. the quest of the christian bale to turn russell crowe in to the prison authorities eventually transcended in his mind his life vocation as a husband and father. christian bale blew off his duty as a father who was trying to earn bounty money for his family. for me, this undermined any positive message the movie might have been trying to say.

    for me the obsessiveness reminded me more about modern careerism (especially in the film industry, where obsession is seen as a heroic, laudable quality that you need to get a movie made nowadays.) or perhaps in a broader way, it might have been an expression of a modernist choosing of a personal ‘greatest good’ that sweeps away any traditional goods we ought to choose, like family or the vocation of a man as husband, father, and provider. christian bale risked all this for his obsession to transport russell crowe, even after they offered to give him the bounty without further risking his life and his family’s future. i found the message reprehensible, but i also saw it as truth in advertising for our modernist society. for me the lesson was that any such attempt to redefine man’s values leads inevitably to idolatry, in seeking a less worthy good, and one hopelessly mired in self destructive self absorption. but i’m not at all convinced that this was meant to expose and criticize this aspect of modern society. i suspect it was meant to lionize and celebrate it, if anything. because i suspect this movie was not a message so much as an expression of the filmmakers’ personal choices, to obsessively make films, no matter what it costs his family, his marriage, his health, his eternal soul. so it was ultimately about self absorption, not only of the characters, but more importantly of the artists themselves.

  • Editor

    Hello Chris, Thanks for your comment. Let me rush to say that I don’t think the scene refers to Our Lady–not by a mile, not by a light year! I simply reflected on the scene and thought that one might reasonably apply it to Mary’s role in our salvation. Sorry if my attempt left you cold!

    About your further thoughts on the movie as a whole, as one guy to another, I’d urge you to give the movie another shot. Christian Bale’s character’s actions at the end were the farthest thing in the world from “blowing off his duty as a father.” He was, in that act, being the father that he always longed to be, the father that his family wanted him to be. His whole life up to that point had been a failure, a kind of bad joke, leaving him alienated from his wife and oldest son. He was unable to do anything that resembled being a father: providing for his family, doing a decent day’s work, be attractive to his wife, pursue his dreams, etc. In that last act he restored his son’s faith in him, provided for his family for the rest of their lives, reclaimed his personal dignity, and–at the same time–brought some measure of redemption to Russell Crowe’s character, providing him with a chance to show genuine charity. It was the opposite of self-absorption–it was genuine self-sacrifice, on a grand scale, which is why I think it belongs on the list of all-time greatest westerns. God bless!

  • chaco

    At the risk of being so abstract that my “2 cents” becomes irrelevant, I want to propose that almost anything can be viewed as “Glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty”. As Truth seekers, we need to constantly be distinguishing the “Sheep’s Clothing” from the “Wolf”. [As I mentioned in my other comment, young children aren’t as equipped to do this.] By separating the wool from the wolf, we safeguard against “Blanket Judgments & labeling”.  I have a deeply held conviction that we need to “take the gold from Egypt” because God is the rightful owner ie; All the energy, excitement , happiness etc. one may experience from AC/ DC’s song; “Highway to Hell” can all be reclaimed for God by substituting the word Hell with Well. [As alluded to earlier, such transformation does not work in regard to viewing overt physical intimacy of others.] I see this as a necessary skill for going out into “The World” without becoming part it. Jesus alludes to having this skill;  “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17: 15)

  • chaco

    Hoping that I’m not Hijacking the conversation, may I expand on the ideas of viewing somthing from different perspectives and how we regard women ie; Mama ?  In the same way that I like to “TWIST” the intended message of a song to “take the gold from Egypt”,  I’ve come up with a “TOOL” to twist the attraction I have toward women. [Feelings of obsession can happen even before any illusions of physical intimacy. Although, I think more-so with women, the emotional allurment is an integral part of the physical imaginings.] This tool came from reflecting on 1Cor. 15: 56; “The Law empowers sin.” For me, this is akin to “STAY OUT OF THE COOKIES !” which makes us want one even more. So, instead of “Slapping my hand saying NAUGHTY – NAUGHTY ! every time I feel enamored by a lady, I reach for my tool to put a “GODLY TWIST” on the situation; E.P.L.S. ;  E ternal  P eace  & L ove S ister. This way, I can have “A Cookie” of loving God’s genius in creating women and avoid “empowering sin”. [EPLS is easy to remember because it rhymes with apples which alludes to Adam & Eve.] This tool is readily available & handy in an age of scantily clad seductresses (but remember; obsessing can occur even without or before physical imaginings). Only with my wife can I enjoy as many cookies as I want.

  • chris otsuki


    as i say, the movie went
    over my head and a smarter friend had to explain it to me. i would like to like
    the film, especially based on his comments. And the depth of your love of the
    film certainly adds to the fire.


    my hope is (when the prices
    are right) to get the original glen ford movie and compare it far more
    carefully to this new one. i’ve found a lot of value comparing old movies with
    their modern remakes. They tell a lot about what both films are saying and
    perhaps even more about the societies from which they spring.


    for an interesting catholic
    angle on things, comparing the old psycho, made by a catholic artist concerned
    with conscience and fate, with the shot for shot remake, where they no longer
    seem to understand such concepts as conscience or divine retribution, is a real
    eye opener. In short i would boil down psycho’s theology to ‘be ready for you
    know not the day or the hour.’ but there’s far more to say about it than that;
    i could go on for hours. The contrast with the new film, ie, its lack of
    understanding of conscience tells us volumes about the state of modern society.
    (eg. anne heche said she played her character as someone who was totally
    ammoral, as opposed to alfred hitchcock telling janet leigh to evoke the sense
    of the waters of baptism regenerating her in the shower scene; which I think
    she achieves in the famous twist zoom out of her surprised innocent look of
    terror at her death)


    i will give yuma 310 another
    chance, but i suspect i won’t ever get behind it like you guys. i did get an
    inkling of this desire for authenticity v. a life of quiet desperation from the
    film, which certainly was this attempt at deepening the meaning the way new
    film can, but i have to say up front i find this motivation highly suspect and
    often contemptible. The desire for authenticity, in and of itself, is not moral;
    acting loving is everything whether you feel it or not, feeling loving is meaningless without the
    accompanying actions. after all, the desire for authenticity is really where
    most adultery springs from, from men who feel dead inside and desire that ‘more
    out of life’ that they don’t find in their real marriages. This over emphasis
    on feelings as a basis for life choices is probably the worst philosophical
    bane plaguing our society.


    a modern film which added a
    major catholic dimension that got me where i live is taking of pelham 123. i
    remember the old film as being quite superb. but this new one i suspect is even
    better, and shows what a deepening of meaning is possible in modern film. the
    new pelham 123 even had a wry and interesting angle on the gulf war, depicting
    three failed gulf war veterans who end up as heroic but ineffectual sacrificial
    victims. (john Travolta is the third one; you see his airborne watch in a
    subtle detail. An interesting irony, instead of using his airborne watch for a
    mission of mercy, he’s now using it to count down the time before he executes
    his hostages; a different kind of mission, I suppose, but at least it’s one of
    his own choosing. he’s not a heroic sacrifice like the other two in the film,
    but he’s certainly brave in facing the reality of the corrupt machine for which
    we all slave; in his mind he’s committing a revolution against that corrupt
    system that’s sold out the whole western world in this latest financial
    meltdown. I think one of the things the film is saying is that these three men
    are doomed ineffectual sacrifices, because the system for which they fight is
    corrupt, is unworthy of their fealty. So john Travolta, instead of continuing
    to fight their wars and march to their tune, and continuing to profiteer off of
    their corruption, travolta’s character is finally choosing a mission for
    himself; ie. he’s certainly being authentic. So now I’ve ended up all this
    blather by praising a quality generally I despise. How’s that for irony.)



  • Editor

    Wow, thanks for all of these great thoughts and recommendations, Chris! I remember feeling the outrage that most everybody felt at the time that re-make of Psycho came out, and your reflections make me feel even better about skipping it! Anyway, I salute your deep appreciation for the power of film to evoke profound Catholic themes–and maybe, one day, you’ll catch Bale’s 3:10 to Yuma at the right time and you’ll see what I love about it. God bless!

  • chris otsuki

    sorry about the hideous way the type justified itself in the last blog reply. if you can figure out how to repair it, it would be great. i couldn’t figure it out.

  • Mary

    Yep…even bad men love their mamas (most anyway)…and God sent His only Son to show us just how much He loves all of us sinners. He told John (and all of us) from the cross to behold & honor His mother! And now His Blessed Mother is coming back to try to “wake us all up”!!

    Two really cool Rosary ministies I am participating in right now…..
    One is based on the book called The Gift by Katherine Valentine ( it’s a memoir) & is sort ofike a “pay it forward” type of Rosary minisry, where you pray with a special Rosary each day & then “gift” it to someone when you feel the HS telling you the time is right. The book is amazing!

    The other is a sort of “living rosary” where 15 families from our church/school each pray a different decade of the Rosary each day in their own homes. We keep a spreadsheet assigning what & when each family prays the mysteries. It is so powerful for the kids to know each family is praying for them & helps them to build trust & reverance for the power of prayer! With God all things are possible!