My Theory That Kurt Russell’s Characters Are Actually All The Same Person

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Big Trouble in Little China copyright 1986 20th Century Fox

Kurt Russell is one of my favorite actors to watch. His plucky charm seems to radiate from his somehow perfectly round, and perfectly sharp at the same time, face. Even in roles like MacReady from The Thing, or Snake Plissken from Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., roles where he plays hardened men with no love for the world, Russell still brings that tongue-in-cheek element to them, peppered with a spice only he has.

One of the fun things to watch an actor do, for me, is to use their roles to explore different sides of themselves. In this way, with some actors, each role they play becomes essentially a different version of themselves; the same character reacting to a different set of circumstances.

So, I submit to you, some of Kurt Russell’s characters are actually all the same person. He changes his name and moves from place to place or time to time, but he is the same character. This doesn’t line up with every single movie Kurt Russell has done but more than a few of them line up for me. (Spoilers to follow) Here’s how I see it:

The Thing (1982) Dir. John Carpenter

Kurt Russell, a helicopter pilot, stuck at Outpost 31 in Antarctica has quite a day fighting off a John Carpenter alien that can assume any organic form. After the alien kills everyone but two people, Kurt Russell ostensibly blows it to hell with dynamite. Needless to say, Kurt Russell had seen some shit at this point.

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The Thing copyright 1982 Universal Pictures

He watched all of his friends die brutally and is now most likely questioning his reality. Kurt Russell needs a break. So he mangages his way back to the States and picks up a job as a truck driver.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Dir. John Carpenter

After going a little insane because of the event in Antarctica, Kurt Russell has donned a new attitude towards life.

“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” – Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BTILC

Kurt Russell ends up “leading” a group of rag-tag do-gooders to rescue his friend’s fiancé from an ancient, evil, mystical, Chinese sorcerer. He somehow, manages to keep his cool throughout all of it.

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Big Trouble in Little China copyright 1986 20th Century Fox

“I’m not saying I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything. But I do know this is a pretty amazing planet we live on here. And a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we’re all alone in this universe.” – Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BTILC

After Kurt Russell’s experience with aliens and sorcerers – not to mention his tactical experience and his problem solving skills, Kurt feels that maybe he has a future in law enforcement…

Tango and Cash (1989) Dir. Andrei Konchalovsky, Albert Magnoli, Peter MacDonald, Stuart Baird

…So Kurt Russell becomes the greatest police officer that the west coast has ever seen. Contested only by Sylvester Stallone’s character in Tango and Cash, a really excellent 90s buddy cop movie. Kurt Russell and Sly are oil and water when it comes to crimefighting, but they have to learn to work together when they’re framed for murder.

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Tango and Cash copyright 1989 Warner Bros.
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Modified 88’Chevy Silverado in Tango and Cash, copyright 1989 Warner Bros.

The movie ends is a fiery explosion with, what I would call, an apocalypse mobile: a modified 88′ Chevy Silverado.

Now that Kurt russell has even more tactical experience and, arguably, some paramilitary experience…why not join the U.S. military…?

Stargate (1994) Dir. Roland Emmerich

Kurt Russell becomes a Colonel in U.S. Air Force. Because of his encounters with aliens and the generally unexplained, Kurt Russell is put in charge of a special team that will travel across the galaxy, through a wormhole machine, to another planet, get into a fight with more aliens and save the local proletariat from their overlords.

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Stargate copyright 1994 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

If you’ve ever watched and episode of Stargate SG-1, then you know that shenanigans can happen with a Stargate. You could be sent to a jail world. You could end up (back) in antarctica. You could be sent back in time because of a solar flare…

Escape from New York (1981) and Escape from L.A. (1996) as episodes of Stargate, Dir. John Carpenter

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Escape from New York copyright 1981 AVCO Embassy Pictures

…You could be sent to a jail world, where all of your crazy experience helps you survive and escape the post-apocalyptic island of New York and then a not-this-again episode where the same thing happens in L.A.

Tombstone (1993) as an episode of Stargate Dir. George P. Cosmatos, Kevin Jarre

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Tombstone copyright 1993 Buena Vista Pictures

…You could be sent back in time to the old west and became a lawman because you can’t get back to your own time and being a lawman is all you know…

This is where Kurt Russell finally gets stuck; in the old west. He lives out his life as a lawman and eventually becomes a bounty hunter in…

The Hateful Eight (2015) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

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The Hateful Eight copyright 2015 The Weinstein Company

Okay, granted, the Stargate thing sort of breaks everything, it’s not a perfect theory, OKAY! Kurt Russell’s roll as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 would also allow a blanket theory that he is, in fact, the same character in every Kurt Russell movie. Honorable mention to Death Proof (2007, Dir.  Quentin Tarantino) which probably fits in just after Tango and Cash somewhere on account of Kurt Russell’s new found love for extreme automobiling after his ride in the apocalypse mobile. 

 

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I’m Gonna Talk About YOJIMBO

 

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

Honestly…I don’t know if Yojimbo is best samurai movie to start with. I don’t even know if it’s my favorite of the samurai genre, made popular in the early 60s. But got-damn is it a good one. There are so many layers to it. Want some violent samurai action? It’s got that. Want some artistic metophor? It’s got that too. Shoot, even the score echoes the plot of the movie. AND, arguably, Yojimbo is responsible for making the Western genre popular in America. Fist Full of Dollars (1964) was an almost shot-for-shot remake of Yojimbo, except set in the American old west, and with Clint Eastwood as a gun slinger instead of a samurai.

All this to say that Yojimbo is an awesome friggin’ movie!

The movie was released in 1961 and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It stars Toshiro Mifune, who was the Humphrey Bogart of Japan in the 50s and 60s. Seriously, look at this guy:

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Toshiro Mifune

Yojimbo (bodyguard) is about a wandering ronin (samurai with no master) who happens upon a small town, home to two rival factions. The leader of each faction has declared himself to be mayor of the town. The nameless ronin sees this as problematic for the town. He comments that’s it’s not good when there are two quarreling leaders, and that the town would be better off without them. Seeing an opportunity to make a little money and help the townsfolk, he hashes a plan to get rid of the two gangs by making them kill each other off.

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961. The ronin considers his plan.
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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

He does this by offering his services as a bodyguard to one of the gang leaders. The gang leader, after some hard negotiation, will pay the ronin handsomely if he can prove his skills. The ronin heads over to the rival gang’s place and cuts down a few of their guys with no problem. Later that night he overhears his employer’s wife planning to kill him after he kills the rest of the rival gang. This way they won’t have to pay the ronin the large amount that was promised.

Obviously the ronin isn’t too happy about this. So when his employer, with his new, skilled swordsman, moves to attack the rival gang, the ronin declares that he no longer works for him. Leaving the gangs to fight each other without him. Oh, that Yojimbo, always stirrin’ up trouble. 

The ronin weaves his plan throughout the movie, playing one side off the other- very Sun Tzu. Kurosawa, genius that he was, foreshadows this theme from the very beginning using music. The second scene of the movie is the ronin approaching a house where a woman is actually weaving at a loom. You realize that the music that’s been playing since the credits, has almost the exact same rhythm as the loom. Here’s a link to the main score of the movie. Skip to about 00:40 to hear the music I’m referring to. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip of the loom scene for comparison. Guess you’ll just have to watch the movie!

 

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

IMDB page for Yojimbo 

Wikipedia article for Yojimbo